German folklore: The Wolpertinger
German folklore: The Wolpertinger
If you ever find yourself in a forest in Bavaria, be sure to watch out for the Wolpertinger, a mythical creature that’s been confusing tourists in the Alps for almost two centuries.
German folklore: Monsters & Creatures
Germany’s dense, black forests and soaring, misty peaks made it a tinderbox for fantastical beliefs and cracked fairy tales. Storytellers over the centuries have come up with a whole host of sinister, comical, mysterious and curious creatures, from witches, werewolves and white ladies to dwarves, changelings, sprites and Krampusse.
One of the most unusual creatures that has worked its way into German folklore - and has most captured people’s imaginations abroad - is the Wolpertinger.
What is a Wolpertinger?
Variously called Wolpertinger, Wolperdinger, Woipertinger, Woibbadinga or Volpertinger, these curious creatures festoon the walls of pubs, hotels and restaurants across Bavaria. Ask any local and they’ll tell you that the Wolpertinger is a mischievous, hybrid creature formed out of a rare coupling.
The story goes that the Wolpertinger is the result of a romantic relationship between a hare and a roebuck (we’re not quite sure how that would work anatomically, but we’ll suspend our disbelief for the sake of the story), who produced a creature with the body of a hare and the horns of a deer.
Their union inspired all sorts of other woodland creatures to follow suit - foxes and ducks, pine martens and pheasants - and soon these unlikely creature pairings produced a wave of mutant offspring, mammals with beaks, wings, horns and feet, no two of them exactly alike.
A product of its tranquil woodland surroundings, the Wolpertinger is said to be a shy, frugal animal that feasts on herbs and roots found only in the Bavarian forest, as well as the occasional insect, if he can get them. The Wolpertinger is not dangerous to humans, but if its saliva touches your skin, thick tufts of hair will begin to sprout.
And if the Wolpertinger feels threatened, he will spray a foul-smelling liquid onto his attacker - much like a skunk - a bestial smell that cannot be removed or covered with soap, deodorant or perfume, until it magically disappears, exactly seven years later.
No, seriously, what is a Wolpertinger?
Okay, we’ll stop - but did we have you there for a second? Bavarian locals have been teasing tourists with this story for centuries, selling stuffed Wolpertingers to visitors as examples of “local wildlife”. But where exactly did these bizarre creatures come from?
The Wolpertinger legend is believed to have grown in popularity thanks to the efforts of a number of mischievous Bavarian taxidermists in the 1800s. Presumably for their own amusement, they began experimenting with joining together body parts from a number of different animals to create Wolpertinger.
The resulting hybrids were sold to hapless tourists as examples of Bavarian fauna throughout the 19th century and, over time, became more and more extravagant. Later examples commonly involved the fusing of preserved parts from four or five different animals.
Wolpertinger were exhibited at the German Hunting and Fishing Museum throughout the 20th century (the museum still has a permanent exhibition on them nowadays) and are a common sight in pubs, restaurants and hotels across Bavaria and in parts of Baden-Württemberg.
Anatomy of a Wolpertinger
It’s difficult to provide an exact anatomical description of a mythical creature, but the legends are generally agreed about several aspects of Wolpertinger anatomy.
More than a rabbit with horns
The Wolpertinger is so much more than a rabbit with horns - it usually has the body of a mammal, to which a number of extra fittings have been affixed, usually including wings, antlers, a tail and fangs.
The most widespread description has the Wolpertinger as having the head of a rabbit, the body of a squirrel, a deer’s antlers and a pheasant’s wings and legs.
Creatures that closely resemble the Wolpertinger can be found in folklore from other German states and even other countries worldwide. Within Germany, the Rasselbock of the Thuringian Forest, the Dilldapp of the Alemannic region and the Elwedritsche from the Palatinate are all also composed of various animals’ body parts.
Further afield, the American Jackalope, the Austrian raurakl and the Swedish Skvader also resemble the Wolpertinger in some descriptions
How to catch a Wolpertinger
Legend has it that anyone wishing to see a Wolpertinger alive in its natural habitat must enter the Bavarian forest in the company of an attractive, single woman during a full moon. If she is accompanied by the “right man”, the Wolpertinger will show itself. We’ve heard some lame pickup lines in our time, but this one really takes the biscuit.
Alternatively, you can supposedly catch a Wolpertinger by sprinkling salt on its tail, or by using the “sack, stick, spade” method - prop open a sack with a spade, and light a candlestick inside. The Wolpertinger will be attracted to the light and, once he’s inside the sack, you remove the spade and trap him.
What does Wolpertinger mean?
The etymology of the word “Wolpertinger” is unclear. One theory is that it’s a deviation of the name of a nearby town, Wolterdingen. Another hypothesis is that it is a dialectical form of Walpurgisnacht, Germany’s Night of the Witches.
Images of Wolpertinger
The following images show some examples of Wolpertinger taxidermy creations.