The Black Plague and a Restless Ghost
Das Pestflämmchen (The Plague Flame)
When the Bubonic Plague (or, as it’s also called, the Black Death or Black Plague) ravished Europe in the 14th century, it wiped out almost a third of the population. And although it had peaked by the year 1352, there were second and even third waves of the plague all the way through to the late 1800s. Historians think that up to 200 million people may have died during the pandemic. Of course, back then, people didn’t understand the disease. They didn’t know where it came from, what caused it, and so these legends started to circulate. One such legend in Germanic areas was that the plague was carried by the Pest Jungfrau (which could be translated to either Plague Maiden or Plague Virgin). She appeared as a blue flame, and often, when someone died from the plague, people would see a blue flame come out of their mouths, which could then infect others.
This blue flame often appeared in Dudeldorf, especially during the 1600s. The local legend says that the flame would flicker, day and night, along the streets, and that anywhere someone saw it, the plague would strike next. That is, until one day, a Stonemason caught sight of it and followed it until it came to rest on the city wall. When it disappeared into a crack, he grabbed his hammer and trowel and sealed the flame inside the wall. And at that moment, the plague vanished from the village of Dudeldorf.
But each time the Stonemason walked past that spot in the city wall, he grew more and more curious. This went on for seven years until he couldn’t bear it anymore and opened the wall. To his surprise, the blue flame was still alive, and it immediately flew out. The village fell to the plague once again. More people came down sick. More people died.
He felt awful and tried over and over again to catch the blue flame, but it always evaded him. Eventually, it flew out of the village and into the neighboring fields on the edge of the forest. It was here that the flame stopped and circled a cross that had been erected. The Stonemason began to pray. He pleaded to God for help – and then, just like a miracle, the blue flame was transfixed on the cross. From this day on, no one in Dudeldorf fell ill to the Black Plague.
Where the story gets confusing is in the inscription. Some people say that the Stonemason carved the inscription into the cross, while others say he just added to it. Either way, the cross still stands today.
The residents of Dudeldorf named this cross der Dudeldorfer Pestkreuz (the Dudeldorf Plague Cross), and it is all that is left of that dark time. To get to it, you actually have to start outside of Dudeldorf at the restaurant Thai Orchidee.
We parked at the restaurant and just walked in front of it. The path you need is the one you see in the screenshot above, leading down towards the bottom of the picture. After a short distance, you’ll see a path on your right and a small shrine. This is where you turn and start walking towards the forest.
You’ll also see directional signs. Head towards Phillipsheim.
It only takes about 10 minutes or so to get to the cross. You’ll see it on the right hand side, just beyond a grove of trees.
This path actually goes all the way to Phillipsheim, and follows along the Auelbach (a creek that feeds into the Kyll River). It took us 45 minutes to walk the length of it (one way), but beware if you also take this walk. Legend has it there’s a ghost roaming the forest.
Das Schooper Männchen (The Schooper Man)
The ghost is known today as Das Schooper Männchen. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out why he’s called Schooper. Either it was a name or an old German word that’s no longer in use. But the story claims that the Schooper man was old and miserly. Stingy with his money. Not very well liked. And he lived on a field that bordered another man’s field. One day, they got into an argument and took their cases before the local judge. However, during the process, the Schooper man lied to both the neighbor and the judge. As a punishment, the judge cursed him, and he dropped dead right then and there. His spirit, wretchedly unhappy, took to wandering the fields and forests where he would beg anyone he encountered to pray on his behalf. But no one ever did. And so he continues to this very day, wandering the forests at night, complaining to himself.
Luckily, we didn’t run into him. You might not be so lucky…