The Magic Chickens of Castle Alt-Windeck

Close to the town of Bühl the ruins of Castle Alt-Windeck can be seen and its towers offer a spectacular view of the area, all the way to close by Strasbourg and its minster. The castle is linked with a peculiar story that plays in the 14th century and features magic chickens and and a pair of brave children. 

During this time, Alt-Windeck and Strasbourg were engaged in a feud and Reinhard of Alt-Windeck travelled to Strasbourg where he managed to capture Johann of Ochsenstein, the dean of the famous minster. When he returned, he was observed by an old woman, who happened to be in the area. She was elderly and generally known as the woman from the forest who lived in a hut in a clearing and her only possessions of any worth were her white chickens, which she cared for as if they were her own children. 

Castle Alt Windeck
Alt Windeck – By Wares75, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A short time after she had observed Reinhard and his prey, two children arrived at her door. It was the middle of winter and they were blue from cold and hardly able to stand. She ushered them in and offered warmth and food, despite having little left for herself. Once the children were fed, they told the old woman that they were traveling to Alt-Windeck to plead with Reinhard to release their uncle Johann. They were orphans and their uncle was the only person they had left in the world. The old woman listened patiently, but she knew that once Reinhard had captured a hostage, he would not release them without being paid handsomely. Money, however, the children had none. The old woman sighed and told them to take one of her hens to Reinhard and inform him that the men of Strasbourg planned an assault on the castle. In fact, they had been informed that the easter wall was vulnerable and this is where they would attack. Reinhard should place his men on this wall, but during the night before the battle, he should leave the hen outside. 

The next day, the children left the woman and walked to Alt-Windeck, where they were welcomed by Reinhard. He listened to their tale and promised that if the men of Strasbourg should indeed come and be turned away on the basis of the information, Johann would be freed. The same evening, reports arrived from Reinhard’s scouts that a band of men was on the march and knowing of the powers of the old woman, Reinhard placed the white hen outside the easter wall, where it immediately started to make noises and attract all the other chickens in the area, who started digging with their claws. Reinhard was amazed by this spectacle, but unsure what to make of it and returned to feast. The next morning, when he woke he looked towards the easter wall where the men of Strasbourg had arrived. However, outside the wall the chickens had dug a huge ditch and the vulnerable part of the castle was protected. On seeing this new obstacle, the leader of Strasbourg left the field of battle, for he knew that he would be unable to take the castle now.

Reinhard was true to his word and freed Johann, who returned to Strasbourg. The two towns made peace and to today, the old woman in the forest and her magic hens are held in high esteem. 

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