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Hunting for witches - then and now

October 27, 2023

They fly on brooms. Do good or evil. They are ugly, scary or sexy. And they are a fixture in pop culture. But the truth is, being considered a witch can be dangerous even today. A feature on the history of witch hunts.

https://p.dw.com/p/4Qh2y
An Illustration of Margarethe Kroeber, an alleged witch
Image: DW

Whether in Macbeth, Harry Potter or Hansel and Gretel, witches have a long tradition in literature and film. They are often celebrated as strong, independent women or portrayed as the incarnation of evil. In a recent global study, more than 40 percent of respondents said they believed in witchcraft. So witches are not just the stuff of nightmares or a phenomenon from a distant past. They are very much part of the present.

 

DW reporter Karin Helmstaedt has several ancestors who were accused of and sentenced for witchcraft during the time of the great European witch hunts. Now she is searching for traces in western Germany, interviewing historians, digging through archives and finding the place where her ancestors were beheaded and burned. The story of Margarethe Kröber, Karin's great-grandmother, serves to debunk common myths and set the record straight.

DW Reporter Karin Helmstaedt and Historian Walter Rummel in front of chronicals of witch trials
Image: DW

Arts.21 accompanies Karin on her research, which leads from the small German wine-growing town of Winningen all the way to Ghana. From the beginning of European witch hunts in the 15th century to witch hunts in today's Africa and Asia, Arts.21 searches for the truth: Who are the alleged witches? Who are their accusers? Why can being considered a witch be fatal even today?

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About the show

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Arts Unveiled — Experiencing and understanding the art world

Arts Unveiled dives deep into the international creative scene, uncovering new ideas and explaining cultural phenomena that shape our history, present and future. Who are the artists? What are their greatest works of art? And how are they having an impact? Where can we find their exciting projects?