Olsztyn in legends
The tears of sorrow after the loss of a beloved one that gave birth to the river Łyna, witches, highwaymen, magical castles, or even... the chancellor Otto von Bismarck – these are only some of the motifs from fables and legends connected with Olsztyn and its surroundings.
The whole Warmian land is filled with legends and tales handed down over the ages from generation to generation. Having been written down by enthusiasts of regional traditions, they have been conveyed till this day. Some of them are directly or indirectly devoted to Olsztyn.
Saint James and the "Iron" Otto
Why is Saint James in the city's coat of arms? According to the legend, he wandered to a fishermen's village which had no name. Its inhabitants welcomed him very warmly and he started to help them with their everyday activities. The peasants got so used to the saint that they built a church in his honour in order to keep him in the village. This is how Saint James had become the patron of the place which eventually has become the city of Olsztyn and his image has been placed in the city's coat of arms ever since.
According to another legend, the coat of arms does not present Saint James, but Heiko – the last "sacrificer" of Justus, the Prussian god of the forest, who was killed by people from Olsztyn after they were instigated to do so by the Teutonic Order.
The next person who is present in the legends is the "Iron Chancellor" Otto von Bismarck. One of the tales says that Bismarck, after he disguised himself as a peasant, wanted to check how the people of Warmia thought of him. When he tried to encourage a petty thief to reveal the – in his opinion sad – truth, the thief took him for a French spy and beat him up. The chancellor, who was delighted by such an attitude, from then onwards was assured of the loyalty of the Warmian people.
On the magical creation of the Łyna
According to the legend of "How the springs of the Łyna did come to existence" written down by Maria Zientara-Malewska, the river was created by the tears of Ałna – the wife of the Prussian chief named Dobrzyn. During one of his expeditions Ałna was weaving at home. She was noticed by the son of a witch, Dietrich, who fell in love with her. His cruel mother decided to help him win the girl's heart. She killed Dobrzyn with a poisoned arrow. The tears of Ałna, when she wept after her lover, created a spring – the beginning of Ałna's river called by the local people the Łania, and finally – the Łyna.
Another "Legend on the Łyna", written down by Irena Kwintowa, tells the story of Jasiek – an orphan raised by his uncle who was a fisherman. During one of his catches, the King of a Thousand Lakes was caught into his net. In exchange for his freedom the King offered Jasiek one of his daughters – Łyna. When the boy heard her beautiful voice, he fell in love with her. She had known him earlier, had listened to his singing and was also fond of him. The happiness, however, did not last long: Jasiek was crushed by a tree. In order to save her lover, Łyna broke a restriction and went back to the depths of the lake. Jasiek was cured, but they had to be punished. Łyna was changed into a river and the boy into a weeping willow by her bank.
The highwaymen by Skanda and in the City Forest
For the one who struggles with the law it never ends well. The 32 highwaymen who had abducted the daughter of the town mayor did also learn this lesson. The girl managed to flee and inform her father about the bandits' hiding place which was near the Skanda Lake. All of them were captured, except for their chieftain. He was not caught until a shoemaker tricked him into leaving his hideout. He was sentenced to death by being drowned in the Łyna. However, before he died he managed to kill the brave shoemaker.
Among many tales about the secrets of the City Forest, it is worthwhile to take into consideration "The Castle in the Olsztyn Forest" written by August Steffen. The title castle belonged to a bandit who had a devout wife and a daughter named Elżbieta who had fallen in love with a wandering musician. Her father did not agree to the marriage and got the young boy killed. Elżbieta buried her beloved one near her favourite cross. When the father wanted her to marry a highwayman, the girl asked God in her prayers for preventing this. God listened to her request and on the same day a downpour flooded the castle, killing all its residents, including Elżbieta herself.