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February 19, 2007

The Hexenturm files: The mysterious photo in the laundry

Eventually, after months, I've found something remotely interesting to write about.

As I'm sure you're aware, one of the highlights of my week is my journey into town to the laundry to wash our clothes. The laundry is situated on the corner of Paris Lodron Strasse and Wolf Dietrich Strasse and looks like a fairly normal building.

One day in the laundry I noticed a black and white picture on the wall of an old building. It had always been there but I'd never really paid much attention to it. That day I took a closer look and saw a circular building with a wind vane on top of it. Then I realised that the wind vane was no arrow or rooster, but was in the shape of a witch. Yes, the classic witch image of a woman in a long skirt riding a broom.

I was intrigued and asked one of the nice women who works in the laundry what this building was. The woman was helpful as always and tried to explain, in her broken English, that this was a 'Hexenturm'. From my Afrikaans, I understood this to mean a witch tower. This Hexenturm had previously stood where the laundry now is. Now thoroughly curious, I was dying to know more. Unfortunately, this was all the lady could tell me. I think she'd already stretched her known English to the max.

It's pretty well known that I have probably an unhealthy obsession with the paranormal and anything weird. So, I had to find out more. I searched for info on the internet but nearly all the information out there was in German. One thing that did keep popping up was the second hand bookshop on Paris Lodron Strasse, called Hexenturm.

I had been to the book shop many times before, because it has a very tiny selection of English books, but not taken notice of it's name. Also, the bookshop had a sign hanging outside of a witch....the same witch that was on the roof of the hexenturn in the old picture.

Having found no info on the internet, I thought I might make more progress by speaking to the man who owns the bookshop. You wouldn't name your shop after something you have no knowledge about. It took me a couple of weeks before I could speak to him - the shop was either shut when I got there, or I just got cold feet and procrastinated.

In the meantime, I think on New Years Eve, Martin and I had walked past the laundry to take a picture of the current building. I wanted a photo taken from the same spot where the origal picture of the hexenturn had been taken - a then and now kind of thing.



While taking the photos we noticed a mosaic high on the outer wall of the building. It was a rather macabre depiction of a witch burning at the stake and some text:


Hier stand ein Befestigunungsturm, im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert als Verlies für verfolgte Frauen verwender


There was no doubt that some awful injustices had taken place here, and I was even more determined to find out more about the looming tower that had once stood here...

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I'm not sure what kind of tower a "Befestigunungsturm" is but I think it was used as a prison in the 16th & 17th century for persecuted women, probably before they trialled them by water (drowning) and fire (burning) - if you floated it proved you were a witch so you were burnt, if you sank it proved your innocence...but you still died. The translation may be totally incorrect, my German's a little patchy due to underuse since university. Sounds fascinating though, I also have a (probably unhealthy) interest in weird things!

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