It is said that to truly understand a culture you need to read its classic children’s books. However, after taking a look at two of Germany’s, you might wish you never had. They do explain, however, some peculiar quirks of the Germans that we non-Germans find a little hard to get used to. Perhaps if we had grown up on these books, we would find ourselves with the same ones.
Der Stuwwelpeter (Shaggy Peter) by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman
Most children’s books are moral lessons hidden beneath a layer of imagery and metaphors. Dr Hoffman obviously didn’t believe in this nonsense as he wrote a book that told children exactly what would happen to them if they broke the rules in gory and gruesome details. A girl who doesn’t listen to her mother and plays with matches burns to death in front of her cats. A boy who sucks his thumbs has them cut off by a passing tailor. And a boy who refuses to eat his soup withers away and dies. I think if I had grown up on these tales, I would be frightened to break the rules even as an adult. It perhaps explains why Germans are well known for their love of rules.
Vom kleinen Maulwurf, der wissen wollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat (The Little Mole, who wanted to know who made it on his head) by Werner Holzwarth & Wolf Erlbruch
This book is not a classic, but it is certainly very popular. I first discovered it through fellow Aussie expat Liv, who wrote a blog post about it & other strange German children’s books. When I finally managed to track down a copy, the cashier at the bookshop remarked ‘how sweet’, which is not quite the terminology I would use when looking at a drawing of a mole with a large shit on its head. The book tells the story of an unfortunate mole who is having the worse day ever. It begins as soon as he pokes his head out of his burrow only to have someone shit on it, and so he starts his quest to find out exactly who the culprit was. The book has many ‘lovely’ drawings of all the different poop types of animals commonly found on a farm as the mole questions each one of them. If you understand German or just want to watch the cute cartoon, you can watch the story below
From this book, we start to understand why the Germans are quite at home when discussing their bodily functions with anyone, not unlike us English folk, who only discuss it with our doctors when we really have to. It also explains the existence of the shelf toilet, a design which bewilders the rest of the world.
What are your favourite German children’s books that you think explain some of the peculiar quirks found in German culture?