Grete Minde

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The amendment Grete Minde by Theodor Fontane is about a young woman who, after her bitter wronged, of resentment and retaliation thirst in the Altmark city Tangermünde put fire and, in common with many mouths Tangier, perish in the flames. Based on the events of the historical Margarethe Minde, the plot of the novella Grete Minde begins at the beginning of the 17th century and ends with the fire in the town in 1617. Fontane, who wrote the story in 1879, gives way in his portrayal of the fate of Grete Minde however, it differs significantly from the historical events.


At the beginning of the story, Grete Minde, the daughter from a well-off Tangermünde merchant's house, is thirteen years old. Their now deceased mother - a Catholic from the time of the Spaniards occupied Flanders - was the second wife of Grete's become quite betagtem father Jacob Minde. Jacob's first wife had also died early; Nevertheless, a son had emerged from this marriage, Grete's significantly older half-brother Gerdt. This, a young man of careless but avaricious nature, married Trud, a woman from Gardelegen . Trud comes from a small family, is little respected and even less loved by her husband. All of this has increasingly hardened her mind, as a result of which she faces the much younger Grete with resentment, jealousy and malice.

Grete's father dies shortly after her confirmation. Trud then assumes the role of a stepmother and tells the meanwhile youthful Grete everywhere that there is “something bad in her”, which she - in Tangermünde , which has now become Protestant - derives from Grete's semi-Catholic origin. Trud's as well as Gerdt's infamy against Grete is reinforced after the marriage has been blessed with a child after a long time and the older one increasingly relegates her younger sister-in-law to the housemaid. Grete finds consolation and care only in old Regine, who has served the Minde house as housekeeper for a long time and who is connected to the growing Grete as her former nanny. But the two or three years older boy next door Valtin Zernitz also helps Grete. And so the childlike friendship between the two soon turns into a tender, youthful love. Trud Minde deeply grudges Grete and Valtin this togetherness, especially since she was denied “such happiness”. Therefore she tries to forbid the two to interact with them. But Grete, now a little more self-confident, disregards Trud's unfounded accusations and prohibitions and continues to meet with Valtin. More and more, however, she is getting tired of the constant harassment and distress. Ultimately, this is why Grete and her sister-in-law have a heated argument, as a result of which Grete fled Tangermünde at night together with Valtin.

For three years the two lived with a traveling puppeteer and drama company . During this time, Grete von Valtin becomes pregnant and gives birth to a child. While the troupe is visiting the small town of Arendsee , not far from Tangermünde, Valtin falls ill to the death. In his last lesson he made Grete promise that she should return to Tangermünde with both children and ask Gerdt and Trud for forgiveness and acceptance. After Valtin's death, the Arendsee pastor refuses to let him rest in the Protestant churchyard . But Grete reaches his burial in the cemetery of the local women's monastery .

The offer of her very benevolent monastery dominatrix and her deputy to find accommodation here is rejected by Grete because she feels bound by the promise made to the dead father of her child. So she walks "with her child under her coat" from Arendsee to Tangermünde. The hard-hearted Gerdt, however, categorically refuses to accept her request for forgiveness and to take Grete and child into the house. Gerdt also ruthlessly refuses her proposal to serve him as a maid, just as he refuses to at least care for Grete's child. Now the desperate Grete demands her father's share of the inheritance, but the half-brother denies her that too and expels her from the house.

Grete then turns to the Tangermünd City Council with her inheritance request. The avaricious Gerdt, however, untruthfully and therefore perjury , protests before the council that the half-sister has no inheritance claim, since her Catholic mother did not contribute anything to the property of the Minde family. The councilors follow this perjury, partly against better feelings, and reject Grete's claim to inheritance.

Full of disappointment and anger at the verdict of the Tangermünde councilors, Grete sets a fire in the city that literally spreads at lightning speed. When large parts of Tangermünde are already in flames, the young woman, her own child and the descendant of Gerdt and Trud climb the already burning church tower. From above, she also sees the dishonest, heartless half-brother, the main addressee of her revenge. It is not without satisfaction that she sees how he is in despair over the inevitable fate of his child. Soon afterwards the blazing church tower collapses and also buries Grete and the two children under its glow.

At the end of the story, the two heads of the Arendsee women's foundation learn that "Tangermünde is in ashes" and what fate has been fulfilled for Grete. These two canonesses are the only ones to regret the unhappy Grete Minde. The acting troupe, however, in whose appearances Grete had played the character of an angel shortly before, had already cast the role elsewhere on the same evening.


Fontane's sensitive description of the unjustly treated woman is striking. This theme can also be found in other works by Fontane, but in Grete Minde it is presented in a particularly striking way. Fontane clearly takes sides for young, pure love, which does not follow the conventions of the time, and against dogmatism, injustice, envy and indifference.

Historical background

Grete Minde monument in front of the historic town hall in Tangermünde - bronze sculpture by Lutz Gaede, erected in 2009
Depiction of Grete Minde at the city fountain of Tangermünde

The novella is based on true events that Fontane researched in Tangermünde in 1878. A Grete Minde actually lived there, there was also an inheritance lawsuit, and in 1617 there was a major fire in the city. Large parts of the local St. Stephen's Church also burned . Some documents are on display in the museum within the city's historic town hall .

In contrast to Fontane's novella, in which Grete Minde becomes an arsonist out of revenge for the inheritance that was denied her, the real Grete Minde is now considered innocent and much more a victim of intrigue and hasty justice, which she after slander and torture to death on the Pyre condemned. On March 22, 1619 Grete Minde was tortured to death. The historical court files, which can still be viewed in the Tangermünde city archive today, speak a clear language: Grete Minde were “pinched off five fingers on the right hand one after the other with glowing pincers”, according to the verdict, “repainting her body with four glowing pincers, namely in the chest and arm grasped, consequently forged on a lofty pole with iron chains, forged alive and all so done from life to death, by law. "

In 1883, only three years after Fontane's novella was published, it was the lawyer and historian Ludolf Parisius who, in the book Images from the Altmark in the chapter Grete Minden and the Conflagration of September 13, 1617 - A salvation of honor, the historical Grete Minde largely rehabilitated. He was the first in more than two centuries to study the trial files intensively and uncover evident contradictions that suggest Grete Minde's innocence. She died because she posed a threat to both their reputation and property to the established Minde family. In addition, the city council found itself under increasing pressure to present the angry population of Tangermünde with a guilty party. Parisius' conclusion is therefore clear: the death sentence against Grete Minde was a “cruel judicial murder ”. Modern legal historians disagree with this thesis and argue that the trial against Grete Minde was formally correct. A more recent investigation into Grete Minde, in particular into the conduct of the litigation, comes to the conclusion that the Tangermuender Council, which also acted as a court, drafted a manipulative opinion for the torture permit.

On March 22, 2009, exactly 390 years after her execution, a life-size bronze sculpture by the graphic artist and sculptor Lutz Gaede was unveiled at the scene of the event, in front of the historic town hall where the trial of Grete Minde took place. It shows Grete Minde in chains and hunched over. In contrast to Fontane, this depiction as a prisoner explicitly refers back to the real, documented history of Grete Minde and thus draws attention to the tragic and dramatic fate that actually took place in Tangermünde and formed the historical basis for Theodor Fontane's novella.


Grete Minde was very popular for a long time. Paul Heyse , who later won the German Nobel Prize for Literature , included the book in his New German Novell Treasure . Today Grete Minde is counted among the weaker works of Fontane. In the canon of German lessons, however, the book seems to have a certain significance because of the young protagonists and its brevity and the sonorous author's name. In any case, the book is still easy to read thanks to its clear language and the stringent plot right through to the dramatic end. On the occasion of Tangermünde's millennium in September 2009, Grete Minde from the Altmark Theater was also premiered as an opera; the music was composed by Søren Nils Eichberg , and the libretto by Constanze John was based on Fontane's novella.


The book was written by Heidi Genée 1976 Katerina Jacob as lead actress and Siemen Rühaak filmed as Valtin for television. The exterior shots were filmed in Hornburg in southeast Lower Saxony .


  • Theodor Fontane: Grete Minde. According to an Altmark chronicle . Wilhelm Hertz , Berlin 1880 ( first edition )
  • Theodor Fontane: Grete Minde. According to an Altmark chronicle . Arranged by Claudia Schmitz. Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-351-03115-7 (Great Brandenburg Edition, The Narrative Work , Volume 3)

Secondary literature

  • Gaby Pailer: Black-eyed murderer. Fontanes Grete Minde, a daughter of Cervantes' “La gitanilla”. In: Renate Möhrmann (Ed.): Rebellious - desperate - infamous. The bad girl as an aesthetic figure. Aisthesis Verlag, Bielefeld 2012, ISBN 978-3-89528-875-3 , pp. 171–186.
  • Robert Rauh : Princess or Witch. Grete Minde . In: Fontanes Frauen, be.bra verlag, Berlin 2018, pp. 124–166, ISBN 978-3-86124-716-6

Web links

Commons : Grete Minde  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The fire trial against Grete Minde, in: Robert Rauh : Fontanes Frauen, be.bra verlag, Berlin 2018, pp. 139–155.