The Treasures of the Past

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The
essence of a country can best be expressed in the form of its art.
The arts of literature, poetry, music, and paintings leave behind
the spirit of a time as the artist has seen it in his own heart.
Their work illuminates a vibrant presence that can be enjoyed by
future generations.

I
grew up in Lower Franconia (Unterfranken) which is a sub-state of
Bavaria in Germany. I was surrounded with local art, history, literature,
poetry and music. Not only was I introduced to them through the
local activities of seasonal festivals, but also through my parents
and my wonderful teachers. In my little world I was delighted by
19th Century writers and painters, and older century craftsman and
architects. Their work also brought meaning to my personal life
in many ways.

One
of my first children's books I remember reading were the stories
of Wilhelm Busch (1842–1908). He is best known for his rascal
tales called Max
und Moritz
. The stories were accompanied by his own caricatures
that illustrate the practical jokes that Max and Moritz are pulling
on an older widow. Don't fret; they did get punished for the trouble
they caused to the widow and her chickens.

His
drawings and stories revolved around every day life of mid-19th
century Germany. His observations showed that every action will
have an effect on others and self and he spiced it up with good
humor. Another short story that stuck with me was called Die
Strafe der Faulheit (Punishment of Laziness) and tells
of the lives of two dogs and their owners. One dog was spoiled and
the other was disciplined to learn about work. The story ends by
showing which dog had the smarts to escape from a life-and-death
situation.

In
many ways I could relate to Wilhelm Busch's rascal tales, because
I was a tomboy myself. One could either find me in my grandmother's
garden digging in dirt or in my grandfather's barn getting into
his feed to mix up my own concoction of fine cuisine that not even
the cat wanted to eat. I set up my territory by the wood shed near
the barn and collected many of my grandfather's farm u2018equipment'
as my furniture for my camp. He never seemed to be pleased with
the disappearing of his tools, buckets or boards that I used.

At
times I've gotten into my grandmother's chicken nests, too, in order
to collect the daily eggs. It's so fun to hunt down the nests in
different places in the barn and in baskets that the hens used for
laying their eggs. Oma always had a sign of relief on her face when
I brought her my find of fresh eggs. I guess she thought I would
use them in my experimental cooking back at the wood shed.

My
next collection to my children's library was Der
Struwwelpeter
by Heinrich Hoffmann (1809–1845). Everyone
in Germany has read his famous story book. He was a physician by
profession and could not find any interesting children's books to
buy. So one day he came home with an empty notebook and told his
wife that he would have to do his own writings. Mark Twain translated
the story into English in 1845 and titled it Slovenly
Peter
.

The
stories of Struwwelpeter with its simple drawings speak in rhymes
about the do's and don'ts for children. There were pictures and
stories of what would happen if children don't brush their hair,
eat their soup, play with matches or bounce around at the dinner
table. The colorful pictures show the mostly bourgeois life-style
of the times.

When
I read the stories now, I get a smile all over my face, because
the lessons of the stories seem somewhat strange at times. They
did have a profound truth in it though, especially since I hated
to take baths. My mother would have used a lasso to catch me, if
she could, to get me into the tub. Since we lived in an old farm
house, there were no bathrooms by today's standard. My grandmother's
kitchen was it. My mother heated the water on her wood-burning stove,
and drew a bath in a little tub. The idea of having to take a bath
made my hair stand up straight (just like Struwwelpeter) and not
even the threat of having to look like him one day made any difference
to me. Now I am chasing my youngest daughter for baths and just
getting to brush her hair is an ordeal. Times haven't changed much
for kids.

Between
the age of 10 and 12 I raided my dad's library and discovered Karl
May (1842–1912). It was my first introduction to the wilderness
of America and its native people — the Indians. I believe that almost
every German has read the stories of Karl May, including Albert
Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, and Herman Hesse.

What
is so fascinating about his writings is that the man has never been
to the u2018West' until 1908, many years after he's written most of
his novels of Winnetou,
the Apache Chief and Old
Shatterhand
, his faithful European friend. He was able to
evoke a longing in my own soul of wanting to go out and see for
myself the land and people he wrote about.

He
came from a poor background and tried to u2018earn' money the illegitimate
ways. While imprisoned he started penning his first novels. I can
easily see how a soul like him longs for freedom, and he used his
imagination and writing skills to liberate himself.

I
am convinced that Karl May was one of the major influences that
spawned my u2018Wanderlust' and desire to move to the USA. Although
his descriptions were somewhat incorrect in his writings, he nevertheless
wrote fictions that were powerful in bringing out the real spirit
of the West.

The
impact his writings had on me came out in my 12-year-old fashion
statement. I started braiding my hair like an American Indian. I
wanted to wear clothes that resembled anything Native American.
My room was re-decorated with animal skin, pictures of u2018Winnetou'
and anything Western that I could get my hands on. I remember an
entire summer day-dreaming about meeting a u2018Winnetou' one day and
living with him in the woods of the American West. I think my brothers
and sister and probably parents thought I've lost all my marbles
at one point.

When
I entered middle school in 7th grade (all-girl boarding school),
I had an older gentleman as my teacher (he must have been in his
mid 60's) in German Literature and English. I owe a lot of my knowledge
and English skills to Herr Leicht. He introduced us to the great
minds of Germany, and combined literature with world history. His
heart was in his teaching and he had the attention of his all-girls
class.

Herr
Leicht had the marvelous ability to combine teaching with on-hand
lessons by taking us to museums, bringing in material from his own
home or just simply sharing stories of what he read and knew. He
was a man who we all respected deeply not because of his age alone,
but because he respected us girls and fed our minds with wonderful
knowledge.

My
first introduction to really liking the paintings of Carl Spitzweg
(1808–1885) was when Herr Leicht took us to a museum trip to
the city of Wuerzburg. I believe the exhibition took place at the
residential palace. His u2018brush' reflected 19th Century life that
showed innocent romance and life of bourgeois folks of all ages
and professions.

I
noticed how much his paintings reminded me of Wilhelm Busch's and
Heinrich Hoffman's stories. His paintings also portray the mountains
and forests, which of course reminded me of my life as a tomboy.
One of my favorite things to do after school was to get on my bike
and meet my friends for our excursions into the fields and hills.
My u2018boy' friends and I had a big hay stack as our fort which was
right outside the forest. We dug caves and tunnels and made sure
a u2018scout' would alert us if he saw a farmer pull up on his tractor.
We called it u2018red alert.' The u2018red alert' should have been for my
mother, because she was not pleased when I came home with hay and
straw hanging all over my hair and clothes.

Some
hunting scenes made me think of times when we tried to repair the
old, abandoned u2018hunter's cabin' right at the edge of the woods near
a big hill. For many hours we labored in repairing the old place
for our personal use until one of the guys got stung by a bee. I
was in the midst of painting the u2018décor' on the walls (it
was a big red flower) when he realized that the hammering has angered
an entire nest of bees. All we could do was flee down the hill for
rescue.

My
favorite painting is titled "The Poor Poet" and shows
an ill-stricken writer lying in bed amidst a small chamber in total
disarray and need of repairs. I always felt pity for the poor man
and it gave me the motivation of wanting to clean up his messy abode.
Although I knew it was just a painting, Carl Spitzweg was able to
bring out compassion and empathy with his work.

Wuerzburg
is a haven of the studies of arts and science, as well as a historical
treasure with all her churches, bridges, and palaces. Our school
went there many times for theatre performances and museum trips.
The most impressive building to me has always been the Episcopal
Palace used by the crown-bishops. It has a magnificent presence
and every time I see the palace, I still get the chills. The architect
of this wonderful building was Balthasar Neumann (1687–1753).

I
don't know the exact time when I discarded my dream of being a princess
and turned into a girl playing with dirt and boys, but when I stood
in front of this palace all my girly dreams came back. I could just
hear the carriages and hoof sounds on the cobblestones. The rococo-style
building had a majestic presence that made my breath stop for a
moment. The main entrance boasted a grand staircase with decorations
and paintings. The fountains and gardens were charming and I could
see how powder-haired men and women would walk around in their knee
highs and puffy skirts. It was fun to explore this place.

Wuerzburg
was ready to make some big improvements to their city after they
recovered from the consequences of the peasant wars. Johann Philip
Franz Graf von Schoenborn was the newly elected crown-bishop and
contracted Balthasar Neumann to build his new residency.

His
rococo-style is reflected in many churches in my state alone. My
country church back home was also designed by this great man.

Two
centuries before Balthasar Neumann, Wuerzburg was the home of another
famous artist. This famous sculptor of the late Middle Ages and
contemporary of Albrecht Duerer was Tilman Riemenschneider (1460–1531).
He received many commissions from church and civic leaders as a
master sculptor to create alter pieces for churches and other ensembles
for the secular world. Most of his art shows religious motifs of
his Renaissance time.

One
interesting aspect of his was the details in his work. The fine
lines of hair and the exquisite precise details of curls on his
figures really brought his work alive. My teacher brought us to
Wuerzburg many times to see his work, and it was he who made us
aware of his craftsmanship.

When
I started boarding school in Volkach on the Main River, we had to
attend church at the beginning of each school year. The church was
located in a vineyard called the pilgrimage church of "Maria
im Weingarten" (Mary in the Vineyards). Inside was the beautiful
wood carving of Tilman Riemenschneider of Mary surrounded by a wreath
of grapes. The art piece is hung in the center over the alter and
is the focal point of the church.

This
is only a fraction of the wealth of artists and writers in my little
state alone. I've seen their work in person and they have touched
me in many ways than just looking at a museum piece or reading a
story and forget the book. I lived with all of them for many years
since their creation was part of my life.

I'm
so grateful that in later years I've come to love the diverse spirits
of the many centuries that are so visible everywhere back home.
Each era echoes forth a different style and mentality and yet they
still evoke similar responses in a contemplative man: Awesomeness,
joy, compassion, empathy, and mercy and love.

I
often sit in my backyard watching my girls play. The environment
that they play in is different than mine was, but their passion
to discover and their child-like curiosity is the same as it was
for me. I hear them laughing and giggle and I wonder what it is
that they will discover in their native country.

It
may be that they will discover Mark Twain, Norman Rockwell or even
Will Rogers. My oldest son has discovered his passion for music
and contemporary American composers or it may be B.B. King or Gershwin
for my girls.

Each
society has their own cultural treasure of story tellers, musicians
and artists. I see Mark Twain and Norman Rockwell not much different
than Wilhelm Busch or Carl Spitzweg. Their style and expression
however is unique, and these men were the spirit of their time and
place. They developed and came forth within their own culture.

It
would be erroneous for me to think that I can duplicate my experience
and force my heritage on my children. They are already part of it,
yet they still have to discover it within themselves. All I can
do is guide, instruct and teach and take them home for visits. My
children will have to make their own experiences that will bring
meaning into their life.

I
am not quite sure how a group of statesmen of a form of government
can duplicate their ideology and stamp it on the heart of another
nation without regarding that nation's own treasure and heritage.
This transfer of a system is not sparked by the passion of the people.
It is foreign and alien to them. It will collapse before it is even
built, because there is no treasure developed from the inside that
can withstand the pressure from the outside.

The
existence of an essence in a culture is discovered like a treasure
and mined with the hearts and minds of spirited people that have
a vision of the bigger picture. Being able to discover my treasure
during my growing up years has been a life-long gift. I feel every
society and people of a nation deserve the same opportunity.

November
28, 2003

Sabine
Barnhart [send her mail]
moved to the US in 1980 and lives in Fort Worth, TX with
her three children. For the past 15 years she has been working for
an international service company.


        
        

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