Walther von der Vogelweide was a medieval poet and “minnesinger” who travelled around the various courts of Middle High Germany in the late 12th century. It is very likely that he had been knighted at some point for military service but this did not come with any land or material wealth. He wrote a lot of poetry which could be categorised as religious, political and moral although much of it had a strong romantic flavour. One of his best known pieces, Unter der Linden, tells of two young lovers meeting in a simple field where they lay together “under the lime trees”.
It was thought that Walther was born around the year 1170 but the exact circumstances of his birth and upbringing cannot be established. There is no clue in his name either which translates literally as “Sir Walter of the Bird-Field”. Some historians have connected him to the southern region of Germany or the northern parts of Austria so it could be assumed that this is the area where he lived his life. It is known that the Tyrolean region at that time was home to many well-known minnesingers and Duke Frederick I, whose court was in Vienna, welcomed poets and artists.
It is firmly believed though that Walther learned his craft under one Reinmar of Hagenau, sometimes referred to as “Reinmar The Old”. This famous minnesinger and poet was a great inspiration to Walther and prompted two beautifully crafted lyric poems following his death. While Reinmar was alive Walther lived a happy, contented life but was soon in the unhappy situation of having to travel from court to court, always hoping that a wealthy patron might rescue him from this “juggler’s life”.
He was the constant guest in other people’s houses and castles and he often criticised the people he met, finding the manners of most of the men with which he had contact unacceptable. A good example was when he was a guest of Duke Bernhard of Carinthia and he wrote afterwards that “those who have weak ears” should give this nobleman’s residence a wide berth. Even worse than that, there were times when he was neither paid for his services nor did he receive any praise.
In between performances of his songs he was a prolific poet with at least half of the 200 or more poems attributed to him having a strong religious and moral tone. He advocated pilgrimages and crusades. He preached the values of honesty and faithfulness in human relationships and suggested that man should live under a code of strict self-discipline. As a counter to these strong messages he wrote tender love poetry, his most famous one being Unter der Linden. The English translation of this lovers’ tryst is outlined here:
Although he spent most of his life wandering from region to region, it is believed that Walther eventually received adequate financial recognition that allowed him to set up a home, possibly in Würzburg. He may have spent the last fifteen years of his life there.
Walther von der Vogelweide died around the year 1230 which would have made him 60 years old. He was buried in Würzburg.