Friday, December 25, 2009

White Christmas

The weather has dominated the news in the US for the past week or so and the same is true for Germany. The Ruhr region doesn't get many serious snow storms as a rule, but this past week they were hit hard. I picked up on the story listening to WDR and went to some local print news sites to get more detail online. My search brought up some references to the recent snow, but I was quickly sidetracked by news about a new children's book being featured in a series of pieces in the KinderZEIT. KinderZEIT is a regular feature of the weekly newspaper, Die Zeit. It has stories aimed at children and they're going to be publishing one of the tales from Ritter, Räuber, Spökenkieker by Hartmut El Kurdi each week until mid-February. Herr El Kurdi is a Jordanian born writer, who grew up in the UK and Germany. The perfect multi-kulti credentials for this book of Ruhrgebiet folk tales, given the Ruhr's reputation as Europe's ultimate melting Pott.

Like everything that happens in the Ruhrgebiet right now, the publication of the folk tales volume is timed to coincide with the Kulturhauptstadt year, 2010. The festivities will bring a lot of attention to Essen and the surrounding cities and I imagine sales for the book might be just a little stronger than would otherwise be the case.

I enjoyed the first story, but was again sidetracked as I read the profiles of loyal KinderZEIT readers in the web page sidebar. It seems kids can send in short bios and get an early fifteen minutes of fame if the newspaper chooses their bio for publication. The format is reminiscent of the "Dewar's Profiles" that used to run at the back of the New Yorker and similar magazines in the US: passport style photo in the upper right and short answers to a series of standard questions, such as, Where do you live? What do you find particularly nice about living there? What doesn't appeal to you there? What makes you sad? What word do you always misspell? I was fascinated by the questions alone, never mind the answers the kids gave.

Thinking back to my own childhood, I'm wondering, were American kids in the 1960's allowed to be sad? I don't think so. Not that we weren't ever sad, it's just that society didn't really allow for the possibility that we would ever think about it in the abstract. I think what made me most sad when I was younger were the Saturdays when my father would abruptly announce that he would be cutting hair after lunch. Not his own hair, of which there wasn't enough to bother talking about, but our hair: we the children. Those Saturdays always ended with me looking like some skinny reform school type, tried as an adult and prepped for the electric chair. I knew school on Monday would be a living hell and wondered why a parent would make his child look that bad on purpose. But by Tuesday I had already forgotten that haircuts existed and lived in a fool's paradise until the next Saturday my father would decide to make my brothers and me look like a band of youthful collaborators.

As I read the profiles in the KinderZEIT I was surprised to see that the German kids were made sad by things like fighting, war, death, or in two cases, noise. I fought constantly as a kid and don't remember being sad about it. Angry, yes, but only if I lost. And noise? I loved noise and reveled in noisy things. Reading these profiles, I wondered if maybe it's only the children of Zeit readers that get sad about noise. Probably kids whose parents read the Bild Zeitung get sad about stuff that I could relate to, like having to go to bed in the summer when it's still light out. But not all Zeit reader children are so sophisticated. One child, when asked what he particularly disliked about his home town (Marburg,) replied "Hundehaufen." In my neighborhood we called it dog doo and we didn't like it either. I couldn't have responded in any meaningful way to a question about a world free of war, but if we just could have made the front lawn safe for playing "Duck, Duck, Goose," that would have meant a lot to me.

The Hundehaufen in Essen are all safely hidden today under a glittering blanket of white snow and presumably the children, whether Zeit readers or Bild readers are looking forward to the excitement of Christmas tomorrow. The quintessential Christmas for me is still the year my brother got a toy cannon, one that shot real wooden shells. We took advantage of my parent's absence for a short time to get the range on the Christmas tree and lay waste to a number of glass ornaments. It was great fun, but for tomorrow, I'm hoping for a Christmas that would make a KinderZEIT reader happy: quiet, no fighting and everyone in Marburg gets a shiny new Pooper Scooper under the tree.

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