The children's tale 'Fritzi war dabei' (Fritzi was there too) by author Hanna Schott is now in German cinemas. The film uses a child-friendly approach to explain the events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Monday Demonstrations, which began at St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig in then-Eastern Germany, ushered in the end of the German Democratic Republic and led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The demonstration of October 9, 1989, in particular, is regarded as the turning point of the peaceful revolution. Leipzig is celebrating the 30th anniversary of this momentous day with a range of events. On this same day, "Fritzi — A Revolutionary Tale" is launching in German cinemas.
The animated film by directors Ralf Kukula and Matthias Bruhn deals with the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall in a child-friendly way. In calmly assembled images and historically accurate illustrations of the city of Leipzig, it tells the story of this eventful phase of German history.
The film focuses on the friendship between two fourth-graders — Fritzi and Sophie — who are separated when Sophie flees to the West via Hungary with her mother during the summer holidays. Fritzi wants to see Sophie again and gradually gets caught up in the increasing protests and demonstrations that eventually lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The film is based on the children's book "Fritzi war dabei: Eine Wendewundergeschichte" by German author Hanna Schott, with illustrations by Gerda Raidt. DW spoke with the author.
DW: Ms. Schott, how did Fritzi come about?
Monika Osberghaus, who later founded Klett Kinderbuch [editor's note: a children's publishing house] in Leipzig, called me spontaneously in January 2009 when she realized that there was nothing on the subject of the fall of the Berlin Wall for younger children — that for means children from the third or fourth grade onwards. And since she also knew that I had spent a lot of time in the GDR and had relatives there, I sprang to her mind.
How did you approach the book?
In an article in the Leipziger Volkszeitung [a local Leipzig newspaper], Monika Osberghaus asked which readers had been primary school pupils in 1989 and who was in 4th grade at the time. That was something special, because you then became a Thälmann pioneer [editor's note: The Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organization, which was named after the former chairman of the Communist Party of Germany, was the political mass organization for children in the GDR]. Some 60 readers responded, but there was no real material for a story. I thought that maybe the people who were there during that time might not live in Leipzig anymore or that they didn't read the newspaper. I spoke with Pastor Christian Führer, the initiator of the Monday prayers and demostrations. He contacted people who had gone to the demos with their children in the beginning. Then I had various conversations and from those I created the character Fritzi. The one who is the most like Fritzi now lives in Braunschweig. In contrast to the film, I only included things that people had told me in the book.
What impressed you most about the East before the fall of the Wall?
I was always surprised that others weren't even interested in the fact that was another country where you shared the same language. Yet if you went abroad to France or England, you had to struggle to communicate. I found that very fascinating.
It was also still quite post-1968-generation during my studies. I remember you always had to get rid of your East German money at the end of trips there and you then had to buy records and books because you couldn't go out for a nice meal. Later, in pubs in Marburg, we discussed whether GDR citizens should be robbed of their cultural goods or not.
How did the collaboration with illustrator Gerda Raidt come about?
Fritzi was my first book with her. She was born in East Berlin and lives in Leipzig. That was also very important in terms of content. Because we were under a lot of time pressure; everything had to go very quickly. Every chapter that I finished, I sent to Gerda Raidt
and asked, "Is this true?" She said, for example, that the school blackboards played a very important role in the GDR. I had also portrayed the teacher too positively for her taste. She is really caricatured in the film — much more severe and crazier than in the book.
What happened after the book came out?
I did many, many readings of the book. For example, there was a campaign by the Leipziger Volkszeitung (LVZ) called "Zeitung in der Schule" (Newspaper in School), where I was driven across Saxony for ten days by a LVZ employee.
I always apologized to the people I interviewed at the beginning of 2009 for coming from the West because I thought, "Who am I to interview them?" And they actually thought it was great. They said: "Nobody here is interested in it anymore." You also have to note that 10 years ago, it was a bit different than it is today. And people said they liked the fact that I wanted to know all about it. In the schools, I experienced very open-minded people, but there were also people who said: "Here comes someone reading us something out of the past."
What did you experience during your readings with the children?
Ten years ago, children in the eastern part of the country knew a little more than the children in the western part, but that has since leveled off. Nobody knows anything anymore. The lack of knowledge is the same now. And I tell myself it's okay — maybe it's a positive sign that the children can no longer imagine that there were two countries. Last week in Bad Oeynhausen, I read to fifth graders who had no idea that there used to be two Germanys. And a third-grade class in Aachen was quite sure that northern and southern Germany used to be separated
from each other and that the border would have been somewhere near Frankfurt.
How much influence did you have on what came into the film and what didn't?
Legally, the script has to be shown to the author. I also had the right to veto it. A film version is always far from the original. I couldn't expect that my little book, which has almost 100 pages with illustrations, could be turned into 90 minutes of cinema. Some other things would have to be invented into the story as well.
I would only have vetoed it if it had really been against the spirit and meaning of the book's story. It's not like that. It's enough for me if the children ask at home afterwards: "How was it back then, tell me?" and a conversation ensues.
Are you satisfied with the film?
Yes, of course it was important to me that it was also stipulated in the contract that the film would be called Fritzi. Otherwise, I would gain nothing more from it. I can only hope that this will prolong the life of the book. There are now far more readings than usual because many people want to do both: see the film and get to know the author. A lot of attention has been paid to the book, which surprises and pleases me.
What do you particularly like about the film version?
Above all, I think it's wonderful how much effort they put into making Leipzig look like it was. I think that's a great success.
Were you also trying to generate a sense of understanding through the book?
My audience are fairly young children. They now have three to four school years behind them. In the years to come, they will have to learn all about the misery of German history. And I think reunification is simply the most beautiful story in German history. I think it's good that the filmmakers have taken on the [German] subtitle, "a miracle of change story."
Several things have already happened that were formerly unfathomable. If they had been fictional, you would have said they were very far-fetched. It doesn't always go from A to B, but there is also craziness, positive craziness in history. I still like to travel around with the book. It's great to be able to offer the children a happy ending that hasn't been made up.
The film "Fritzi — A Revolutionary Tale" by Ralf Kukula and Matthias Bruhn is playing in German cinemas from October 9.