Where Fairytales Come From

My parents and I lean out over the balcony of Burg Stahleck, studying Bacharach’s medieval blueprint. From this fortress high above the village, we can trace the old town wall that encircles Bacharach like snake with scales of black slate. I am almost tired of falling in love with little villages. But I can’t stop now, not here in Bacharach. It is the village I built as I child on the playroom carpet, a village of miniature half-timbered cottages arranged at a six-year-old’s whim. Of course I want to spend my happily ever after here.

Though encircled by a stone wall, the village was built for war. The 14th century houses have siege-proof doors. Forged in iron, the doors are latticed with latches and bolts. Shutters in carmine and shamrock rasp against the plaster. Each house has a motto painted above the shutters in crisp old German script. Most are musty rhymes about god and wine. Local renovators sign their work like paintings, leaving a name and a date under the eaves. Pictographic signs swing from the shops: a gold coin for the bank, a postmaster’s horn for the post office, and gilded grapes at our inn. Grapevines and wisteria garland the terraces and wine gardens, weaving lush bowers for Bacchus’s revelers.

‘It’s hard not to use clichés like storybook and fairytale,’ my mother remarks.

‘We’re allowed to,’ I say. ‘They’re not clichés here. This is where fairytales come from.’

However, some tales grew savage, rampaging through villages and leaving scapegoats bloody. When the murder of young Werner was blamed on the local Jewish community, the whiplash shook the village. Today, the skeletal ruins of the Wernerkapelle, Werner’s Chapel, are silhouetted on the ridge below the castle. The chapel windows bow like ribs, frail and fleshless in the whistling wind. The stone corpse casts long shadows over the village, a reminder that tales can be fatal.


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