Wilhelm Herchenbach [home]

Short Biography

Written by Leo Lammert for the 100th anniversary of the writer and regional poet's death, in the annual publication of Neunkirchen-Seelscheid's Native and Historical Society (HGV)

Remembering Wilhelm Herchenbach, who died on December 14th, 1889, is like traveling back in time. At that time there was no book fair having publicity appeal or a secured distribution by a book ring. Nevertheless this writer was successful with his works. His purpose in life was the writing and not so much success. The latter came about by itself.

On November 13th, 1818, Wilhelm Herchenbach was born as the son of a farmer in Neunkirchen. The father would have like him to become farmer as well. But as Herchenbach himself writes, his father himself considered him as too soft and as turned out too little like a farmer. Young Herchenbach's love belonged to the teaching profession.

In his striving to become a teacher he was energetically supported by Heinrich Weeg, teacher in Birkenfeld. After a short job as a bailiff's assistant in Hennef he got an employment as teacher in Pempelfort near Düsseldorf. After attending a teachers' training class in Kempen he was employed at the Maxschule ["Max" school] in Düsseldorf.

In 1850, he founded a private school with a "higher curriculum" there, which was also open for boys from abroad. Despite the vivid approval that this school got, he devoted himself exclusively to writing. About 200 little volumes have been published, the circulation of all editions ran into millions.

I can still remember well that the choice of a book always hit Herchenbach when we were to choose between him and Karl May [German writer (1842-1912), famous for his wild-west tales].

The little books were published at G. J. Manz, Buch- und Kunstdruckerei AG, München-Regensburg [G. J. Manz Books and Art Printing House Inc., Munich-Regensburg], and at the publishing house Franz von Stokan, Regensburg. They cost one Mark [= "Reichsmark"] "paperbacked" and one Mark and 50 Pfennigs in the bound version. Nowadays these books, mostly 150 to 180 pages long, are no longer purchasable.

Herchenbach's writing style was "simple, healthy" fare. His tales, that root in folklore, show an upright character and incorruptible honesty. In an appraisal of Wilhelm Herchenbach in 1928, Wilhelm Hirtsiefer writes: "He remained loyal to his homeland; he wrote down its legends, which he had so often heard at the pale light of pine-torches, and thereby rescued them from oblivion. Legends originate from the endeavor to find explanations for somehow noteworthy phenomena, e.g. the chiming of the bells in Christmas night, why the church door is studded with heavy nails etc. Often, they are based on an historical event, which is why one has also called the legends a shadow of history."

With his book "Wie einer Lehrer geworden" ["How One Became [a] Teacher"] Herchenbach wanted to erect a monument to Neunkirchen; for we read: "Wreathed by magnificent woodlands, somewhere in German lands there lay a tranquil village. Walddorf ["Forestvillage"] it is to be called; in reality, of course, it had a different name. The inhabitants pursued agriculture and raising cattle and cared little for the outside world." When we read on, we come across known names: we hear of the Wahn brook, which flows by beneath the village, of the Devil's Chamber in the church, of the teacher Pfad (instead of Weeg) [word game: "Pfad" = "Path" vs. "Weg" = "Way"] in Birkenfeld, that the people, however, call Hardtbusch etc. Herchenbach reflects the history of his own youth in this.

As already mentioned, these books are no longer being printed. In addition, in their content they would - with some exceptions - presumably no longer fit in our times. But the legends relating to Neunkirchen have been passed on from generation to generation until Wilhelm Herchenbach wrote them down:

Der Mastbaum im Turme / Der Ritter von GöttscheidThe Mast in the Tower / The Knight of Göttscheid
Die GlockenThe Bells
Beinhaus und LeichenhandCharnel-House and Corpse's Hand
Die PohlfrauThe Pohl [= ?] Woman

His adventure novels and his tales for "Folk and Youth" were characterized by deep devoutness. The tension took place in a clear-cut way between good and bad. Vivid, detailed descriptions completed the picture.

Every now and then he digested old ghost stories and legends of his home town Neunkirchen and skillfully embroidered them with a lot of fantasy. This earned him the name "Lüchherchenbach" among the local population. ["Lüch" = accented pronunciation of "Lüg" = prefix meaning "Lie" in the sense of not telling the truth]

In Ingersauermühle (in the Bröl valley), close to the junction of the road from Neunkirchen, there is a commemorative stone, which the HGV made be moved away from undergrowth and stinging nettles towards the road, thereby restoring its visibility for everybody. The commemorative stone states that at that place on July 15th, 1845, a Franz Josef Herchenbach drowned. One needs to know that the course of the Bröl brook had been different in the past. The drowned was a brother of the writer Wilhelm Herchenbach. A nephew – Wilhelm Herchenbach from Nebraska, USA – saw to that this commemorative stone was erected in replacement for a decayed wooden cross after World War II.

Wilhelm Herchenbach did not get as famous in literature history as Friedrich Gerstäcker (1816-72), but without doubt similar stylistic devices can be found.

A few titles of his books:

Unter den RothäutenAmongst the Redskins
Die KristallhöhleThe Crystal Cave
Der Bannerherr von LuxemburgThe Banneret of Luxembourg
Der Ritter Hugo von HeringenKnight Hugo of Heringen
Meister HildebrandMaster Hildebrand
Die BataverThe Batavians
Der ErbprinzThe Hereditary Prince
Die SpinnerinnenThe Mill Girls
Der Müller von EltvilleThe Miller of Eltville
Der große ZarThe Great Tsar
Der OberhofThe Upper Farm
Der Edelherr von ElbroichThe Nobleman of Elbroich
Der gefangene ErzbischofThe Trapped / Captive[?] Archbishop
Ein Ende mit SchreckenA Calamitous End
Kaatje von AlkmaarKaatje of Alkmaar
Die unglücklichen BrüderThe Unlucky Brothers
Der Verurteilte von GranadaThe Convict of Granada
Juanika, die ZigeunerköniginJunanika, the Gypsy Queen
Die letzten Seufzer des MohrenkönigsThe Last Sighs of the Moor King
Das VerbrüderungsfestThe Fraternization Celebration
Eine neue WeltA New World
Meister Hansen, der Scharfrichter von SiegburgMaster Hansen, the Executioner of Siegburg
Wie einer Lehrer gewordenHow One Became [a] Teacher
Im verborgenen TaleIn the Hidden Valley
Der Findling von OdessaThe Erratic of Odessa
Das Glück auf dem BauernhofeFortune on the Farm
Ellen, eine indische KöniginEllen, an Indian Queen
Mutter und SohnMother and Son
Familie HenningThe Henning Family
Mac Donnelt
Manilo und Kiarda, zwei BildhauerManilo and Kiarda, two Sculptors
Folkert von WykFolkert of Wyk

The HGV has, in a letter to the communal government, called for a fountain with legendary figures of our history to be put up near St. Margareta Church, thereby erecting a monument to Wilhelm Herchenbach.

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