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The Heinzelmännchen (German pronunciation: [ˈhaɪ̯nt͡sl̩ˌmɛnçən]) are a race of creatures appearing in a tale connected with the city of Cologne in Germany.

Detail of the Heinzelmännchenbrunnen

The little house gnomes are said to have done all the work of the citizens of Cologne during the night, so that the inhabitants of Cologne could be very lazy during the day. According to the legend, this went on until a tailor's wife got so curious to see the gnomes that she scattered peas onto the floor of the workshop to make the gnomes slip and fall. The gnomes, being infuriated, disappeared and never returned. From that time on, the citizens of Cologne had to do all their work by themselves.

This legend was first written down by the Cologne teacher Ernst Weyden (1805–1869) in 1826. [1] It was translated into English by Thomas Keightley and published 1828 in his book "The Fairy Mythology".[2]

In 1836 the painter and poet August Kopisch published a famous poem beginning with the words:[3]

Wie war zu Cölln es doch vordem
Mit Heinzelmännchen so bequem!
Denn war man faul, ... man legte sich
Hin auf die Bank und pflegte sich.
Da kamen bei Nacht, eh' man's gedacht,
Die Männlein und schwärmten
Und klappten und lärmten
Und rupften
Und zupften
Und hüpften und trabten
Und putzten und schabten -
Und eh' ein Faulpelz noch erwacht,
war all sein Tagwerk ... bereits gemacht!...
Once upon a time in Cologne,
how comfortable it was with the Heinzelmen!
For if you were lazy, ... you just lay down
on your bench and took care of yourself.
Then at night, before one knew it, came
the little men and swarmed
and clattered and rattled
and plucked
and picked
and jumped and trotted
and cleaned and scoured -
and even before a lazy bum awoke,
all his daily work was ... already done! ...

In Cologne, a fountain (Heinzelmännchenbrunnen) commemorates the Heinzelmännchen and the tailor's wife.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ernst Weyden: Cöln's Vorzeit. Geschichten, Legenden und Sagen Cöln's, nebst einer Auswahl cölnischer Volkslieder. Cöln am Rhein, Pet. Schmitz, 1826, p. 200–202; full text on the German language version of Wikisource.
  2. ^ Google Booksearch: "The Heinzelmaenchen" in the 1833 edition of "The Fairy Mythology"
  3. ^ August Kopisch: Gedichte. Berlin, Duncker und Humblot, 1836, p. 98, the first stanza; full text on the German language version of Wikisource.