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Rübezahl (Rübenczal) as a tailed demon, first known depiction by Martin Helwig, 1561

Rübezahl (Polish: Liczyrzepa, Duch Gór, Karkonosz, Rzepiór, or Rzepolicz; Czech: Krakonoš) is a folkloric mountain spirit (woodwose) of the Giant Mountains (Krkonoše, Riesengebirge, Karkonosze), a mountain range along the border between the historical lands of Bohemia and Silesia. He is the subject of many legends and fairy tales in German, Polish, and Czech folklore.


The Rübezahl statue in Berlin's Märchenbrunnen Fountain.

The origin of the name is not clear. One interpretation is from the story How Rübezahl Got his Name by Johann Karl August Musäus, which recounts how Rübezahl abducted a princess who liked turnips (German: Rüben, singular Rübe). The princess gets very lonely there in the mountains. To keep her company, Rübezahl turns the turnips into her friends and acquaintances. As the turnips wilt after a little while, so do the persons that were created by Rübezahl's magic. The princess asks him to count (zählen) the turnips in the field. While he counted, she escaped.[1] Following this explanation, some early English writers translated his name as "Number Nip" (that is, "turnip numberer"), including the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.[2][3]

Another proposed etymology is Riebezagel, from a combination of the personal name Riebe and the Middle High German zagel, meaning "tail", from his pictorial representation as a tailed demon. According to the etymologist Friedrich Kluge, the name is a contraction of Middle High German Ruobezagel, ‘turnip-tail’.[4]

Rübezahl is a name of ridicule, the use of which provokes his anger. Respectful names are "Lord of the Mountain(s)" (Herr vom Berge, Herr der Berge), "Treasure Keeper" (Schatzhüter) or among herbalists "Lord John" (Herr Johannes, Latin vocative: Domine Johannes).[5][6] In one Silesian folktale, he is called "Prince of the Gnomes" (Fürst der Gnomen).[7]

The Polish name Liczyrzepa is a direct translation of the German name, introduced by Stanisław Bełza in 1898. It only became widespread in Poland after 1945 when Józef Sykulski started to translate tales of Rübezahl from German into Polish.[8] The Czech name, Krakonoš, is simply derived from the name of the mountains.


Denn Freund Rübezahl sollt ihr wissen, ist geartet wie ein Kraftgenie, launisch, ungestüm, sonderbar; bengelhaft, roh, unbescheiden; stolz, eitel, wankelmüthig, heute der wärmste Freund, morgen fremd und kalt; zu zeiten guthmüthig, edel, und empfindsam; aber mit sich selbst in stetem Widerspruch; albern und weise, oft weich und hart in zween Augenblicken, wie ein Ey, das in siedend Wasser fällt; schalkhaft und bieder, störrisch und beugsam; nach der Stimmung, wie ihn Humor und innrer Drang beym ersten Anblick jedes Ding ergreifen läßt.
Translation: "...Rübezahl, you should know, has the nature of a powerful genius: capricious, impetuous, peculiar, rascally, crude, immodest, haughty, vain, fickle, today your warmest friend, tomorrow alien and cold; ...roguish and respectable, stubborn and flexible..."

Musäus, Volksmährchen der Deutschen. Zweiter Theil containing Legenden von Rübezahl, 1783

The Grave of Rübezahl in Szklarska Poręba.

In legends, Rübezahl appears as a capricious giant, gnome, or mountain spirit. With good people he is friendly, teaching them medicine and giving them presents. If someone derides him, however, he exacts a severe revenge. He sometimes plays the role of a trickster in folk tales.[7]

The stories originate from pagan times. Rübezahl is the fantastic lord of weather of the mountains and is similar to the Wild Hunt. Unexpectedly or playfully, he sends lightning and thunder, fog, rain and snow from the mountain above, even while the sun is shining. He may take the appearance of a monk in a gray frock (like Wotan); he holds a stringed instrument in his hand (the storm harp) and walks so heavily that the earth trembles around him.[citation needed]

In Czech fairytales, Rübezahl (Czech: Krakonoš) gave sourdough to people and invented the traditional regional soup kyselo.[9] There is also a mountain named Kotel (Polish: Kocioł, German: Kesselkoppe), which means cauldron. When fog rises from the valley at the bottom of the Kotel, people say that Rübezahl is cooking kyselo.[10] Rübezahl is seen to be the guardian of the Krkonoše Mountains. Physically, his appearance varies; he can take any form he wishes, from an old grandma to a giant crossing his mountains with one step. Historically, his character has kept on expanding; from a bad demon causing storms and heavy snow, he evolved into a guardian of the poor people living in his mountains. It is said that he could test someone at any time to know whether that person's heart is pure (e.g. meeting someone as an old lady asking for help) and that if one does, that person would be shown the way to treasures hidden deep inside his mountains. He punished the German landlords mistreating Czech people as well as any invaders.


Museum devoted to the figure of Rübezahl in the German town of Görlitz, the Rübezahl Museum, was opened in May 2005, thanks to the work of Ingrid Vettin-Zahn. Originally from Lauban (Lubań) in Lower Silesia, Vettin-Zahn was expelled from her hometown like other Silesian Germans and subsequently resettled in Switzerland after 1945.

Appearances in literature[edit]

Illustration taken from James Lee & James T. Carey: “Silesian Folk Tales (The Book of Rubezahl)”. American Book Company, New York 1915.

Rübezahl was first mentioned in 1565 as Ribicinia in a poem by Franz von Koeckritz. The Rübezahl story was first collected and written down by Johannes Praetorius in the Daemonologia Rubinzalii Silesii (1662). The character later appeared Johann Karl August Musäus's Legenden vom Rübezahl and Carl Hauptmann's Rübezahl-Buch as well as Otfried Preußler's Mein Rübezahl-Buch. Finally, there is Ferdinand Freiligrath's Aus dem schlesischen Gebirge[11] from Ein Glaubensbekenntnis, 1844 and Robert Reinick's Rübezahls Mittagstisch. He is potentially inspiration for the character Huhn in Gerhart Hauptmann's "Und Pippa Tanzt!".[12]

The poem "Count Carrots" by Gerda Mayer is based on the tale and appears in The Oxford Book of Story Poems.[13]

Rübezahl's Garden[edit]

Near Mount Sněžka in the Czech Republic close to the Polish border, there is a botanical locality with an especially large variety of plants that bears the name "Rübezahl's Garden". Some unusual stone buildings in the area are named after him as well, for example the Rübezahlkanzel an den Schneegruben.

In the vicinity of Jelenia Góra and other Polish locales under the Krkonose Mountains, there is an annual series of opera performances titled Muzyczny Ogród Liczyrzepy, which translates into English as "Rübezahl's Musical Garden. In 2016, the series commenced for the 13th time.

In music[edit]

In film[edit]


The Czech variant of Rübezahl, Krakonoš, features in literature and in other culture:

  • Krakonoš played an important role in old local legends in Krkonoše, which have been collected since 1618.[14] To the present day Krakonoš features as the principal character in many regional folk-tales.[9]
  • Krakonoš appeared as a main character in the Czech children's television series Krkonošské pohádky (English: Fairy Tales From Krkonoše) broadcast in the program Večerníček.[15]
  • A brewery located in Trutnov makes "Krakonoš" beer.[16]

Further reading[edit]

  • Henning Eichberg: Rübezahl. Historischer Gestaltwandel und schamanische Aktualität. In: Jahrbuch der Schlesischen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Breslau, Sigmaringen, 1991; 32: 153-178.
  • Stephan Kaiser: Der Herr der Berge Rübezahl. Katalog zur Ausstellung. Königswinter-Heisterbacherrott: Museum für schlesische Landeskunde, 2000 (Hrsg.)


  1. ^ Anthony S. Mercatonte, The Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, New York: Facts on File, 1988, p. 562
  2. ^ Blamires, David (2009). "Musäus and the Beginnings of the Fairytale". Telling Tales: The Impact of Germany on English Children's Books 1780–1918.
  3. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Riesengebirge" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  4. ^ Kluge, Friedrich (1891). "Rübezahl" . Etymological Dictionary of the German Language. George Bell & Sons – via Wikisource.
  5. ^ Der politische Bezirk Trautenau. Ein Beitrag zum erdkundlichen Unterrichte für das 3. Schuljahr. Von Adolf Ettelt, 2nd edition, Trautenau, 1873, p. 82 (Google)
  6. ^ Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon aller Wissenschaften und Künste, 32 volume (Ro – Rz), Leipzig & Halle, 1742, col. 1686, s.v. Rübezahl, Rübenzahl (Google)
  7. ^ a b Elizabeth Knowles, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Page 940.
  8. ^ "Tajemnice Karkonosza - Ducha Gór, artykuł 10". Archived from the original on 2014-05-05. Retrieved 2014-05-05.
  9. ^ a b Kubátová, Marie (2011). Krkonošské pohádky (in Czech). Praha: Fragment. ISBN 978-80-253-1126-4.
  10. ^ Pavlová, Svatava (2000). Dva tucty pohádek z Krkonoš a Podkrkonoší (in Czech). Praha: Knižní klub. ISBN 80-242-0283-2.
  11. ^ Aus dem schlesischen Gebirge at Spiegel Online
  12. ^ Carolyn T Dussere, The Image of the Primitive Giant in the Works of Gerhart Hauptmann (U of Kentucky Press, 1977)
  13. ^ Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark, ed. (1990). The Oxford Book of Story Poems. OUP. pp. 81–86. ISBN 0-19-276087-4.
  14. ^ "KRAKONOŠ dobrý duch našich hor". freiheit.cz.
  15. ^ Šimková, Božena (Writer) (1974–1984). Krkonošské pohádky (Television production). Czech Republic: Czech Television.
  16. ^ "Pivovar Krakonoš Trutnov". pivovar-krakonos.cz.

External links[edit]