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Schinderhannes, the 'King of the Soon Forest'

Highway robbery, attacks upon farmsteads and blackmail were all committed by "Johannes through the woods", as Hans Bückler, the "Schinderhannes", called himself. He used this name to sign passes for movement through his area. The right to give these passes as well as the right to collect taxes were rights the "King of the Soon Forest" gave himself. It is no wonder that the authorities as well as the population did not put up with it for too long. In 1801, the farmers made their first revolt against this robber baron. Eventually he was caught and, in 1803, brought to court. Hans Bückler, who had enlisted in the Austrian army under a false name, made a complete confession. At the same time, though, he asked for mercy for some of the members of his band and for his wife Julie Bläsius who had given birth to a son during incarceration in the wooden tower in Mainz. The plea for his followers and for his wife so impressed the public in the courtroom that he was suddenly seen not as a notorious robber, but as a gentleman robber baron and helper of the poor, like Robin Hood. The judges in Mainz did not share this opinion and during these sensational proceedings they sentenced 20 people to death. Immediately after his death the most amazing tales of his life began to emerge, and multiplied quickly. It is not surprising, then, that the Schinderhannes was transformed into a literary hero through a theatre play ("Schinderhannes") written by Carl Zuckmayer (1896-1977). The premier of the play occurred in 1927 in Berlin, and a romantic film adaptation of the story –starring Crud Jürgens and Maria Schell as main characters (with footage of the moated castle Baldenau at Morbach)- was a great success.

The ruins shown here of the Schmidtburg near Bundenbach in the Hahnenbach valley, between Kirn and Rhaunen, were a hideout of Schinderhannes for some time. With the Celtic "Altburg" in sight, the Schmidtburg is picturesquely located on a narrow rock spur, and is one of the oldest fortresses of the Hunsrück. It was built around 926 for protection against invasions from Hungary. It was the main seat of the Earls of Nahegau, the Emichons (so-called due to Earls named Emicho I – Emicho V) as well as their heirs, the nobleman (Wildgraf). The first documented mention of the Schmidtburg dates back to 1084. After the death of the last Wildgrave of the Schmidtburg lineage in 1328 the fortress was sold to the Archbishopric of Trier, and subsequently extended and fortified by the Archbishop of Trier, Balduin of Luxemburg. Until its destruction by French Troops in 1689 it was the residence of a civil servant, and an important stronghold of Trier against the Earls of the Hunsrück and Archbishop of Mainz.

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