von Stefan Havlik
The freedom of fantasy – on the 25th anniversary of Michael Ende’s death
Michael Ende – born in Garmisch in 1929 – had soon become familiar with the limitations of this world: His father Edgar, who moved with the family to Munich, hoped for better chances for himself as a painter there, which at first turned out to be hopeful: Hardly had he arrived in Munich than he became a member of the “Munich Secession”, an association of important performing artists of that time. However, Edgar Ende’s impressive surrealist works, like the work of numerous German artists, experienced a sudden turn in promotion and appreciation when the National Socialists came to power in 1933: the landscapes full of faces, floating, fantastic figures and rooms full of unreal landscapes did not fit into the art image of the former postcard painter Adolf Hitler and his ideology; the “Völkischer Beobachter” (Völkischer Beobachter) ranked Edgar Ende among “a whole series of other dispensable people” in his artistic work by name. The child Michael Ende, however, as the son of the politically unpopular painter who was critically viewed by the regime, must learn that what is communicated within the family may not be spoken outside the home. The retreat into inwardness, into the circle of absolute familiarity – the experience of the big, small world of fantasy in his father’s studio, which had to be protected with great care – this will deeply mark him for his life.
Besides his parents, it is a neighbor – painter and communist – who fascinates him: Franz Reinhard, disfigured in the face after a suicide attempt, tells him and the neighbor children fairy tales and stories of his very own imagination. The appreciation, indeed the enthusiasm for the outwardly disfigured man, who is “squinted like a devil” as Ende will tell later and whose house is “painted up to the ceiling with strange fairy tale pictures”, is an important part of the sowing, from which later will ripen and blossom, which many children in Michael Ende’s works grow into a world of thought.
In 1948, the artist’s son was able to take his high school diploma, and his path led him to acting school and then to several smaller stages. His main interest is always writing: He wrote scripts for political cabarets, and his position as a film critic for the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation provided him with a steady income for a few years.
Often later he told how the “famous first sentence” entered his life as an author: With “The country where Lukas the locomotive driver lived was only very small. “, which he typed into his typewriter, which, as he himself reports, was suddenly in his head, not only begins the novel “Jim Knopf and Lukas der Lokomotivführer”, but a work that has entertained entire generations of children – as a book, as a film, on the puppet stage – the work of one of the most successful authors of books for children and young people in the history of literature. Numerous first sentences of great literary works have become a memorial to readers, and the works behind these sentences very often became the foundations of the authors’ further careers: “When Gregor Samsa awoke from restless dreams one morning, he found himself in his bed transformed into a monstrous vermin. ” as the frightening beginning of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” or ” It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.” with which George Orwell begins his famous work of the absolute surveillance state in “1984”, are only a few examples. “Who, if I screamed, heard me then from the angel orders” Rainer Maria Rilke begins his “Duineser Elegien” – and later describes himself that this sentence was suddenly in his head as he went up and down.
© bstrulak, despositphotos
Continuing to live in Italy, he creates fantastic worlds in “The Neverending Story”, which are still in the minds of many young people and those who have long since grown up, again a fight of freedom and fantasy against restriction and darkness. The film adaptation, initially welcomed, is harshly rejected by the end as a finished strip of canvas. Because of the clear similarity of the protagonist Bastian Balthasar Bux to Michael Ende in Munich in the 1930s and 1940s, and once again – as in “Momo” – the thematization of freedom of (especially childlike) fantasy, also in the necessary defense against its suppression and destruction, the material of this work was probably much too precious for the author himself to want to see it – shortened, restricted and clearly brought into the picture – flattened on the cinema screen.
The fact that his books, which he writes for adults, never even come close to achieving the popularity of his works for children and young people remains a pain to him, and he never achieves the composure of Erich Kästner in this respect: Kästner, whose children’s books are just as clearly better known than his adult literature, had always emphasized that children are the more determined and honest critics and that the task of writing a children’s book that finds wide circulation should therefore be rated much higher. No less a person than the legendary literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki often remarked that he had never read Michael Ende, and in one of his last works (“The Satanarchaeolügenialkohöllische Wunschpunsch”) he set an unmistakable monument to him for this: the “Bücherörgele”, “a particularly hideous little monster”, “popularly known as the Klugscheißerchen or Korinthenkackerli. A harsh image that shows ultimate vulnerability – but ultimately remains harmless in the face of the “literary pope”, if one compares Martin Walser’s book “Death of a Critic” from 2002, which can also be understood as a reckoning with Reich-Ranicki.
© francofox, despositphotos
Birgit Dankert: “Michael Ende” (Lambert Schneider)
Interview Michael Endes with “Playboy”, 1983
Rainer Maria Rilke: Duineser Elegien (Mundus-Verlag)
Klaus Kordon: “Time is broken – Erich Kästner” (Beltz publishing house)
Peter Boccarius: “Michael Ende. The beginning of the story.” (Ullstein)