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Part of learning a language involves stumbling upon interesting little facts you didn’t know about before. This is what happened to me the other day. I was reading a book that mentioned the Iron Maiden – I had no idea this was a German invention! So I decided to do some reading about it and bring the facts to you here.
So when I say Iron Maiden you might think of a band. But the torture device they are named after is not!
The original iron maiden was a torture device said to have originated in 14th century Nürnberg (Nuremberg). It was a tall, coffin-like structure with hinged doors, tall enough to shut a human inside it. Its interior was full of spikes, so that when the person was inside it and the doors closed, the spikes would pierce their organs and other body parts, causing a slow, painful death.
The iron maiden is called the Eiserne Jungfrau in German. The word ‘Jungfrau’ means virgin. The iron maiden had a female face resembling the Virgin Mary. This torture device is said to have been a misinterpretation of the earlier Schandmantel – ‘coat of shame’ – which was to be worn for public humiliation.
Pretty gruesome, right?
In German (and in fact, in many European languages) there is a phrase: sich wie gerädert fühlen, which literally means ‘to feel like you’ve been wheeled’. This phrase is in reference to the Breaking Wheel, also known as the Catherine Wheel, another medieval torture device on which victims were placed to have their limbs crushed. Though not German in origin, the Germans have the phrase sich wie gerädert fühlen as a direct reference to the Wheel, as a way of describing physical exhaustion and intense discomfort.
“Ich fühle mich wie gerädert” – I am exhausted/in pain/’done in’.
Vocabulary (underlined words in text above):
torture – die Folter (noun), foltern (verb – to torture)
device – das Gerät
coffin – der Sarg/der Totenschrein
spike – der Nagel/der Spieß, aufspießen (verb – to impale)
to pierce – durchstechen
body part – der Körperteil
death – der Tod
Virgin Mary – die Jungfrau Maria
humiliation – die Erniedrigung
gruesome – gruselig/grauenhaft/grausig
victim – das Opfer
limb – das Glied
exhaustion – die Erschöpfung
discomfort – die Beschwerden