Berlin's Dance of Death, Part 8

Berlin's dance of death, part 8
Peasant, landlady and fool/cook


Kere wedder bure du must al mede
vnde dantzen na dyner olden sede
dynes ackers arbeyt is al vorlaren
den du bauen god haddest vterkaren
legghe dal dat pluchschar unde prekel
du mvst seker mede yn den partekel

Och ghude doet sume de godes doget
spare dannen noch myner junghen ioghet
unde ghef my ghummen dat reste tho
ik gheve dy vorwar eine vette ko
doch ik se wol du wult dar nicht na vraghen
och help criste ed ghelt my hir den kraghen
Turn around peasant, you must already go along
and dance after your old traditions.
Your fieldwork is all lost
that [work], which you have chosen above God.
Lay there the ploughshare and the dibble.
You must certainly join the party.

Oh good Death [I] dawdle over God's goodness.(1)
In spite of this spare my young youth
and give me, goodman, the rest of it.
I'll gladly give you a fat cow;
yet, I see well, that you will not ask for it.
Oh help Christ - here it´s a matter of my life.(2)


Krugersche gy muthen (ok al mede)
valsch tapen affreken is yo juwe se(de)
legghet dy valsche math ut iuwer hant
juwe viene vhalscheyt ys jo bekant
jw leyt....wol dat blawe bereyt
volghet na gy synt wol thu dantze beryt

Och gruwelike doet bystu rede hyr
nym den doren ick gha vnde tappe ber
jodoch doeth beyde thu kort werth my dy tyd
och were ik desser valschen mathe quyth
dar ik jo muth vore lyden grote pyn
help my criste uth desser noth mach dat syn
Landlady, you must also join.
Dishonest [beer]tapping [and] accounts are your tradition.
Lay that false measure out of your hand.
Your fraudulent falseness is known.
Lay you.......well the blue hat.
Follow after. I suppose you are prepared for the dance?

Oh terrible Death - are you already here.
Take the fool - I'll go and tap beer.
Wait though, Death - the time was too short for me.
Oh, were I rid of this false measure -
since I must suffer great pain because of it.
Help me, Christ, out of this distress, if possible.

Cook / Fool mit jwer bunghen dat vp ghelunghen
..........vel de partyncken uth
vnde v....ok rewen ys iuwe hoth
were gy ok noch eynes ghewesen so mal
gy muthen al vormeren nu dessen tal

Och wath ga gy maken gy vule kockyn
latet my doch noch leuen al mach dat syn
ik jw wil maken eyn hauerech(t)
dat mach leyder nicht helpen my armen knech(t)
des rope ik thu dy criste help my scheyr
synt ik byn gewest eyn vule partyer
.............with your drum
................the slippers off
............. is your hat
had you been one more time so [foolish],
you still had to increase this number now.

Oh what will you do - you lazy rascal?
Let me live longer, if possible.
I will make you an amusement.
Sadly that won't help me poor lad.
Therefore I call on you, Christ, help me right away
since I have been a lazy swindler.

Mother and child?


(O)ch w..........
wente thu..........
rupet al iw..........

Rudolph Schick's drawing of the end of the dance.
The landlady and the fool are rendered with dashed lines to indicate they were in bad condition.
Berlin's dance of death, by Lübke

The end of the dance is all but gone, so attributing the lines to mother and child is only an educated guess. Originally the dance of death continued into the church, but in 1892 a wall was erected between the hall and the nave, and the end of the mural with the fool / cook and the unknown 30th scene was destroyed in the process.

Rudolph Schick's drawing from 1861 shows the start of the dance before any restorations.
The mural was damaged around the curate showing the bricks through the plaster. In contrast, the curate and the Deaths at both sides have been fully restored in Prüfer's lithographs.
The start of the dance of death in Berlin

The lithograph at the top of the page looks quite odd. Two of the figures have lost their heads, and three figures have lost their bodies. This is rather strange: one might think Prüfer did this in order to indicate that the area was in a bad condition, but this explanation doesn't hold water. According to Lübke and Schick's lithography (picture to the left), the Death between the landlady and the fool/cook was in good condition, while the landlady was deteriorated from her knees up. So why did Prüfer whiten out the Death, while retaining most of the landlady? And why did he whiten out the landlady's hand and half of her head?

Elsewhere Prüfer had no problem showing unoriginal parts. For instance, the curate was lost before the mural was discovered (picture to the right), and yet a newly invented curate is featured proudly in Prüfer's lithographs.

Cook or Fool?

Cook or fool? Prüfer's lithograph from 1876 shows the fool standing inside the pot.
Berlin's dance of death, Cook or fool

Lübke had originally interpreted the fool as a cook, and translated the word "bunghen" as "kettle" rather than "drum". Later the mural was restored by Fischbach from Düsseldorf after the current taste, which meant that he improvised all that was missing, so the mural would appear to be complete again. As the picture to the right shows, Fischbach placed the cook standing within the pot. Just like a fool, in spite of Lübke placing him behind the pot (picture further up to the left).

Prüfer's black-and-white lithographs from 1876 show this state of the mural. However, he argued that the figure was a fool. Partly because the landlady says "Take the fool", partly because the letters "ren" (as in "narren") still were legible, partly because there are bells at the end of the clothes, and partly because the two trouser-legs are of different colours.(3) In Prüfer's colour lithographs from 1883 (top of this page) the picture has been changed so he's now standing behind the drum.

So the figure is not a cook, but on the other hand he calls Death a "kockyn". The word means rascal or tramp, and is related to High German "Koch" / "Köchin" meaning "cook". This is not very flattering for cooks, but even in English "to cook" can mean to ruin, falsify or make up. The french word for rascal, "coquin", has the same etymological root - or in the words of Balzac: "a knave who eats, licks, laps, sucks, and fritters his money away, and gets into stews; is always in hot water, and eats up everything, leads an idle life, and doing this, becomes wicked, becomes poor, and that incites him to steal or beg".

While the cook / fool calls Death a cook-rascal, he's at the same time the only person in any dance of death, who addresses Death in the polite plural form: "Oh what will ye do - ye lazy rascal? Let [plural] me live longer, if possible. I will make ye an amusement.".

Cooks and fools, drums and pots seem to go together. See the fool's words from Dodendantz:

Al wor, ik weet de fetten slöke,
Dar gha ick hen manckt de köke,
Ick ethe unde dryncke myt den heren,
Eyn ander betalet, ick helpet vorteren
Myt lichten synnen, bungen unde pipen.
Nu kumpt de dot unde wyl my grypen.
Wherever I know the fat bites [are]
there I go to among the cooks.
I eat and drink with the master,
another one pays - I help consuming,
with light spirits, drums and fifes.
Now comes Death and wants to grab me.

There is also an amusing parallel to the fool in Thielman Kerver's Dutch book of hours, who finishes the dance with the words: "We must all into the same pot".

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3)

dawdle over God's goodness...: This sentence is less than clear. Low German "sume" corresponds to High German "säumen" - hesitate or dawdle; "doget" means goodness or virtue.

Maybe it should have been "vorsume" = neglect?

a matter of my life...: Quite literally it's a matter of the collar. You might imagine Death grasping the peasant by the collar. Compare with chapter 3 in the introduction of Des dodes dantz:

Wo sik vele minschen to sterven beklagen,
Unde wo de dôt einen isliken gript bi dem kragen,
...the way many people complain about dying,
and how Death grasps everyone by the collar...
colour of trouser-legs . . .: Lübke wrote the legs were blue and grey (page 18), Prüfer wrote they were green and yellow (page 11, right column), while his lithograph (top of this page) shows them being blue and orange.

Up to Berlin's dance of death