SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

CULTURE

A guide to Erich Kästner: the father of German children’s books

When most people think of German authors, Goethe, Kafka and Mann are the first to come to mind - but Dresden-born Erich Kästner has also made a huge impact on the German literary scene. You may be surprised to see some stories you recognise included in this list of his major works.

Florian David Fitz as Eric Kästner
Florian David Fitz plays German author Erich Kästner in the drama, "Kästner and the little Tuesday". Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ARD Degeto/Dor Film/ | Anjeza Cikop

Erich Kästner was primarily known for his numerous children’s books, many of which have been adapted into classic films, both in English and in their original German language.

His works are noted for their realistic settings, which was a major change from most children’s novels at the time, and the fact that their social commentary is still considered relevant today. Kästner frequently depicted the adult world in a negative way, contrasting with that of children, symbolizing a hope for the development of humanity and its future.

He was also a pacifist and actively opposed the Nazi regime, which resulted in much of his work being banned and burned in the spring of 1933.

Since then, however, most of his works have remained in publication.

Here are five of his most popular works and why they continue to stand the test of time.

Lottie and Lisa (original title: Das doppelte Lottchen)

This classic novel revolves around a set of twin girls separated at birth who reunite years later at a summer camp. English-speaking audiences may be more familiar with the two Disney adaptations, titled The Parent Trap, but there have been many others in a number of languages, including German, Japanese, Hindi and Korean.

While Kästner came up with the concept as a film in 1942, due to strict film laws by the Nazis, the project was dropped, and Kästner worked out the story into a novel after the war. The subject of divorce plays a major role in the novel and the introduction of an independent, single and working mother as a character was praised. The work also stands out for its two main characters being girls, which was unusual for Kästner’s work at the time. The central storyline is used as inspiration in a number of modern works, and even a tramway in Dresden was named after the two title characters.

Parent trap
A scene from the 1990s Disney film, Parent Trap, which was based on Kästner’s ‘Lottie and Lisa’. Photo: picture-alliance / dpa | Ipol

Emil and the Detectives (original title: Emil und die Detektive)

Probably one of Kästner’s most well-known works, Emil and the Detectives was published in 1929 and became an instant hit upon its release. It contrasted with most of German children’s literature at the time by not being fairytale-like or moralizing, instead depicting humour and adventure in a modern, mundane setting.

The story follows Emil Tischbein, a twelve-year-old boy who has his money stolen from him on the train to Berlin, prompting him and several children to gather, find the thief and solve the crime. Like in many of his works, it is the children who are the heroes of the story, restoring peace to society, in contrast to the adult’s ineptitude. The novel has had several adaptions, both in film and on the stage as well as a sequel, which was published in 1934. You can also view the original typescripts of the novel, as they are on display in the Literaturmuseum der Moderne in Marbach, Baden-Württemberg.

READ ALSO: From shocking storytelling to diverse characters: How Germany’s children’s books are changing

The Flying Classroom (original title: Das fliegende Klassenzimmer)

The Flying Classroom is set in a boarding school in Bavaria and follows five friends rehearsing for a play (“The Flying Classroom”, hence the book title), who face a rivalry with another school amongst other everyday issues. The novel has been deemed timeless by critics and has been applauded for addressing issues such as childhood abandonment, poverty and the yearning for approval. The book has had three film adaptations, starring popular German actors such as Joachim Fuchsberger, Ulrich Noethen and Sebastian Koch, and has become a permanent feature in many German school’s curricula.

Statue of Erich Kästner
A mask is placed on the statue of Erich Kästner outside of the Erich Kästner Museum in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Annaluise and Anton (original title: Pünktchen und Anton)

Published in 1931, Annaluise and Anton explores the lives of two children from vastly different social classes, Annaluise coming from a wealthy family living in a mansion and Anton, from a poorer family, who has to care for his sick mother in their small, run-down apartment. Despite their different backgrounds, the two become close friends.

The novel has been praised for its social commentary, with Kästner interspersing so-called “afterthoughts” between the chapters of the story, in which he addresses several ethical questions. Like most of Kästner’s works, Annaluise and Anton has been adapted into two German films, released in 1952 and 1999 respectively, as well as a children’s opera, a musical and a play. It was also one of Kästner’s novels that was burnt in the Nazi book burnings – a moment commemorated by a stone memorial plaque in Bonn’s market square to this day. 

READ ALSO: How a Hamburg woman handled her father’s secret Nazi past

The Animals’ Conference (original title: Die Konferenz der Tiere)

The Animals’ Conference was Kästner’s first novel published after the Second World War in 1949 and therefore carries many allusions to real-life events in Germany at the time. In the book, representatives of all animal species on earth call an international conference to achieve world peace, due to the political failure of humans.

Puppet show
Actors use puppets in a dramatisation of Kästner’s Animal Conference in Leipzig. Photo: picture alliance / Birgit Zimmermann/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa | Birgit Zimmermann

It is probably Kästner’s most obvious portrayal of his anti-militarist, pacifist views, and the need to protect the welfare of children – a frequent motto used by the animals in the story is “It’s about the children”. The book also features strong satire on German bureaucracy and the military. It is therefore no surprise that this novel remains relevant today and is willingly read by both children and adults. Two animated film adaptations have been released, though Walt Disney himself turned down the opportunity due to the story being too political.

While these books are aimed at children, their messages and impact can be appreciated and understood by people of all ages. It is therefore no surprise that Kästner has become a household name of Germany, being a recipient of a number of literary prizes and having over 96 streets and 100 schools named after him.

If you’re interesting in finding out more about this classic German author, you can visit the Erich Kästner Museum in Dresden or find plaques honouring the author in his birthplace in Dresden and at his former residences in Berlin.

READ ALSO: 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

FOOD&DRINK

Five German drinks to try this summer

There’s nothing quite like a cold drink on a hot summer’s day and the Germans know it well. That’s why they’ve got a variety of tasty alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to cool them down in the hottest months. Here are five you should try.

Five German drinks to try this summer

Summertime in Germany can get pretty hot, but thankfully there are plenty of popular drinks which can help you cool down, as well as tickle the tastebuds.

In Germany, fizzy water is wildly popular, so it’s not surprising that Sprudel is a key ingredient in most of the drinks on this list.

Hugo

A Hugo cocktail. Photo: Greta Farnedi/Unsplash

The Hugo is a cocktail made of Prosecco, elderflower syrup, mint leaves, a shot of mineral water and a slice of lime.

This refreshing alcoholic drink was invented by Roland Gruber, a bartender in South Tyrol, the mainly German-speaking region of northern Italy in 2005.

Though the drink wasn’t invented in Germany, it quickly spread across the borders of northern Italy and gained popularity here. Nowadays, you’ll be able to order a Hugo in pretty much any bar in the country.

Radler

A woman holds a pint of Radler. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

One of the best-known and most popular mixed beer drinks is the Radler: a concoction of beer and lemonade, a bit like a British shandy. In some areas of Germany – particularly in the south – the mixture is called Alster.

Usually, the ratio is 60 percent beer and 40 percent lemonade, but there are also some interesting variants. In some regions of Germany, a distinction is made between sweet (with lemonade) and sour (with water) Radler. Some foolhardy drinkers even mix their beer with cola (called a diesel).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The German regions producing the most important beer ingredient

Apfelschorle

A woman pours apple spritz into plastic cups. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Soeren Stache

Apfelschorle is an absolute German classic.

The traditional mix of apple juice and fizzy water is a 1:1 ratio, but if you’re making the drink at home you can adjust the measurements to your liking. 

The concept of Saftschorle (fruit spritzer) has moved way beyond the plain old apple in Germany though. On Supermarket shelves, you’ll find major drinks chains offering a wide variety of fizzy fruit beverages, including  Rhabarbe-Schorle (Rhubarb spritz), Schwarze Johannisbeer-Schorle (Black currant spritz) and Holunderschorle (elderberry spritz).

Berliner Weiße mit Schuss

A woman drinks a Berliner Weiße in Berlin.

A woman drinks a Berliner Weiße in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Britta Pedersen

The Berliner Weiße (or Weisse) is an old, German beer, brewed with barley and wheat malt.

As the name suggests, it originates from the German capital, where it was extremely popular in the 19th century and was celebrated as the “Champagne of the North”.

But by the end of the 19th century, sour beer styles, including this one, became increasingly unpopular and they almost died out completely. 

READ ALSO: Five German foods that aren’t what you think they are

So people started mixing the drink with sweet syrup. This gave rise to the trend of drinking Berliner Weissbier with a shot (Schuss) of raspberry or woodruff syrup, which is still widely enjoyed today. Some breweries even ferment fruits such as raspberries or strawberries.

The drink is so well-known in Germany, that there was even a TV series named after it which ran for 10 years 1984 to 1995.

Weinschorle

Water and wine in equal parts and both well chilled – a light summer drink. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | DWI

Another fizzy-water-based German classic is the white wine spritz. 

A wine spritzer is a refreshing drink on warm summer days which has the advantage of not going to your head as quickly as a regular glass of wine. With equal parts fizzy water and wine, the drink has only about 5-6 percent alcohol, compared to glass of pure white wine, which has about 9-14 percent. 

For optimum German-ness when making this drink at home, choose a German white wine such as Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner or Riesling.

Enjoy and drink responsibly!

SHOW COMMENTS