Walther von der Vogelweide was born about 1170, possibly of the lower nobility. Because the term Vogelweide was a common word meaning bird-sanctuary, numerous places have claimed to be the poet’s birthplace, most conspicuously Vogelweidhof, near Bozen, South Tyrol, where an impressive monument in his honor has been erected; since this region did not belong to Austria at the time and the Austrian dialect was not spoken there, however, scholars speculate that Vogelweide probably was born in lower Austria. Wherever his birthplace, the poet “learned to sing and recite in Austria,” appearing at the court of Duke Frederick in Vienna about 1190 and probably learning his craft from Reinmar von Hagenau.
In 1198, Vogelweide’s patron died; Vogelweide was forced to leave Vienna to begin the uncertain life of a wandering minstrel. The only extant historical document concerning him is a receipt showing that Wolfger, Bishop of Passau, had given “to the singer Walther de Vogelweide five solidi for a fur coat on Saint Martin’s Day in the year 1203.” Among his many other patrons was Count Hermann of Thuringia, at whose court he met Wolfram von Eschenbach, author of Parzival (1200-1210), and other lyric poets. Vogelweide wrote songs for three emperors; after Philip of Swabia was murdered and his successor Otto IV allegedly did not pay the poet enough, Vogelweide shifted his allegiance to Friedrick II, who eventually rewarded him with a small property near Würzburg in about 1220. Presumably, Vogelweide did not participate in the Crusade of 1228 and died about 1230 near Würzburg, where his grave could still be seen in the cathedral garden half a century later. Another minstrel, Hugo von Trimberg, grieved over Vogelweide’s death with the words, “Ah Sir Walther von der Vogelweide, I would feel sorry for whomever forgot you.”