Der Struwwelpeter

Der Struwwelpeter, von Dr. Heinrich Hoffman

Finally, I read another book, this time in German.  Struwwelpeter is right about my speed, since I haven't studied German in years and years--I quit after two semesters to take Russian.  Quite a few words were a bit old-fashioned, but I mostly did OK.  I also found an English version online to compare them---I read the German first and then the English--but of course the English version had been rendered into rhyme, so it mostly wasn't the same words.

Although I read a whole lot of nursery rhymes and cautionary tales as a child, we did not have Der Struwwelpeter.  I shouldn't think very many American children do, but the older British novels I've read often make a passing reference to the stories in here, so it must have been pretty well-known in the UK in the past.

These are cautionary rhymes in the traditional 18th- and 19th-century style--that is, children misbehave and are hideously punished, and everyone enjoys the wholesome fun and violence.  Peter never cuts his hair or nails, and nobody likes him; Friedrich is cruel to animals, so the dog bites him and he has to stay in bed and take nasty medicine while the dog eats his lovely sausage and cake.  Pauline plays with matches and is burned to death!  (This was a real danger, when matches were more flammable than they are now and people wore voluminous clothing.)  Three naughty boys make fun of a "Moor" and are punished.  A hare turns the tables on a hunter--I think I just met the original Bugs Bunny?

The really scary one was about poor Konrad, who sucked his thumb and got his thumbs snipped off by a tailor.  Agh.  We former thumbsuckers cringe in sympathy.  And Kaspar is a picky eater:

"Ich esse keine Suppe! Nein!
Ich esse meine Suppe nicht!
Nein, meine Suppe ess' ich nicht!"

I liked that one.  There is something about the rhythm of some German that I like, and that hits the spot.   There are a few more stories, but I'm getting boring now.

I broadened my knowledge of 19th-century children's literature, and practiced a bit of German.  Not bad!


  1. Not bad at all! :) I remember reading Till Eulenspiegel in German and it was also quite cruel. But I guess life was a bit harsher then, so the kids' books just prepared them for it :)

  2. i love this book Jean!
    i first heard about Der Struwwelpeter when i took up German classes at the Goethe Institut. a few years back, my Aunt sent me a few German children's books including this one! joy or should i say Freude! ;)

  3. Gah! I haven't seen this book since I was 5 years old. I remember reading it (and the Max und Moritz books, too) with a mixture of fascination and terror.

  4. Oh I have this book, but the first time I tried reading it I couldn't even concentrate longer than two pages. I suppose I'd find it easier now! I just remember thinking it's an odd book..

  5. Ah! I remember reading it when I was a child. I thought the rhyme went like: Meine Suppe will ich nicht! Meine Suppe ess ich nicht!
    It already had been a while, so I could be wrong on that.
    If you liked Struwwelpeter please try out Max and Moritz too. It's just as odd and has a lot of memorable rhymes :)

  6. Thanks for the suggestion! :) Your version of the Suppe rhyme also works, so I wonder if you really heard it like that or if you constructed it yourself...interesting.

  7. I just noticed this--didn't know you read German, Jean. Well done!

  8. I don't know that you can call stumbling through nursery rhymes "reading" but thank you! :)


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