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photo (c) Tomas Valasek

In Broumov you often see two little seats in front of the house. This is where the old people used to sit. Whenever someone walks past, you would have to greet them and tell them where you are going. If you were lucky – or unlucky, depending on your mood – you might hear a story.
That’s how I met her on a beautiful spring day. Her glasses were glimmering in the sun and she had a big smile on her face. As soon as I sat down opposite her, she started talking. From one moment to the next, it was as if we were not in front of her house anymore, but in a forest, a long time ago. She was taking me into the world of old folk tales from the region of Broumov.

“My dear, I still remember when the old farmer had the water spirit in his house. He would just come as he pleased, cook on the farmer’s stove and crawl into bed beside him, all slippery and wet. For a while it went like this and no one knew what to do. When the water spirit is in your house, you better get used to it. Although the miller claimed one day he had caught him, but I am not so sure about that.
What actually happened though, was that one day a bear trainer came past the farmer’s house and asked to stay the night. The farmer told him that he might, but to be aware of the water spirit and that he probably won’t have a sound night, if the spirit should come to lie in bed with him, all wet and cold. 
The bear trainer assured the farmer that it wouldn’t be a problem and took up room with his bear. As soon as the clock turned midnight, the water spirit had cooked his meal at the farmer’s stove and was on the way to bed. As he climbed under the blanket though, the bear came out and clawed at him. In an instant the water spirit flew out the window and was gone.
A few days later the farmer went past the pond and the water spirit was sitting there. “Did you get rid of that cat of yours?” he asked. The farmer replied with a grin:”why no! She actually got seven kittens!” And that was the last time the farmer saw the water spirit.

Gone! Like all the dwarfs that used to live in Broumov. They were everywhere, but the more the church bells rang, the more annoyed they became. They hated the sound of the bells. So eventually they all left. The waggoner still talks about it sometimes, how he suddenly had thousands of dwarfs on his wagon, all trying to get as far aways as possible. I didn’t dare to tell them that there are churches and bells now in every town.They will find out for themselves.”

She grinned her toothless grin. I was about to shift in my seat and slowly get up, when she put her hand on my knee.

“I haven’t even told you about the dogs yet. So many dogs are haunting this region. The big black poodle with fiery eyes that sits on the monastery steps and lets no one pass. And the flaming dogs of the forest master. Did you know that when you die, your soul becomes a chicken? Oh, yes! It does! A chicken which is haunted by the flaming dogs of the forest master. This wild chase will go on for hours on moonless nights. And then the forest master can also be seen, headless as he is.

But my favourite is the story about the pack of small dogs, Chihuahuas I think, that sing their cruel song along the Töpfergraben. If you go past there you will hear it. They belong to the crazy old carpenter who used to steal nails from people before he was brought to the madhouse in Prague and died. His soul never found rest, so he keeps coming back with his ghost Chihuahuas. If you hear them sing and howl, be sure to go slow and thoughtful. Then the dogs and the hunter will be gone. But should you hurry and try to be fast, you are sure to lose your way!”
At this point I started to suspect that she was adding details and maybe even mixing up stories altogether. Chihuahuas? I don’t know. But anyway, isn’t that how folk tales live? Being told by folk over and over again and always changing? Also, if there are a lot of stories in one's head, of course they will like to meet and mingle and sometimes make up entirely new stories! I could understand that, especially with a head like her’s, that must have been filled with so many things over the years.
She pushes her glasses back up her knobbly nose and starts to talk again.

“Speaking of losing your way, should you ever meet the fire spirit, don’t forget one thing: say your thanks, three times, each time  in a different way. That is after he has shown you the way of course. Many a person who have been lost on a dark and stormy night, have found safely back home this way. Glad for the bright light of the fire spirit. 

Oh, that reminds me of the Miller’s little girl. They were so blessed to have her! One night though, she started to have weird dreams. In her dream a beautiful maiden would come to her and ask her to go to the pond close to the cross on the way. There she should wait, alone at midnight. The water will start to foam and a fire-breathing dragon will appear. In his mouth will be a golden key. She should take the key, the dragon will be gone, the pond will dry up and there will be a chest on the bottom of it. A chest with treasures that can be opened with the key.
Tempted by the prospect of treasures her parents urged her to go there. So she did as her parents told her and together with her mother she walked close to the pond. The last bit of the way she had to take alone though, like the maiden had said.
When she arrived at the pond and the clock turned midnight, it came as she had been told in her dreams. The water started foaming and bubbling and out of the depths came a big dragon. It opened its mouth and there she saw the golden key tangling from one of its fangs. She was scared to her bones though and barely able to move. The dragon motioned with its head for her to take the key, but she couldn’t hold back her fear and started shouting for her mother.
The dragon didn’t like that and with a splash it was gone under the water again. Then they heard the voice of the maiden: what have you done? Now I will stay trapped here until again someone makes a crib out of the trees that stand on the side of this pond. Only then I can appear to the child who sleeps in that crib.”

She paused for dramatic effect. The sun was creeping closer and closer to the horizon and I noticed that I still haven’t done any of the shopping that I was meant to do. So before she could jump into another tale I got up onto my feet and thanked her greatly for her time.
And that’s how I walked away from her little street-side-throne. My head full of figures out of time in Broumov that is long gone and mostly forgotten. But sometimes you can still find glimpses of it in little nooks and crannies around town.
photo (c) Petra Kultová
photo (c) Petra Kultová
photo (c) Petra Kultová
photo (c) Petra Kultová
This project was created as part of the Symposium of Illustration for which I spent 2 weeks in Broumov, exploring the place and history and turning my findings into little clay figures. For the exhibition day I arranged the figures in two vitrines, directly at the town square, where they can be observed by passersby.
The tales are (very) loosely based on folklore that I found on this webpage (only in German, sorry!):
They were told by the German speaking community that was settled in the Broumov region, until they were expelled after World War II. There is also a book I can recommend, where all the tales are collected:
There are so many more tales that I would have loved to get to know and turn into clay figures, unfortunately my time there was limited. But I am so happy I got to dive into this treasure of past times.
Speaking of tales, this is the kick-off to a monthly story column, where I will send you an illustrated story every month for free, directly to your mailbox. If that has piqued your interest, head over here to sign up:
PS: Where the inspiration came from. The two little seats in front of a House in Broumov!
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