Text: Marie Janssen
Translation: Adam Baltieri
The place where fairy tales begin
„However quiet and uneventful the life of these people may appear, it is nonetheless a true and vital life. The ancient, trembling woman, who, across from the tall cupboard, sat behind the furnace, may well have been sitting there a quarter century, and her thoughts and feelings must have grown together intimately with the shape of this oven and the carvings of this cupboard.“ Heinrich Heine 
When a fire was still kept burning in every home and the size of a village was determined by its number of fireplaces,  the oven occupied a central place in human life as the vessel that at once sheltered and tamed the vital fire.
At this time the life-sustaining warmth still had a shape, a visible origin in the form of the ceramic or cast-iron stove at the heart of the home, which one richly ornamented, well aware of its mortal importance.
In the cold months of the year above all, the hearth became the center of life.  At the end of the workday, members of the household would gather around the oven or furnace. They settled down, reclined, and warmed themselves. There, in peace, they spoke of the happenings of the day and told stories as night descended.
These stories were told for generations, again and again, over centuries – during the cold months, always at the same place, by the oven. And there they remained, almost as if inscribed in it, forming, so to speak, the site of local memory. 
“The old woman, across from the tall cupboard, behind the furnace wore a floral skirt of faded fabric, her late mother’s wedding dress. Her great grandchild, a blond, wide-eyed boy in miner’s clothes, sat at her feet and counted the flowers on her skirt, and she may have already told him many stories of this skirt, many earnest, lovely stories, which the lad certainly won’t soon forget, which will often arise before him, when soon, as a grown man, he’s working in the forlorn mine shafts of the “Karolina” at night, and which he’ll perhaps tell again when his loving grandmother is long dead and he himself is sitting in the company of his grandchildren, across from the tall cupboard, behind the furnace.” Heinrich Heine 
But the oven is not only the site of oral tradition. It is also a place where new stories and fairy tales begin.
Through the intimate connection with the familiar place by the oven… “through the deep contemplation always grounded in the same place, of always the same objects, fairytales developed, whose peculiarity consists in this, that not only animals and plants, but also completely lifeless objects speak and act.“ Heinrich Heine 
The storytellers saw an inner life in objects. They endowed them with character. And the oven, too, amidst this whirl of fantastical images, was assigned the traits of a living being. Sayings and proverbs were invented, superstitions brought into association. 
People claimed that through the chimney it was connected with spirits both good and evil.  The homey familiarity of the warm glow thus alternated with the unsettling feeling that insinuated itself through the perception of the hearth as the seat of ghosts and demons, goblins and the devil – the legacy of the ancient fire cult of pagan belief and superstition. 
The hissing sounds of fresh branches in the fire would be perceived as souls sighing in purgatory.
On holiday nights people scattered the bench near the furnace with ashes, because they believed that deceased relatives came there to warm themselves. In the morning they hoped to find their traces. 
They confided in the furnace, they lamented their suffering and entrusted it with secrets, as if it could listen, as if it were a living being.
A recurring motif is the “oven confession,” a cunning trick to get around a vow of secrecy. In order to circumvent the oath, the secret – which otherwise no soul may hear – is confided in the oven. But another person remains present during the confession and thus injustices, military assaults or murderous intentions are revealed in time and prevented. 
People even directly asked the oven for assistance. It was a widespread custom that a woman would ask the oven to find her a husband. On Saint Andrew’s Eve girls looked into the fire to see their futures.
People counted on other predictions, too. On the eves of Christmas and New Years one gazed into the hearth to learn what the coming year would bring. Or one watched the sparks whose patterns were thought to reveal the near future; for example, whether an unheralded visitor was on the way. 
And people tried to win the oven’s favor.
On holy nights one wasn’t to let the coals expire, for this would ensure that one would lack nothing for the year and be blessed with a life of good fortune. 
„And cupboard and oven are alive, for a human has poured part of his soul into them.“
Heinrich Heine