Snow White – a native girl from Lohr am Main

In 1986, after many years of investigation, aided by flashes of inspiration offered by the circle of regulars at his local inn, the Weinhaus Mehling, Dr. Karlheinz Bartels, pharmacist and “fable researcher” from Lohr am Main, was able to prove conclusively, on the basis of facts provided by fabular science that Snow White came from Lohr.

In “Snow White’s Corner”, on the first floor of our museum you’ll find a place with a little touch of magic. You’ll be surprised!

Fairy tales were always a good hunting ground for scientific interpretation. Philologists, sociologists and psychologists have all studied Grimms’ fairy tales from their own special angles. Fable research is a new scientific genre; the working methods of which are distinguished from those used by the experts mentioned above by the fact that no attempt is made to read secrets into, amend, or pick holes in the texts. In contrast, the story, location and history are considered as a whole; its methods are based on the classic, historical auxiliary sciences.

The most poignant aspect of Bartels’ investigation is that the course of his arguments can still be retraced, both empirically and, above all, with great enjoyment. He succeeded in credibly connecting many of the actual points of reference of the fairytale to Lohr and the surrounding region. This alone is good enough reason for visiting Lohr.

To start with, anyone who would like to know more about the science of fable research is well advised to visit the Spessart Museum in Lohr. The most significant pieces of evidence about Snow White are skilfully arranged in this edifice. Let us begin with the main male characters in the fairy story: how did dwarfs come to be in Spessart? As a result of the notorious poverty in this forest area, the lower classes were of short stature. The ruling Prince Electors of Mainz wanted to retain Spessart as a forest and hunting ground and strictly forbade every attempt to clear trees for the provision of more agricultural land for food production. The population was therefore forced to come up with other ideas and, as a result, raw material deposits in Spessart were systematically exploited.

For example, very small people, at times even children, were employed as labourers in the low mine tunnels. The various ores that were excavated were then processed in forges and smithies. It is interesting to note that the tools used for manufacturing the iron slippers that the stepmother was obliged to dance in, are displayed in the fully-equipped smithy in the museum. Although the Prince Electors of Mainz had only allowed people who could be of use to them on hunts to settle in Spessart - the hunter who was ordered to kill Snow White may well have been one of them - they did permit private glass works to be established in a particular area in the northern part of the Spessart for a limited time. Such glass works were easily capable of producing a “glass coffin”.

For dramatic effect the museum curator has cleverly placed the Lohr mirrors, as the final link in the chain of evidence, at the end of the tour round the museum, because the most important clue to support the idea that Snow White was a native girl of Lohr is for Bartels the “Talking Mirrors.” They have been proven to be a product of the Mirror Manufacture of the Electorate of Mainz in Lohr (1698 – 1806). Mirrors from Lohr were so elaborately worked that they were accorded the reputation of “always speaking the truth” and became a favourite gift at European crown and aristocratic courts. However, the mirrors also “talked”, like only mirrors from Lohr, in aphorisms like one that reads in the upper corner of a frame: “Elle brille à la lumière” (She is such a beauty!).

But who was Snow White? According to Dr. Bartels she must have been Maria Sophia Margarethe Catharina, Baroness von Erthal, born in the Prince Elector’s Castle in Lohr am Main in the year 1725. M.B. Kittel, the chronicler of the Erthal family, characterized Maria Sophia as an “angel of mercy and kindness,” and as “charitable toward the poor and the suffering” In the “hearts and minds of the people,” Maria Sophia represented the ideal image of a princess. It was the people of Lohr who transformed Maria Sophia, on the basis of her praiseworthy virtues, into nothing less than a fairytale figure.

In his capacity as senior administrator (Oberamtmann), her father, Philipp Christoph von Erthal, represented the Prince Elector of Mainz in Lohr between 1719 and 1748. The Prince Electors’ castle in Lohr was his official residence. Although he was not a king, he must have appeared to the people of Lohr as a sort of “king”, because as special ambassador and “foreign minister” for the archbishopric of Mainz he had dealings with emperors and kings throughout Europe.

In 1743, after the death of her birth mother, Snow White’s father took Claudia Elisabeth Maria von Venningen, born the imperial countess of Reichenstein, as his second wife, the stepmother of the seven surviving children from his first marriage. The stepmother was demonstrably domineering, and employed her position to the advantage of her children from her first marriage.

A magic mirror, 1.60 meters in hight and ornately decorated, proven to be a product of the Mirror Manufacture around 1720, is closely related to Snow White’s stepmother. It was likely a gift from Snow White’s father, Philipp Christoph, to his second wife Claudia Elisabeth. The mirror can still be viewed in the Spessart Museum in the Lohr Castle – a highlight of the exhibition of the Spessart glass manufacture. The upper right corner of “The Talking Mirror” contains a clear reference to her self-love (“Amour Propre”). You can imagine the rage of Snow White’s stepmother when this mirror constantly reminded her of her jealousy and pride.

Still not enough proof? Then you still have the opportunity of following the road Snow White took on her flight, a distance of 35 kilometres. Snow White knew that she would always be prey to attacks from her stepmother within the territory of the Archbishopric of Mainz and so was forced to flee until, beyond the seven hills into the County of Hanau, she met the dwarfs from the mines at Bieber. The wanderer’s route is signposted as Snow White’s path that makes it easy for you to find your way. The point of departure of course is the castle in Lohr!

It is sensible to plan 3 days for this “fabled” excursion: two days for the walking tour and one day for the “fabulous” preparations. As well as visiting the museum, it is imperative that you call at the Weinhaus Mehling inn. Both the old wine cellar and the cozy wine restaurant as well as – in summer - the roadside patio, from where you can see the Snow White fountain in front of Dr. Bartels’ pharmacy (if you crane your neck), provide just the right atmosphere for such “fabulous” work. It could well be that the answers to fairy-tale questions are more forthcoming with the help of a glass of the local Franconian wine, for there are still many problems waiting to be solved.

A question relatively easy to answer is where the apple came from. Even today the slopes around Lohr are well planted with orchards. So many in fact, that in the 19th century, a group of Lohr “bons vivants” founded a “society to promote the consumption of apple wine”, the so-called “Buffonia”. Bartels also found out which plant the poison came from: from the Atropa belladonna/Black Cherry, which has an anesthetic effect and may have produced Snow White’s rigor mortis. But who was the Prince that found the glass coffin and fell in love with Snow White, Mr. Pharmacist? Where was the magnificent wedding feast arranged for Snow White and the Prince? Will ever the little cottage be found which belonged to the dwarfs? Questions after questions, for which only the local wine is likely to provide answers.

Source: Karlheinz Bartels, Schneewittchen Zur Fabulologie des Spessarts, second edition, Lohr am Main 2012 (available at the Museum’s Shop)