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German Folklore

German folklore is the folk tradition which has naturally developed in Germany over the centuries. It shares many characteristics with Scandinavian and English folklore due to their origins in Germanic mythology, reflecting a similar mix of influences: a pre-Christian pantheon and other beings equivalent to those of Norse mythology; magical characters (often pre-Christian) associated with Christian festivals, and various regional stories. 

As in Scandinavia, when belief in the old gods disappeared, remnants of the mythos persisted: Holda, a supernatural patron of spinning; the Lorelei, a dangerous Rhein siren derived from 19th century literature; the spirit Berchta (aka Perchta); the Weisse Frauen, a water spirit said to protect children; the Wild Hunt (in German folklore preceded by an old man, Honest Eckart, who warns others of its approach); the giant Rübezahl; changeling legends; and many more generic entities such as the elf, dwarf, kobold, and erlking.

Popular holiday-related folklore includes Krampus and Knecht Ruprecht, a rough companion to Santa Claus; the Lutzelfrau, a Yule witch who must be appeased with small presents, the Osterhase (the original Easter Bunny), and Walpurgisnacht, a spring festival derived from Pagan customs. Character folklore includes the stories of Pied Piper of Hameln, the trickster hero Till Eulenspiegel, the Town Musicians of Bremen, and Faust.

Documentation and preservation of folklore in the German states was initially fostered in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Saxon author Johann Karl August Musäus was an early collector; study was further promoted by Prussian poet and philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder. His belief in the role of folklore in ethnic nationalism - a folklore of Germany as a nation rather than of disunited German-speaking peoples - inspired the Brothers Grimm, Goethe and others. Folklore elements, such as the Rhine Maidens and the Grimms’ The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear, formed part of the source material for Richard Wagner’s opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. Some of the works of Washington Irving - notably Rip van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - are based on German folktales.

Within Germany, the nationalistic aspect was further emphasized during the National Socialist era. Folklore studies, Volkskunde, were co-opted as a political tool to seek out traditional customs in order to support the idea of historical continuity within a Germanic culture.