Women's History Resource Site

King's College History Department


Book Review

Kunze, Michael. Highroad to the Stake.

Michael Kunzeís book Highroad to the Stake is a recreation of the events that led to the execution of a poor Bavarian family. Each character the book mentions goes in-depth on their history and feelings. I think that while the book was informative it was also tedious. Also there is a constant jumping of the story from past to present and vice-versa. This interrupts the flow of the story making it rather tiresome. Even though the book is dull, Kunze does get his point across to the reader.

The intention of the book is to inform the reader of not only the events that led to the execution of the Pappenheimer family, but, how it occurred as well as the time, place, and people involved. The authorís target audience is more in the professional field than the mass popular culture. This is easy to determine since the book delves into the ethos and people more than the violence that excites the mainstream society of today. This might be because he has no experience as a writer of books.

The author Kunze received his education in Germany, studying law, history, and philosophy. Michael Kunze is an outstanding lyricist and librettist of the German musical theater. The first show he wrote was, Hexen Hexen (Witches). His own recordings dominated the charts of the 1970s in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. When he eventually produced his first international act, he hit the top of both the Billboard and Cashbox charts in the US. His group, Silver Convention, was the first German group to win the coveted Grammy Award. He has also written musicals on historical people like Empress Elizabeth of Austria and Mozart.  At the top of his success, he took a breather from show business and wrote this book, Highroad to the Stake

The main characters in this book, the Pappenheimers, were far from innocent, stealing from others and causing violence.  But not even they deserved the horrors done to them. Men who believed they were performing Godís will caused their torture and ultimate execution; such is the work of zealots. The Pappenheimers lived in the 1600ís and traveled around Germany emptied privies for a living, not a respected job but it allowed them to survive. Then one night they were pulled from Ulrich Scholzís barn in Lower Bavaria where they were spending the night. Haslang the sheriff and his men bound them and after a couple of days travel brought them to Munich and Falcon tower, the prison where they would be held. They were turned over to Master Georg their warden and torturer, who locked them up in the Keuchen or "chokey." The Councilors that interrogated the Pappenheimers for example Dr. Wangereck, did more then just brow-beat them. The Pappenheimers were brutally tortured (Torqueatur) in order to get the answers they wanted. When they were done with the Pappenheimers they had their show trial, then were publicly executed by being burned alive at the stake, murder as an act of faith (Auto-de-fe). 

However the real reason the Pappenheimers died was not to protect the people from the evil of the Devilís minions but, to make Duke Maximilian I appear to be a living example of the Christian monarch. Kunzeís interpretation of what happened was that Maximilian was motivated both spiritually and politically. It would have to be a Witch trial since there were no holy wars with people of different nationalities he would have to target his fellow countrymen. The cityís Catholic faith was strictly enforced and spys informed on any one who was not a devout Catholic so he could not be any of them. There was also a crime wave in the vast countryside with no way of stopping it, so Maximilian knew were to look. To get his point across it would have to be public. "His deeply felt need for spectacular display, which ran counter to his notorious meanness."(p.110) Maximilian had every authority to perform his little Inquisition, since the Pope left the supervision of the Church in Catholic territories to local rulers. Kunze supported his argument with 146 sources. He also used pictures of woodcuttings, an old map, and a wooden model of the city to show the area during that time.

One of the books positive aspects is how descriptive it is. From the clothing to the architecture, it gives a good visual of what Munich looked like in the sixteen hundreds. "The houses, generally of two or three stories, are either pinched and narrow or broad and rambling; some have narrow pitched roots, others are commodious;-"(p. 8) This also proves Kunze was a bit too descriptive, giving too much information. Kunze gives a good representation of what caused the Pappenheimer to be burned alive, which was Maximilian desire for prestige. I can understand why Highroad to the Stake was awarded the 1981 Faculty Prize by the Munich University Law School, and was also translated into several languages. But, the pages full of detail can be a bit dull. The breakup of the story switching from different character perspectives as well as different points in time makes the story difficult to read. If a historian wanted to know about the time, place, and culture of Munich this would be the book for him/her, but not the average reader.  I did not like this book. 

I recommend this book to any one who is studying witchcraft or the politics of that time. But I found this book had little to no excitement in it and would not recommend this book to an average reader. I found with all of the general information in the book it was hard to find the authorís point but I believe that Kunze is trying to show that the Pappenheimers were accused of the wrong thing at the wrong time.


Annotated Reviews

Paul Roberts, "A first whiff of the Holocaust," review of Highroad to the Stake, by Michael Kunze, The Toronto Star, 18 April 1987, M9.
Roberts says the strength of the book is that he does not condemn the officials who did this but opens their lives to understand them.


Wendy Doniger O,Flaherty, "Agony and Apostasy," review of Highroad to the Stake, by Michael Kunze, The New York Times, 19 April 1987,  14.
Written by a author and Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago. Who thought the book was "Fascinating," because of the logic the torture applies to the executions.


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