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1600~1699: Hans Niebuhr and the Plague

A German peasant named Joh. Parum Schulze told a tale in 1790 that, sometime in the 17th Century, a man named Hans Niebuhr who lived in the small town of Lüchow (also called Wendland), was on his way home one night when he picked up a strange man that asked for a ride on his cart because he was weary of walking. The man would not talk at first, but Niebuhr (being a little drunk and pushy) insisted on knowing who he was. So the man told Niebuhr he was a plague, planning to visit Niebuhr’s village... and, in exchange for a ride there, he told Niebuhr to first park the cart and him outside Niebuhr’s village when they arrived, and then to take the cooking hook from his fireplace, run outside around his house naked, and bury the hook under the doorstep; this would prevent the plague from visiting his house.

        Niebuhr gave the plague a ride as far as a small bridge just before his village, and asked his passenger to wait while he ran in and protected his house... but instead of running just around his house, Niebuhr ran naked around the whole village, and he buried his hook in front of the bridge. His village remained safe from the plague, as all the other villages in the area were struck. In telling the tale, Joh. Parum Schulze also asserted that he himself had seen the pot hook, very rusty, under the bridge to town in 1690 while the bridge was being repaired.

Why the Hook?

        The cooking hook was simply a hook hung over the fire place that would hold pots over a fire while cooking. Writing in 1844, Jacob Grimm observed that taking a cooking hook from a house usually only happened when people left a home permanently, with the next people who moved in using their own hook after they arrived. Therefore, the removal of the cooking hook from a house could symbolize to the plague that no one was inside, and therefore there would be no reason to visit the house.

        Grimm didn't even try to explain why Niebuhr had to run around naked, however...