Fairy tales often make good subjects for fountains, but the tales they tell are not always nice ones, and this one we visited while in Cologne, Germany on a Viking River cruise is one of the dark ones.
The Heinzelmännchenbrunnen, which translates to something like the Brownie Fountain, tells the story of how these tiny magical creatures came to Cologne and, during each night, rushed about and did everyone's work so that in the daytime, everyone could rest and relax, because the bread was baked, the shoes repaired, the houses built and more.
But some people can never let well enough alone, and it is said that a tailor's wife, anxious to catch them at work or at least see them, brought Cologne's good fortune to an end by scattering dried peas on her stairway, making the unfortunate creatures stumble and fall. The infuriated brownies left immediately, never to return, and the people of Cologne had to go back to work.
The fountain's central figure shows the tailor's wife spreading the peas; the side panels show the brownies at work in all the city's various trades and occupations.
The story was local legend until written down in the mid-1800s; the fountain dates to 1899, although parts that weathered badly have been replaced. It stands in a square between the Cathedral and the city's oldest brewery, both of which draw many visitors.