I was sitting on the Lufthansa plane, tapping through the movie offerings on the little screen in the seat back in front of me, choosing the films to while away the nine hours to Frankfurt. Among the German movies, a title caught my attention: “Das kalte Herz“, “The Cold Heart”.
Wait a minute, I said to myself, is that the “Cold Heart”? The fairy tale? I started watching the movie. Sure enough, it was the story from Wilhelm Hauff‘s collection. But it had been years – actually, more like decades – since I read it; I only had a vague memory of it. What was the real story like? Wait another minute, I said, don’t I have Hauff’s Fairy Tales downloaded on my Kobo? I did indeed. So I paused the movie, pulled out “Das kalte Herz“, and let Hauff’s words take me away to a little charcoal burner’s hut in the Black Forest, two hundred years ago or, rather, Once Upon a Time…
And so I was brought back home to the fold of my favourite fairy tale book, Hauffs Märchen. Hauff was a contemporary of the Brothers Grimm, but unlike them, he is not so much a fairy tale collector as an author; most of the tales in his book (all of them, in the edition I had as a kid) are his original composition. A few of them are traditional fairy tales; many others have the character of legends or adventure stories. Each of the three parts of the book is comprised of a framework story, much like The Canterbury Tales, in which a group of chance companions tell each other stories to pass the time; the frame stories are as interesting as the individual tales themselves. “The Cold Heart”, or as it is sometimes titled in English, “The Heart of Stone” or “The Little Glass Man“, belongs in the collection “The Inn in the Spessart”, in which a small group of travellers find themselves caught at night in an inn in the Spessart Mountains, threatened by a gang of robbers. They tell stories in order to be able to keep awake and vigilant in the face of danger. Felix, a young goldsmith, agrees to switch places with the noble lady the villains want to kidnap, and when the robbers burst into the inn…
But I wasn’t going to tell you about Hauff’s tales. I might do that some other time; or better yet, you go read them for yourself. I was going to tell you how I went to visit Wilhelm Hauff himself.
You see, Hauff is not only my favourite fairy tale author, he is a Swabian, born and buried in the very city I was travelling to, Stuttgart. And when I looked him up on Google, it turned out that the cemetery where he lies is just around the corner from a place I was going to anyway, just one stop further on the bus line.
And so I went on a pilgrimage to the Hoppenlau Cemetery. It’s the oldest still existing cemetery in Stuttgart, first established in 1626, the last burial having taken place in 1882. It’s a curious place, this old cemetery. Because it has been so long since the last person was buried there, all that is left of the graves, for the most part, are the ancient tombstones, their sandstone crumbling, overrun with moss and lichen. The fallen leaves from last autumn surround them in a deep, rustling brown carpet; clumps of snowdrops, crocuses and buttercups push their way through, turning their cheery little faces to the sun, which shone brightly on this late February day.
The cemetery isn’t being left to just crumble into oblivion. The city of Stuttgart is in the middle of a costly restoration project – whole sections of the cemetery are fenced off while the tombstones are being cleaned and repaired and the worst of the leafy and mossy intruders removed. Oh dear, I thought as I walked along the solid white fence, heading for the back left corner of the cemetery, they didn’t lock me away from Hauff’s grave, did they? I steeled myself for disappointment – but no, the fence ended, and there was a stone plaque in the ground with an arrow: “This way to the grave of the poet Wilhelm Hauff”.
And there it was: Hauff’s last resting place. A large, jagged boulder set into an ivy-covered bed, an iron plaque mounted on its front: “Wilhelm Hauff, born 29 Nov. 1802, died 18 Nov. 1827”. And below, the names of his daughter Wilhelmine and his wife (and cousin) Luise. “They only rest for a while,” it says at the bottom.
I sat down on the bench that faces the stone, next to a tall lime tree that was planted in his honour on the 150th anniversary of his death, and let the early spring sun shine on my face. I closed my eyes, and slowly the 21st century disappeared. The modern city sounds of cars and buses faded away, to be replaced by the clip-clop of hooves and the rattling of carts over cobblestones; the square-towering highrises surrounding the cemetery shrank down to just a few stories high, their parapets taking on the graceful curves of 18th-century architecture. A young woman in deepest black, her bonnet veiled, her wide skirts brushing the ground, came down the path between the tombstones, a small girl by the hand. “Don’t forget your Papa, Minle,” she said softly, as the little girl laid a bouquet of violets on the grave…
He won’t ever be forgotten, this man who died so very young. He left behind a beautiful legacy of tales that even after 200 years have as much power as they did when they were first written.
I finished reading “The Cold Heart” on the rest of the flight to Germany; then I went right back and started reading the tales of “The Inn in the Spessart” from the beginning. Then those of “The Caravan”. And then “The Sheik of Alessandria and His Slaves”, and now that I’m back in Canada I’m still finding treasures in it that I had long forgotten, if I had ever understood them.
Stuttgart people walk through the Hoppenlau Cemetery on their way to work, or sit on its benches in their lunch hour, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Perhaps Hauff did, too, when he lived in Stuttgart, nearly 200 years ago. And maybe he even thought up some of his stories there. “Dwarf Nose”, perhaps, or even “The Cold Heart”?
I’m glad I rediscovered Hauff. He rests in the Hoppenlau Cemetery – but as long as we have his tales, he is not gone.