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Haunted Castle - Little Peter

Little Peter - Petermännchen is a ghost or Poltergeist. There are hundreds of stories about this ghost, who was also said to be the familiar spirit of the ducal family.

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A wooden statue of Schwerin's Ghost

Down in the huge cellar vaults of Schwerin Palace lives the mystical Petermännchen (little Peter). He is said to be a small, good-natured goblin with a grim look and there are many legends surrounding his character. Several hundred stories can be told about Schwerin Castle's poltergeist, probably making Schwerin Castle one of the most "legendary" places in Germany.

As a watchman and guardian of the palace, he was supposed to reward the good and honest, whereas he punished and expelled thieves and intruders with his mean tricks - even the mighty Wallenstein.

Equipped with lantern, sword and keys, little Peter woke good soldiers when they fell asleep during their night watch to prevent them from punishment.

Petermännchen used to change the colour of his clothes according to events going to happen. Most of the times he was dressed in grey, but when there was a war he put on red garments, and he wore black whenever someone died

Who was Little Peter?

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With the lakes and islands it is no surprise that people settled in the area of the city of Schwerin for thousands of years. Graves from 3000 years BC have been found inside the cities limits. The earliest traces of a fortress on the island of Schwerin Castle date back to 942. The slavic tribe of the Obotriten lived here. In 1160 the area was conquered by Duke Henry "the Lion" and became christianized during the following centuries. Most stories about the identity of Little Peter seem to relate to that time, when the old rulers and old religions vanished. There are four main stories explaining where Little Peter came from.

 

  • A Prince of the Obotriten slays a priest, who destroyed an old temple. He is cursed by the dying priest to haunt the castle as a dwarflike creature. The prince becomes the guardian and good spirit of the ducal family. He will continue until someone with a good heart releases him.

  • With Christianization the gods of the old world vanished and left their sacred sites at Schwerin Lake behind. Ghosts and spirits from past times stayed for a while and followed their masters later. Little Peter is one of those spirits. Only he stays in its old place at Schwerin Palace.

  • In the 13th century Franciscan Monks travelled from Lübeck to Schwerin to their monastery. When they stayed over night at the house of a noble man. In this house there was a Poltergeist. The spirit named "Puck" joined the monks and promised to be their servant in return for a jester's dress. He follows them to Schwerin, where he works for the monks and haunts within the monastery.  After the Protestant Reformation the monastery is destroyed and the stones are used for Schwerin Castle. With the stones came "Puck", who is later called Little Peter.

  • From the scientific point of view the first written story related to Little Peter's story was told by the wife of a chamber servant and dates 1747. Her husband had encounters with a "kleinen mänken" - a small man - in the corridors of the castle.  The small man pestered the servant, lurked around and made loud noise.  Once the chamber servant adressed the little man harshly, he was slapped heavily in the face in return.  The description of the "small man" does not suit the descriptions and images of Little Peter. Furthermore the report does not explicitly state, that the small man is regarded to be a ghost. It could well be a real man, probably a courtyard yester. Regardless this story was combined with other tales about the ghost of Schwerin Castle.

A room reserved for a ghost

When the castle was rebuild in 1857 a room near to the castle church was reserved for Little Peter. On request of the Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II. it was equipped with a bed, a desk and a chair and kept clean by a maid servant. Sometimes rumbling sounds came from that chamber and the bed showed signs that it has been used by someone small. The exact position of the chamber is not known anymore.

Sightings

In 1897 a court musician named Karl Meyer saw Little Peter dressed in black. The ghost was standing on the iron bridge that connects the castle island and the castle gardens. Two weeks later the young prince Friedrich Wilhelm - son of Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II - drowned in the North Sea. He commanded a torpedo boat, which overturned and sank in a sudden storm on September 22nd.

In December 1913 a big part of the Castle including the famous Golden Hall burned down. Firefighters from Rostock and Hamburg were called and brought to Schwerin via train just in time to get control of the fire. Some traces of the fire can still be seen today in the unrestored rooms. It is said that one of the young princesses later told, that she saw the figure of Little Peter moving about through the flames in red. In Juli 1914 the First World War started and ended in 1918, which was also the end of monarchy and of the rule of the Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

The last notable sighting was in 1930. A policeman who was on duty at night reported, that a small figure walked past him on the castle bridge dressed strangely and wearing a hat. When the officer tried to address the stranger, he would quickly walk into the castle gardens and vanished there.

And today?

There are many people living in Schwerin, who know stories about the Poltergeist Petermännchen at Schwerin Castle. And there are quite a few, who can tell that they saw flickering dim lights moving behind the castle windows.  Especially in one of the towers there are sightings of candle light and a shadow moving. Might that be Little Peter? Who knows.

Facts and Follies

Take a guided tour

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