Eulenspiegel was a legendary citizen of 14th century Mölln in Germany and one of folklore's more infamous tricksters. He was born in the village of Kneitlingen in Saxony ca. 1300 and died in Mölln in 1350. The city honours him as one of its most famous citizens and maintains an Eulenspiegel museum. His name is originally mentioned as Dyl Ulenspiegel, which is probably consistent with the dialect of Lower Saxony, but he is best known by his modern German name.

We're not sure who exactly Eulenspiegel was but it's generally accepted that he was an actual person, if not quite as well-known in his time as he is today. Whatever his exploits may have been, they were, over time, exaggerated and became folklore. They take place all over the German lands, including cities like Braunschweig, Magdeburg and Nürnberg and in several foreign countries... he had the tendency to outstay his welcome. Books recording his deeds and sayings were printed as early as 1500 and became known throughout Europe. In German folklore, Eulenspiegel is the archetypical trickster and appears to be sort of a cross between Loki and Nasrudin.

Eulenspiegel ranks as one of the top practical jokers of all times. His pranks usually resulted in someone being embarrassed or cheated, be it merely by exposing their gullibility or stupidity, as was usually the case, or by literally interpreting things that should not be, leading to seriously farcical situations. Quite often he could be found swindling some prominent citizen who could afford it or some lazy bugger who deserved it, though even the innocent were sometimes not spared. Starting with his baptism, where he was accidentally baptised three times in different kinds of water and ending with his funeral, when his coffin accidentally stood upright and they decided it would be suitable to leave him in that position, bizarre happenings were his trademark. The name Eulenspiegel (pronounced "Oy-len-shpee-gel") literally means "owl mirror" and he signed some of the more successful pranks that he pulled off in disguise by leaving a picture of an owl and a mirror at the scene of the crime.

His stories include everything from pretending to teach a donkey to read to laughing at a town that came to see him fly to winning a bet by gaining audience with the Pope. Even after his death, the last story tells of him leaving a locked chest to the city, its contents to be divided fairly among the good citizens of his town a month after his departure. Naturally the chest was filled with worthless stones but Till got the last (posthumous) laugh from the people squabbling over who stole the chest's valuable contents. It's surprising (to us in the 21st century) how many of the stories contain explicit scatology. The humour is, at times, crude.

While it's possible that some of the pranks and practical jokes in the book were perpetrated by an actual person whose name may have been Dyl Ulenspiegel, I'd say that most of them are items of general folklore that have been attributed to this person by Bote or by his sources, and that some are made up by the compiler of the Eulenspiegel book himself. Several of the tales reveal clear historical inconsistencies when actual historical figures and the places that appear in them don't tally with the timeframe that we're talking about, which is the first half of the 14th century.

Till Eulenspiegel was the subject of a film by Christa Wolf and numerous books over the last 500 years, including one by Erich Kästner, and a musical portrait by Richard Strauss. The original book was translated into other European languages as early as the 16th century and it remains a staple of Central European folklore to this date. If it's sometimes hard to follow and the humour really weird, picture a 25th century reader trying to figure out Laurel and Hardy.

I hope to node a complete, if not brilliant, translation of the 96 Eulenspiegel tales written by Hermann Bote in 1515 (1510 according to other sources) from the text at the German project Gutenberg since I can't seem to find any public domain version in English. If someone has the language skills and time to assist me with Project Eulenberg, please send me a message. I'd also be grateful if someone familiar with mediaeval customs and life could give me a hand. In the meantime, I'll make a beginning. This is a long-term project.

There have been some changes to the format and writing in many of these nodes. Following Gone Jackal's brilliant work on story number 31, I feel compelled to do better myself. The older stories are being improved to match.

These tales tell of:

  1. The birth of Till Eulenspiegel
  2. Young Eulenspiegel plays innocent
  3. Till Eulenspiegel walks the tightrope
  4. How Eulenspiegel talked two hundred boys out of their shoes
  5. How Till Eulenspiegel's mother told him to learn a trade
  6. How Eulenspiegel cheated a baker out of a sack of bread
  7. How Eulenspiegel, along with the other boys, was made to eat too much bread
  8. How Eulenspiegel made the chickens fight over bait
  9. How Eulenspiegel crept into a beehive
  10. How Eulenspiegel became a page
  11. How Eulenspiegel found work as a cook and hearth tender
  12. How Eulenspiegel cleared out the merchant's house
  13. How Eulenspiegel ate the roasted chickens off the spit
  14. How Eulenspiegel became a sexton
  15. How Eulenspiegel staged a play for Easter Mass
  16. How Eulenspiegel announced he wanted to fly
  17. How Eulenspiegel treated the bishop's physician
  18. How Eulenspiegel bought bread
  19. How Eulenspiegel always rode a dun horse
  20. How a farmer wanted to take plums to market
  21. How Eulenspiegel became a trumpeter
  22. How Eulenspiegel became an eyeglass maker
  23. How Eulenspiegel had his horse shod with silver and gold
  24. Till Eulenspiegel and the King of Poland's jester
  25. How Eulenspiegel placed himself inside his horse
  26. Till Eulenspiegel and his Kingdom-in-a-box
  27. Till Eulenspiegel paints for the Count of Hesse
  28. Till Eulenspiegel at the High School of Prague (next)
  29. Till Eulenspiegel teaches a donkey to read
  30. How Eulenspiegel washed the womens furs
  31. How Till Eulenspiegel Travelled around with a Skull (by Gone Jackal)
  32. How Eulenspiegel annoyed the city watchmen
  33. How Eulenspiegel ate for money
  34. How Eulenspiegel went to Rome and saw the Pope
  35. How Eulenspiegel swindled the Jew
  36. How Eulenspiegel bought chickens
  37. How the pastor got to eat Eulenspiegel's sausage
  38. How Eulenspiegel talked the pastor out of his horse
  39. How Eulenspiegel helped a sick child shit
  40. How Eulenspiegel did as a blacksmith's assistant
  41. How Eulenspiegel welded together a blacksmith's tools
  42. How Eulenspiegel pronounced a truth in front of the house
  43. How Eulenspiegel served a cobbler
  44. How Eulenspiegel sold a cobbler dirt as talc

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