Reading Stories

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“Oma-Ebersdorf ließt vor und Svend lauscht…”

(Grandma Ebersdorf is reading to him and Svend is listening…)

How much is in these three little dots…

Rolf Keller’s mother was living in Ebersdorf, near Chemnitz (nowadays a part of the city). His other grandmother was living in Hamburg, so there was “Oma Ebersdorf” and “Oma Hamburg”.

This pencil sketch by Rolf Keller, made in the 1930s, is showing my father as a child, sitting in a chair and listening while his grandmother is reading stories to him. Maybe when he was much smaller, he was sitting already in this same chair, and now, already a bit too large for it, he was making himself small again inside that chair to listen to the stories. Then, his grandmother took the heavy book from the bookshelf, put on her glasses, sat down besides him and started reading…

He told me about it when I was a child myself. His grandmother would, for example, read the stories of Wilhelm Hauff to him, for example “Zwerg Nase” (The Dwarf Nose). I remember my father reading this (and many other stories) to me and my sisters. Nothing can be compared to the feeling of having stories read to you when you are a child. And when my daughter was small, I discovered the joy of reading stories to a child, again something special that cannot be compared to anything. I continued it even when she could read already herself, at our shared pleasure.

“… She went so slowly that it was three quarters of an hour before she reached a remote part of the city, and finally stopped before a tumble-down house. Then she drew a rusty old hook from her pocket, and inserted it skillfully into a small hole in the door, which sprung open with a bang. But how surprised was little Jacob as he entered! The interior of the house was splendidly fitted up; the ceilings and walls were of marble; the furniture of the finest ebony, inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl; while the floor was of glass, and so smooth that the boy slipped and fell several times. The old woman then drew a silver whistle from her pocket and whistled a tune that resounded shrilly through the house. In response to this, some Guinea-pigs came down the stairs; but, as seemed strange to Jacob, they walked upright on two legs, wore nutshells in place of shoes, and had on clothes and even hats of the latest fashion. …”

A long thread of story reading and, earlier, story telling connects us back through the generations into earliest times, and at the same time into the world of the stories. “Once upon a time…”, “Es war einmal…”, “Mukashi, mukashi, o-mukashi…” – many languages have such formulas that enter the child and the reader into that realm of stories, the only real magic words. The chair, the carpet, the curtains disappear, and in their place, a different world appears…

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Town Canal in Holland

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In 1944, Rolf Keller spent some time in Holland. He was there as a soldier. We have little exact information on this time since most of the letters he wrote home during the war (many of them illustrated) where destroyed in a fire (I am going to publish the few extant examples here at another time). However, there is a number of drawings and sketches from Holland, some giving names and places, some without exact information on the where and when. It is obvious that Rolf Keller was a great admirer of Dutch architecture.

I don’t know where exactly this pen drawing was made. The tower looks like that of the Weigh House (containing a cheese museum) in Alkmaar. If you look at pictures of that town on the internet, you also find exactly that type of draw bridge and exactly that type of hand rail on the bridges. However, I was not able to find any point on the map of the city that would provide exactly this view. It might be that this is somewhere else, not in Alkmaar, it might be that I have not studied the map of the town well enough or that places have been changed.

However, it is also possible that this drawing does not show any actual view but was composed by the artist, combining different elements he saw or sketched while walking through the town, something like an ideal concentrate of that town, combining the different elements that provide the beauty and atmosphere of these Dutch and Frisian Towns, the canals, the bridges, the trees, the houses and the typical towers.

Rudolf Hünlich – Pond in the Forest

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Rudolf Hünlich was the youngest brothers of Rolf Keller’s mother Gabriele Keller, née Hünlich. He died from pneumonia, only 24 years old. I don’t have his date of birth or date of death. We have a sketchbook from him (from which this view of a pond in the forest is taken) as well as some separate sketches and drawings. The drawings are probably from the 1870s or 1880s. Rudolf Hünlich was a xylographer.

Their father Friedrich Wilhelm Hünlich was a clerk at a district court. He was from a family of weavers. His wife, Rosa Plocek, was from Czechia. The Hünlich family originated from Spremberg-Neusalza, at the border between Saxony (Germany) and Czechia.

Most of the sketches of Rudolf Hünlich show landscapes, probably from the area around Spremberg-Neusalza, although I don’t know this for sure. The drawing above is from the sketch book. I am planning to publish Rudolf Hünlich’s drawings here bit by bit.

My grandfather’s (Rolf Keller’s) actual name was not “Rolf” (that is a contracted nickname form) but “Wilhelm Rudolf”. The name Wilhem is his grandfather’s second name, the name Rudolf probably was given to him after this his uncle, and it might have delighted his mother that he also developed an artistic talent, so the name proved to be a fitting choice.