In the town of Blaubeuren, about 10 miles west of Ulm, in Southern Germany, there is the Blautopf, the Blue Pot. It is the source of the river Blau (Blue), and the water is indeed radiantly blue, because of the way the light reacts with the limestone elements distributed in the water. Underneath the Blue Pot the water has created a huge cave system, the entrance as deep as 69ft. It has attracted many divers, but after several fatal accidents nowadays a special permission is required for diving in the Blue Pot.
The Pot’s blue water and it’s seemingly bottomless depth have inspired local legends and fairy tales. Legend has it that the Blue Pot’s depth can not be measured, for every time a leaden sounding line was lowered into the water, it was stolen by a water nix. A Suabian tongue twister refers to the myth: Near Blaubeuren lies a block of lead. A block of lead lies near Blaubeuren. And a rock nearby is called Klötzle Blei, Block of Lead.
The Romantic author Eduard Mörike incorporated the Blue Pot and the myths associated with it into his novella Das Stuttgarter Hutzelmännlein (The Shriveled Gnome from Stuttgart) in the form of the narration The Beautiful Lau. The Beautiful Lau is a mermaid who, because of her melancholic disposition, can only have stillborn children. Her husband, king of the Black Sea, sends her to the Blue Pot, where she is doomed to live until she has laughed five times. Only then, according to a prophecy, she would be able have healthy children. The Beautiful Lau makes friends with Frau Betha, the landlady of an inn nearby. The good-natured and wise Betha finally helps the mermaid to laugh five times, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. In one instance Betha dresses the Lau up as a servant woman and introduces her to her spinning circle with the local women. While spinning, the women share funny stories, among them the story of Doctor Veylland and his servant Kurt. The Doctor and the Count of Wurttemberg had once tried to measure the depth of the Red Sea. When they lowered a leaden sounding line, a kraken bit into the lead and lost two of its teeth. The Count kept one tooth, the other remained in the lead that was in the possession of the Doctor. When he died, he told his servant Kurt to sink it into the Blue Pot – because of the kraken tooth, it had the powers to turn people invisible, and the Doctor wanted to make it disappear. Instead, Kurt used the lead to measure the depth of the Blue Pot. It happened that at the same moment (and of course, the spinning women would not know this but only the Lau herself) the Lau was given a pedicure by one of her maids on the Pot’s ground. The mermaids saw the lead coming down, and exchanged it with an onion someone had thrown into the water the day before, a chain of pearls, and golden scissors. Servant Kurt pulled up his rope expecting to see the lead, but instead saw the Lau’s gifts, and in order to add to his confusion, the Lau’s maid swam up to the surface and waved her long white hands through the air. Kurt fell into a week-long shock during which he kept repeating the tongue twister Near Blaubeuren lies a block of lead. A block of lead lies near Blaubeuren. Now all the women try to get out the rhyme without twisting their tongue, and finally it is the Lau’s turn, and she joins the women in laughing.
Was Mörike the inventor of tongue twister, or had it already existed when he wrote the story of the Beautiful Lau? Had it already been linked with the myth of a mermaid living in the Blue Pot, or was that his reinterpretation? The narration of the Beautiful Lau actually begins with an episode of how the mermaid once had captured and tried to drown a boy who mocked her. The boy could escape through the cave system, not without stealing a heavy bag from the Lau’s underwater chambers. When he had finally made his way back to the sunlight, he opens the bag, hoping to find a lump of gold. Instead it is only a piece of lead, which the disappointed boy throws away. When the conversation among the spinning women turns to the confused servant Kurt and his repeated mumbling of Near Blaubeuren lies a block of lead, Betha remarks: ‚Who would thought there was some sense in this saying, or even a prophecy’. The narrator emphasizes that when Kurt keeps on repeating the tongue twister it was not his, Kurt’s, invention, but that the rhyme had already existed for a long time. The old rhyme’s meaning is explained by the episode of the boy throwing the block of lead away, since he is not aware of the magical powers inherent in the kraken’s tooth. There it lies, the block of lead, near Blaubeuren, until it is found, a hundred years later, by a shoemaker, as it’s told in another narration imbedded in Mörike’s novella.
Today, there’s a little block of lead attached to rock called Block of Lead, as a reminder of the story. And next to the Blue Pot, the sculpture of a mermaid evokes the legend of the Beautiful Lau. And looking into the deep, blue waters of the Pot, thinking of the divers who drowned trying to explore the cave system beneath, it suddenly seems not incredible that there could be some mermaids living in the depth, laughing about the humans.
Webcam of the Blue Pot:
by Anke Tietz