Stein of the Month: August 2005
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~ Till Eulenspiegel in Erfurt ~

by SCI Master Steinologist Walter B. Vogdes

Eulenspiegel hard at work teaching a jackass to read in Erfurt.

This month we take a look at a contemporary stein designed by Bjorn Wiinblad in 1975 and produced by Rosenthal, renowned German manufacturer of tablewares. This stein is one of a series in Rosenthal's studio-linie (studio line) depicting the rascally tales of Till Eulenspiegel.

Webster's Deluxe Unabridged Dictionary identifies Till Eulenspiegel as a 14th Century Brunswick peasant whose pranks and drollness were the subject of widespread tales and the inspiration for a tone-poem by Richard Strauss. Encyclopedia Americana adds: "Reputedly, Till was historical and died in 1350 of the Black Death. His grave near Brunswick is still pointed out. ...The key to Till's popularity lies in his escapades in almost every town in Germany as well as towns in Denmark and Poland. He even traveled to Paris, where he was a schoolmaster at the Sorbonne. He beguiled his employers in almost every occupation: doctor, dentist, smith, cobbler, tailor, tanner, butcher, horse dealer and monk."

The six steins in this series are a creamy porcelain color with line drawings depicting Eulenspiegel's various mis-adventures. The steins have an unusual cloverleaf or quatrefoil cross-section which is carried through to the brushed pewter lid. Three of the steins are signed "Wiinblad '75", two are signed simply "Wiinblad" and one is unsigned.

Now let's take a look at how Eulenspiegel bamboozled the professors of the University of Erfurt by teaching a jackass to read.

The Tales of Till Eulenspiegel

29. How Till Eulenspiegel taught a jackass to read an old psalmbook in Erfurt.

Translation by Carolyn Place. The number preceding the title indicates the position of this tale within the 95 original episodes published in 1515.


Artwork by Bjorn Wiinblad which decorates one of the Rosenthal steins depicting the antics of Till Eulenspiegel.


Eulenspiegel came to Erfurt where there is a large and famous University.
The professors of the University had heard much about his sly cunning and sniffed to themselves that he would not play tricks as he did in Prague (referring to another tale involving University students), and they decided they would give Eulenspiegel a donkey to teach as there are many donkeys in Erfurt, young and old.

They sent for Eulenspiegel and said to him "Master, you have advertised that you can quickly teach every creature to read and write. Now, here are the gentlemen of the university wanting to give you a young jackass to teach. Do you believe you can teach him?"

Teaching the donkey to "read", Till hides oats in the psalmbook.
He said yes, but he must have time. Since it was an unreasoning creature, it would take him 21 years. Eulenspiegel thought to himself, "There are three possibilities: The Rector of the University dies and I'll be released. I die and none can admonish me. My student dies and I will likewise be free." In the meantime, he would be paid a good wage to perform such a feat. So Eulenspiegel took the donkey and pulled him to a tower in a lodging place. There he alone built a stall for his pupil and took his old psalmbook and lay it in the manger. Between each page he lay grains of oats, which in order for the donkey to get them, it had to turn the pages with its tongue. When the donkey found no more oats between the pages it would bray "Eee aah, Eee aah!"

When Eulenspiegel noted this he went to the Rector and said, "Herr Rector, would you like to see how my pupil is doing?" The Rector replied, "Dear Master, are you saying the student accepted your teaching?" Eulenspiegel replied, "He has as yet a coarse style and he is difficult to teach, yet with great diligence, I have brought him to the point where he knows a few letters and can recognize and name some vowels. Won't you go with me to hear and see this?"

The good student had fasted all day. At 3:00 PM Eulenspiegel came with the Rector and various Masters of the University and lay a new book before his pupil. As soon as the donkey found it in the manger, he flipped the pages over, looking for oats. When he found none, he began to shriek in a loud voice, "Eee aah, Eee aah!"

Then spoke Eulenspiegel: "See, dear gentlemen, he can only say now the two vowels I and A, but I hope he will get better."

A short time later the Rector died. That ended Eulenspiegel's obligation to his student and he could leave with the money he'd acquired. He thought to himself, "If you should make all the jackasses in Erfurt wise, you'd need a lot of sweat!" Since he had little eagerness for that task, it remains undone.

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