Everywhere in Germany we encounter the stories of Eulenspiegel. In Erfurt, too, the jester came by and left his mark.
During a small city tour through Erfurt I almost overlooked it – the Till Eulenspiegel monument. Whether he was really in Erfurt is probably as little to prove as his existence. Even his birth, which probably happened around 1300, is today only passed down through a legend.
His stories and pranks have been handed down to this day. They still make us smile and so I am curious every time what Till Eulenspiegel has probably done in a city.
The following legend is told about Eulenspiegel’s stay in Erfurt.
How Till Eulenspiegel taught a donkey to read an old psalter in Erfurt
Eulenspiegel traveled from Prague to Erfurt, where there was a large and well-known university. He posted notes on church and college doors proclaiming that he could teach anyone to read and write. The professors at the university were wary, however, because they had heard about Eulenspiegel’s pranks. They decided to challenge him, but did not want to be fooled by him. There were many donkeys in the city and so they decided to give him a donkey as a student.
Eulenspiegel was summoned to the rector of the university. The latter asked him if he could really teach everyone to read and write, as he had claimed. If that were really so, then Eulenspiegel could also teach a donkey to read and write. The principal asked Eulenspiegel if he would try it. Eulenspiegel thought to himself: “Ours are three; if the rector dies, I am free; if I die, who will admonish me? And if my student dies, I am also free of the matter.” Eulenspiegel agreed, but asked for a little more time, since a donkey was an unreasonable creature and could not speak. A training period of several years was agreed upon. The professor agreed and gave Eulenspiegel a proper payment in advance.
Eulenspiegel provided a stable for his donkey pupil, gave him an old psalter and put some oats between the leaves so that the donkey would turn the pages with his mouth. When the donkey finally ran out of oats, he would call out “I-A, I-A!”.
After some time, Eulenspiegel decided that the scholars at the university could be shown the first successes of his lessons. He let the donkey starve all day and when the rector arrived in the afternoon, he put a new book in front of the donkey. Hungry, the donkey flipped the pages back and forth, but found no oats. Loudly he called out “I-A, I-A.”
Eulenspiegel then said, “Look, dear sir, he already knows the two vowels I and A; I hope he will still become good.”
A little later the rector died and Eulenspiegel left his donkey pupil and moved on with the money in his pocket.
The Eulenspiegel Monument in Erfurt
The Erfurt sculptor Anke Besser-Güth created a monument in 2001 that can be found hidden behind the town hall. Till Eulenspiegel is squatting on a column. Below him you can see the donkey’s head bent over a book. It almost looks as if he is reading.
It is a pity that the monument receives so little attention. I like it very much, it represents the events of Eulenspiegel in Erfurt very well.
Where can you find other places where Eulenspiegel did his mischief?