What is a Wolpertinger?

What is a Wolpertinger?

by Jakob Straub
December 2, 2020

The Wolpertinger is a mythical creature from German folklore of unknown origin. Learning German is hard enough without a fairytale hybrid animal giving you nightmares, but the Wolpertinger is an interesting phenomenon which transcends cultures. Because you need not fear what you know or understand, we’ll give you a rundown of the fabled creature from Bavarian legends and its counterparts in other regions.  

The legend of the Wolpertinger

According to the legend, the Wolpertinger is an animal inhabiting the alpine forests of southern Germany in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. The spelling of the name of the mythical creature’s name varies from region to region and you’ll find it again and again as Wolperdinger, Woipertinger, Woiperdinger, Volpertinger, Walpertinger or Wulpertinger.

Likewise, the Wolpertinger appears in many different forms. The legend has it that a hare and a deer mating created this monster. A common appearance is a hybrid of the two: the body of a hare with the horns of a deer. Variations include the wings of a duck, as well as a beak or webbed feet. Sometimes the Wolpertinger appears with the body of a squirrel or ferret as well. There seems to be no limit to the imagination.

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The origins of the Wolpertinger

Imagination seems to be the keyword when it comes to the origins of the fabled creature. The fact that no live Wolpertinger has ever been caught should tell you something. But if you ever find yourself in the Bavarian forest after midnight and maybe one drink too many on your way home from the pub, you too will be seeing Wolpertingers in the dark!

Yet the myth of the Wolpertinger is less a story to scare young children than a mischievous tale to fool people passing through. In the 1800s, taxidermists began to put together parts of different animals. Presumably hares and rabbits were ubiquitous and antlers were easy to come by as well, so that’s how the Wolpertinger got its origins. Over time, the hybrid creatures became even stranger and more extravagant with parts from at least three different animals.

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The Wolpertinger as a tourist trap

The Bavarians sold the stuffed and mounted creatures to impressionable tourists and travellers passing through, claiming they were examples of local wildlife. The forest dwellers had whole tales ready of why it was so difficult to encounter a life Wolpertinger: the creatures were supposedly shy and frugal. Over time, these origin stories become more embellished as well.

Does the Wolpertinger exist in other cultures?

German folklore knows more mythical creatures which resemble the Wolpertinger in the sense that they are similar hybrid species and equally fictional. Lower Bavaria reported a creature called Oibadrischl. The Rasselbock is said to exist in the Thuringian forest, the Palatinate region knows the Rammeschucksn and Elwedritsche, a chicken with antlers, and the Dilldapp is home to the Alemannic region.

Wilhelm Grimm and Jacob Grimm, known for their fairytales as Brothers Grimm, wrote in their collected fables about a creature which first appeared in 1753 called Kreißl, which sounds somewhat similar to “kreischen”, the German word for screeching.

Beyond German’s borders, the Raurackl appears to be an Austrian version of the Wolpertinger, which is common in Lower Austria and parts of Salzburg. Other spellings exist and the writer Ludwig Ganghofer called the creature “Hirschbockbirkfuchsauergams”, which roughly translates to buck-fox-grouse-chamois.

Sweden has the skvader, which the taxidermist Rudolf Granberg constructed in 1918 out of a hare and a grouse. The jackalope is a mythical creature of North American folklore and a critter with the body of a jackrabbit and antelope horns.

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The part of the Wolpertinger that is real

If you hadn’t guessed it, the Wolpertinger and all its counterparts such as the jackalope and the skvader are all fictional creatures. However, one part of all of these inventions is very real. In a sense, they prove that language is very much alive and always changing. The jackalope for example is a portmanteau of jackrabbit and antelope.

In the case of the Wolpertinger, the exact origins of the name are not clear. Bernd Ergert, the director of the German Museum for  Hunting and Fishing in Munich, traces the origins back to glassmakers from the town of Wolterdingen. They manufactured shot glasses in the shape of animals called Wolterdinger. Time and fluid language could have changed that name to Wolpertinger. Another origin story is the word Walper, dialect for the “Walpurgisnacht”, the night before the first of May.

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