Monday, 24 June 2013

Danny’s Kindergarten: Its Twentieth Anniversary

Yesterday my six year old son Danny made his dramatic debut before several hundred adults celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Johann Falk (1768-1826) Kindergarten. He and his chum Gerda Grimm played homeless children that Falk mercifully housed. (That finally explained my puzzlement at another kindergartner sitting next to Danny with a grand top hat and formal suit: he finally played Falk saving the homeless kids!)

Falk was born the second of seven children in Danzig, now in Poland. His father was a poor-law guardian and a wigmaker by trade. Falk could afford only three years of elementary school—he had to help his father in the wig workshop. At age 17 he returned to what we call a high school and graduated at age 22.

In 1791 he studied theology at the University of Halle/Saale (my German wife’s hometown). The city of Danzig paid his tuition. He became interested in classical antiquity, literature, and politics. As famous a German writer as Cristoph Martin Weiland (he tutored Goethe’s son) was impressed by his satire (“The Princess and the Pig Snout”) and journalism. He quit his graduate studies and became a freelance writer.

In 1797 he married Caroline Rosenfeld and moved to Weimar.There he became a respected but controversial figure in the court and in the city because of his ironic and satiric style. In 1806 he became a translator and advisor for Napoleon’s French troops. 

(Goethe’s girl friend and future wife boldly confronted their attempt to enter their house. Goethe was so impressed he married her immediately after courting her for two decades! Geniuses move slowly!)

In 1813 Falk decided to become the “father of orphans” after four of his own children had died in short succession. He and the court preacher Karl Friedrich Horn founded the “Society of Friends in need” (an agency for homeless and delinquent children.)He wrote the words in 1816 for the famous German Christmas carol “O, Du Fröliche” (Oh, You Merry Volk”). In 1821 he bought the “Luther House” (the famous Protestant Reformer had been an Augustinian monk in Weimar)before he moved to Wittenberg.

He lived in downtown Weimar, where he would ultimately (2001) get the city’s town highest honor, a suite named after him (Room 128) in the grand Elephant Hotel (1697.) When he died in 1824, his wife and a former student, George Rettner carried on his social work. In 1827, it was turned over to the city after which it became the model for social-educational establishments like Martinsstift in Erfurt and Rauhes-Haus in Hamburg.

The day-long celebration encouraged parents, grandparents, and friends to participate in creative hobbies. (Whenever they weren’t successfully attacking tables replete with eats and drinks.) Whatever evils the DDR inflicted on the East German population at large, its kindergartens give the next generation a powerful push! 

Another version of this essay is published by BSR

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