Baron Münchhausen
Baron Münchhausen

Good morning! My name is Hieronymous Karl Friedrich but you may well know me as the Baron Münchhausen. My name, these days, is synonymous with lying but I insist it is a reputation that is wholly undeserved; a label attached to me by a rascal named Raspe. More of him (unfortunately) later.

I was born a nobleman in Bodenwerder, almost but not quite next door to Cinderella in Polle. As a young man I spent time in Russia and served in the Russian army against the Turks. These experiences formed the basis of the stories I told at the dinner parties where I was recognised as a convival and skilled storyteller.

Were these stories tall? Nowadays there is a museum in Bodenwerder dedicated to my life and the stories that are associated  with me.

Münchhausen's Hare
Exhibit 1

This is the hare I hunted for two days. Its stamina was incredible. Whenever it got tired, it simply flipped itself over and ran on fresh legs

Exhibit 2
Exhibit 2

Here you see me astride my horse astounded at its seemingly unquenchable thirst. It’s only as I turn around and see the water flowing out behind that I realise that my steed has been cut in two by a descending portcullis. Thereafter I find the hind quarters cantering around a meadow and happily am able to stitch my horse back together again.

This is where fact meets fiction because I can no longer remember whether I told those stories or whether that rascal Raspe embellished my originals to turn them into stories that were patently untrue. (Footnote 1) I mean whoever heard of circumnavigating the globe on the wings of an eagle in 24 hours! I do know that the man who once dined at my table and listened to my adventures enhanced and exaggerated them for his own benefit. On his uppers in London, he exaggerated the fantastical in my stories for his own profit and my loss of reputation. After he published The Travels and Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen in 1785 and another rascal called Bürger translated them into German in 1786 adding even more ridiculousness, my reputation lay in tatters. I was henceforth called the lying Baron. (Lügerbaron) and subjected to unmerciful charicature. This saddened me and I withdrew from society. So it is with mixed feelings that I now watch the celebration of my fictitious namesake. I may be immortal but can’t help but feel that the real Hieronymous Karl Friedrich, Baron Münchhausen is now remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Footnote 1: These are indeed Raspe’s embellishments but the Baron’s originals were similarly extravagent.

Editor’s note.  Raspe was German but wrote in English. Technically his book shouldn’t count for German Literature Month. But like an irregular verb that proves the rule, it does.  There are many free online editions for you to enjoy but I’m recommending the lovely illustrated Neversink edition from Melville House Press. David Rees’s introduction summarises the read perfectly.  “This is not a book to be read in one sitting, or even in long stretches.  The cacophony of destruction, the surreal lack of scale – not to mention the absence of any narrative logic – may fatigue even the hardiest of readers.   The intensity of The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen recommends that it be consumed in bursts.  This is not consommé to be sipped in deference to its subtlety; it’s tequila to be slammed, shot and shared with enthusiasm.”

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