Sunday, 8 September 2013

German Kindergarten Media

As I stumble day by day to speak and read German, I noticed more and more in our daily “Thuringen Allgemeine“ a page reserved for almost illiterate kids. Like me! Upper left corner, a place for sounding off. In lower right corner, an 8 or 9 year-old’s idea of humor! I usually get it, with some vocabulary help from my wife. In between are staff-written stories aimed to attract “their” kid-level attention.

Now imagine me on a six hour train trip from the Baltic Sea (known hereabouts by the compass as the Ost See. I notice a gramma across the aisle reading today’s edition of the OstSeeZeitung. Finally, she stuffs the paper in the pocket of the seat ahead of her. I politely ask if I can read it. She genially reaches the paper across the aisle.

The front page features a fascinating essay on the tradition of giving students about to enter the first grade a tall slim bag of goodies they’ll need as they enter school. It’s called a Zuckertüte, with accent on the “zücker” (sugar!) This custom alerts the new students (including our almost 7 year old Danny) to the seriousness of their new adventure. The essay explores the 200 year old custom. By making a party of this collective gift-giving, the solemn Germans make their kids smile broadly at the start of an important part of their lives.

The second last page is entitled KIDZ, “Kinder in Die Zeitung”. (Think OZ!) Two mini-editorials: one celebrates a new singer’s success, the other advises how to dress outside when it’s hot. Both are clear. (That is, I understand them!) Under them is an implausible editorial entitled /Ach so,”Wer weiss es: Stroh oder Heu”? ( Who knows if it’s straw or hay?) Heh, for an urban kid like me that’s a serious question! The first hint: “Both are dry. Both are needed by many farmers. Both are similar but they are not the same. Do you know the difference? Hay is dry grass. It is cut in the field and left to dry in the sun. The farmers need it later to feed their animals. Straw on the other hand are the dry stalks of the grain that must be thrashed . They can be used as fertilizer on the fields. Or strewn in the stalls.” Guess what? They’ve started learning!

Next below is the “Witzig”corner, as in “Funny, ha!ha!”

Klaus came home filthy from football. His mother points without a word to the door of the bathroom. Klaus replies: ”That doesn’t make any sense-- because we have a return match in a week.” 
At the bottom of the page is a color drawing of a zillion images, with next to it the same image with nine tiny changes. Yikes, I could only find two! My seven-year-old year did much better.

But the Big Story on Action News is a cultural essay on the Dwarf, as in 25 million of them in German Gardens. “Art or Kitsch?” This year is the Year of the Garden Dwarfs. Kitschy koo! But the historical essay about this growth of this phenomenon is artfully rendered! I awarded myself C- on translation (My wife would have flunked me!)

After I had returned the newspaper to Gramma, the man across from me (who turned out to be a professor of mathematics at Griefswald University) started a fascinating conversation on the reason for these kiddie pages: they are afraid the trashy newer media will undermine the printed and are devising methods for hooking the next generation on print! (Oh, and the good looking blonde next to him turned out to be a journalist for the OZ Zeitung! She writes a piece of her choice every day, and does part-time journalism for a church weekly! A happy couple that shortened my trip back to Weimar.

And a few days ago I stumbled across a page full of high school essays written for the FAZ by about to graduate teenagers, in the egghead’s daily out of Frankfurt. When those Germans get serious, they cover all the details—of keeping alive the next generation of newspaper readers. Rather than further expand our comics section, we should do some things equally intellectual!

(At the opening meeting of Walter Annenberg and the president of Penn, Gaylord Harnwell, to discuss the founding of a communications graduate school we were awaiting the arrival of more brass. The day before Annenberg’s daily “The Inquirer” had vastly expanded its comics section. To kill time, I teased the billionaire: “Is that what you mean by raising journalistic standards in your graduate school?” His mouth dropped open, speechless—puzzled by the gall of a newly appointed assistant professor without tenure! Harnwell looked like he was about to piss his pants! I had my first insight into the university’s craven style before donors. My first disgust led over twenty years to my preference of writing for “The Welcomat” rather than sucking up to rich thugs!)

Another version of this essay is published by Broad Street Review.

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