The Harz is a highland area in northern Germany, and its rugged terrain extends across parts of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia. Its name derives from the Middle High German word Hardt or Hart, meaning hill forest.
This is the land of German fairy tales: steep-roofed houses with tiny windows and narrow, cobblestone streets, dark forests, rushing streams and beautiful mountains.
The Brothers Grimm collected their stories from various places, primarily the area around Kassel about 40 miles to the west, but the Harz Mountains have long been famous as an important source of German folklore.
Many of these stories are well-known outside of Germany as well, including Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and The Frog Prince.
This region was also known for the many silver mines; many villagers made their living underground and the towns’ wealth came from these mines. There are echoes of this in the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Originally published in the collection Legends and Tales of the Harz Mountains in 1881, to explain the hoof print on the Rosstrappe there is story of Princess Brunhilda and her escape from the giant Bodo.
As story goes, once upon a time a king ruled in Bohemia, and his castle stood on a lofty mountain, that both the thunder and the eagle called home.
He had a daughter, the golden-haired Brunhilda, and the fame of her marvelous beauty was spread far and wide.
Mighty rulers and the sons of kings sought the hand of the lovely royal maiden, and among the numerous wooers came the son of the king of the Harz, who won her heart. After the lovers had sworn everlasting fidelity, the prince returned to his father to announce his betrothal and make arrangements for the nuptials.
However, after his departure, came a new suitor for Brunhilda’s hand whom her father feared to reject, as he was one of those terrible giants who inhabited North Europe. They were reportedly invincible, and when they appeared, all yielded with terror to their might.
The dreadful lover brought the Princess costly gifts of gold, amber, and precious stones and the King, after three days of thinking it over, promised the Giant his beloved daughter.
Brunhilda threw herself horrified on her knees before her father, weeping and tearing her hair, but the King, though moved with pity, assured her the Giant had power to destroy him and all their kingdom.
Thus Brunhilda appeared composed.
She neither wept nor complained, and she met her destined bridegroom with a solemn dignity. Of a truly kingly character, she constrained her agony to silence, but hoped ever for deliverance through the return of her lover.
The Giant had two giant steeds, one white as the snows of the Northland, his eyes shining like stars, and the other black as the night, with eyes like the lightning, at whose running his hoofs resounded like thunder, and the earth trembled. Both seemed overtake the storm, and kept time with the lightning.
Brunhilda saw these giant steeds, and the thought of flight occurred to her.
Was success possible?
She had never mounted the snowy steed.
Great was the Giant’s joy when Brunhilda begged to ride with him.
She mounted daily the terrible animal, and soon could ride a race with the Giant on the mountains.
Finally the evening before the nuptials arrived, and Brunhilda, having arrayed herself in white robe, a golden crown, and a long white veil floating behind her, together with amber and diamonds, the Giant’s gifts, welcomed the numerous guests who thronged the royal palace, and looked lovingly upon the Giant Bridegroom, who was overwhelmed with an unheard of bliss at the lovely vision.
At length the Princess rose and retired, the Giant remained to drink of the costly wine. Suddenly he heard the snorting and stamping of his war-steeds. He sprang up and looked down into the courtyard.
There sat Brunhilda in her glittering robes, the golden crown still upon her head, her white veil and golden hair fluttering in the wind, in her fearless courage and queenly beauty, upon the snowy steed before the open gates.
At the sight of him she let loose her reins, and the mighty steed shot forth, swift as the storm-wind, like a streak of light, into the darkness of the night.
The Giant uttered a cry of fury that shook the castle to its foundations, seized his battle-axe, and mounted his war-horse, crying: “even If she flee to the Nidhöggar (a dragon in the Old German water hell) in the Schlangengrund (Valley of the Serpents) I will bring her hence!”
And the fearful race began. Through meadow and forest, over mountain and ravine, flee the pursuer and pursued, the white steed always in advance, fleeing swift as a meteor through the heavens; behind, the black steed, like a spirit from the eternal darkness.
The ride lasted all through the night. The earth groaned and thundered, the forests trembled, the birds and beasts fled in terror, long streaks of fire swept through the grim darkness, and the snorting of the steeds was like the roar of the Northwind.
Eventually dawn reflected her rosy blush over mountain and wood. Brunhilda utters a cry of joy and triumph! There before her lies the Harz, her lover’s mountain home and future kingdom, and that distant peak is the Brocken!
She spurs on her noble steed till she reaches the Hexentanzplatz, when suddenly he stops, rears, and plunges, and refuses to advance. Before her yawns the terrible rocky abyss of the Bode Valley, behind she hears the deadly foe advancing, uttering the most dreadful curses.
What shall she do? Forward over the wild abyss? Backward is to fall into the arms of the enemy.
The choice is not difficult.
She turns his head to the fearful chasm, and spurs him on.
Like an eagle, the noble animal leaps the yawning abyss, lands safely on the other side, and impressing his giant hoof-print in the granite, sinks exhausted.
However the Princess loses her golden crown in the gulf beneath the Bode Kessel!
The Giant in rage and fury spurs on his dusky steed to leap after her, but falls and is broken on the rocks, and ever since, transformed into a hell-hound, he guards the golden crown in the Bode Valley.
The princess, saved, dances for joy, and her footprints are still to be seen in the solid granite.
The mountain has ever since been called the Rosstrappe, and the Giant Bodo gave his name to the valley and river.
And still today, on the top of the Rosstrappe above Thale, you can see the hoof print of Brunhhilda’s horse and, from the Hexentanzplatz on the opposite mountain, you can look across at her leap to the Rosstrappe.
“Rosstrappe” comes from “Ross” (steed or horse) and “trappen” (clip-clop).
Images from web – Google Research