Reading Stories 2

Svend Vorlesen (1)

Another drawing by Rolf Keller, showing a book being read to my father as a boy. This time, it’s his mother, sitting in a wing chair, reading to him. The ladder, perhaps brought into the room to take the curtains down for washing or to change a bulb, had been turned into a chair (or a throne, a raised hide, a crow’s nest?).

The captions read “Mutti liest aus Marie Hamsuns die Langerudkinder” (“Mom is reading from Marie Hamsun’s The Langerud Children” and “Svend, siebenjährig (oder acht?) in Grüna Villa Rauschenbach” (“Svend, seven years old (or eight?) in Grüna Villa Rauschenbach”).

Since Svend Keller was born in 1928, this might have been in 1935 or 1936. Grüna is the name of the village (near Chemnitz and nowadays a part of Chemnitz) where the Keller family was living before moving into central Chemnitz.

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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…