A widow mother had two daughters. One was her own daughter and another, step-daughter. Both were named Maria. Her own daughter was neither dutiful nor pious. On the other hand, the step-daughter was sober and humble. Sadly, that girl had to endure humiliation – both step-mother and step-sister misbehaved with her. She was a nice person; hence remained amicable. Undaunted, she did all the cooking for them. Only once in a while she cried, secretly sitting in her bedroom, when the unfair treatment of the mother-sister duo caused her to suffer a lot. But in a short while, she looked fresh and cheerful again. Carefully she cleaned the house while telling herself to have patience. She believed that the God would help her someday.
How unfortunate it is, even her hard toil could not satisfy her mother! One day she called the hard-working Maria to tell her, “Maria, I cannot let you stay in this home any longer. You work a little but eat a lot. None of your mother and father left any fortune for you. Whatever savings I have is not enough to support your living. I am unable to take your responsibility. You have to leave home and take up a job somewhere else.” She made a cake of ash and milk. She gave Maria a bottle of water along with that and made her leave home.
Her harsh behaviour saddened Maria. Anyway, she had the courage to walk through the wide pastures and fields extending till the horizon all alone. She was carrying one positive thought in mind – someone would recruit her as a maid soon, for she was hard working and honest. She was hoping that strangers would be kinder than her mother.
After a long walk, she felt hungry. She sat down in the grass, unwrapped the cake and also took out the bottle. Many birds started fluttering around her. She let them peck at her cake, and poured water in her hand to let them drink. In the meantime, she did not realise, the ash mixed in the cake transformed into pieces of fruits and the water into delicious wine. After the birds were done, she ate the rest of the cake which she enjoyed a lot. Strengthened and cheerful, she started walking again.
It was getting dark, but she did not meet anyone on the road. Finally, in the evening, she arrived in front of a strangely built house. At the entrance, there were two gates; one was jet-black, as if it was made of tar. The other one was shining like pure gold. Modest Maria, who was looking for a maid’s job, obviously went through the less beautiful gate to reach the yard. She knocked the door. A horribly angry man of a grotesque appearance opened the door. “What do you want?” – Rudely he asked. Maria was trembling with fear, but she did not want to spend the night out in the open. She said humbly, “I just wanted to ask if you could give me shelter tonight?” The man almost grumbled, “Come in!” She followed him, but started shivering even more as she entered; and it was not because of cold. She saw numerous cats and dogs around her and heard many more barking and mewing inside the house. There was no sign of any other person in the palatial house.
The man growled again, “Who do you want to sleep with, with me or with my cats and dogs?” The obvious answer of the scared girl was, “With your cats and dogs, Sir!”
But she had to sleep next to him in the nice and soft bed he prepared for her. Isn’t it surprising that Maria slept peacefully and quietly that night?
Next morning, the Thürschemann was talking softly to her. “Who do you want to have breakfast with – with me or with my cats and dogs?” She answered, “With your cats and dogs.” No. The giant didn’t serve her breakfast like that. She had to drink coffee and sweet cream with him.
As she wanted to bid adieu after breakfast, the man growled again, “Through which gate do you want to go, the golden gate or the tough one?” As usual, she told, “Through the tough one.” The gigantic man led him through the golden gate. As she was passing through the gate, he jumped on the top of it. Sitting there, he started shaking the gate so hard that gold flakes started falling from it as an effect of the vibration and covered Maria’s head to toe with gold.
Carrying so much of gold, Maria could not go anywhere else but home. She did not need to look for a job any longer. As soon as she entered her ancestral home, her chickens came running to her. Why not? She was the one who used to feed them before she was told to leave the house. The cheerful cock screamed, “Kikiriki, here comes the Golden Maria! Kikiriki!” The mother came down the stairs and bowed so reverently before the golden lady, as if she was a princess who gave her the honour of her visit. Maria was surprised at the sudden change of her behaviour, “Mother! Couldn’t you recognize me? I am Maria!”
Her sister, too, was astounded like her mother. Both of them were probably envious as well.
Maria had to tell the story to satisfy their curiosity – how wonderful it was to walk through the green meadows all the day, how she reached the home of a giant who treated her so nicely and finally, how he showered her with gold. This time, her mother and sister did not mind giving her another chance to stay with them. She could take care of them better, of course! What’s more? Maria was honoured and loved by everyone now. Soon a brave young man wanted to take her as wife. Maria found her much needed solace in life.
On the other hand, the other Maria’s heart was becoming heavier with growing envy. She resolved to walk away like her sister following the same route which she believed would make her return as a golden fairy queen. This time, her mother prepared sweet cakes and wine for her. She also felt tired on the way. As before, birds started flying around her to feast with her after she sat. She opened the food-basket, but chased them away irately. Her cake, however, turned into tasteless ash, and her wine into dull water. Needless to say, poor Maria found the food horrible. In the evening, she also arrived before the Thuringian Man’s gates.
She had come with an ambition to become a queen. She walked in proudly through the golden gate and knocked on the front door instead of turning towards the yard. As the gigantic man opened the door and inquired after her request, she announced, “Well, I want to spend the night here.” And he grunted his approval, “Come in!” Then he asked her, “Who do you want to sleep with, with me or with my cats and dogs?” She answered quickly, “With you, my Thuringian Man!” But he led her into the room where cats and dogs slept, and locked her with them inside. Scratched and bitten, her face looked ugly in the morning. However, she couldn’t see own face. The man roared again, “Who would you like to drink coffee with, me or with my cats and dogs?” “Oh! With you, my dear!” she said. You can assume now, she had to drink with cats and dogs. It was time for her to leave. Like he did with the other Maria, the man asked, “To which gate do you want to go, the golden gate or the tough one?” And she clarified her intension, “To the Golden Gate, of course!” The golden gate closed immediately on its own. She was left with no other option but to cross that the tough tar-coated one.
As it happened before, the gigantic man sat on top of the gate, continued shaking it, so that the gate wobbled till she passed through. This time, misfortune fell on this Maria to such a large extent that it not only covered her, it started overflowing.
Maria came back home – her face distorted with rage at her hideous reputation. The gleeful crowd of chickens gathered around her, “Kikiriki, here comes the unfortunate Maria! Kikiriki!” Her mother turned away in disgust. Forget about being proud, her mother had to hide her ugly daughter from people. Greed for gold was the reason why they were so severely punished.
*Smaller and simpler version of the famous story of Frau Holle, collected by Grimm brothers. This version is collected by Ludwig Bechstein, probably from eastern part of Germany.
** Wild man of Thuringia\ Thürschemann, – in some folktales they are Giants. “In Thuringia the thurschemann, Becbst. Miirch. 63. We still say ‘ der torsch.’ To the Austrian families of Lichtenfels, Tiernstein, Rauheneck and Rauhensteinthe by-name türse, Lat. turso, was habitual in the 12—15th cents.” – Tutonic Mythology by Jacob Grimm.
*** History of gold mining in Thuringia, the Eastern part of Germany dates back to 12th century. Slate mountains of Southern Thurigian forest were famous for their gold deposit since ancient times. That’s reason place names like “Goldisthal” and “Reichmansdoft” (rich people’s village) were developed. Commercial gold mining was abandoned here in the end of 17th century as cost of metal extraction became expensive. Later, importance of Thüringen gold mines reduced as compared to gold-rich neighbouring countries like Austria and Bohemia. Normal that that local giants would shower nice visitors with gold, and punish the greedy!
**** Mention of Golden gate makes us remember the ancient structure in Jerusalem, is symbol of mercy according to Christian belief. This is also called judgement gate.