Thoughts, ideas, photos, and stories.

Der Struwwelpeter


In a recent post on Peter Klopp’s blog, I was reminded of the book I’ve treasured since I was a small child.  I still have that book which my family brought to Canada from Germany in 1953, and about 50 years ago I managed to buy a newer copy of it in Vancouver. The old one is on the right, and the new one on the left.

They are almost identical, but in the new one, these first two pages (below) do not appear.

The poem on the left is about the expectations of how children should behave:

Eat your soup.

Don’t forget to eat the bread too.

Play with your toys without making too much noise.

Take Mama’s hand when you’re out with her for a walk.

And if you do all these things, the Christkind (the being who delivers gifts at Christmas) will bring you some nice presents, and a very pretty picture book.

My mother often read this to me when I was very little, and encouraged me to say the words with her. The last line was always, “But we don’t tear it.”

It was years before I realized that the last line was not part of the poem. She had just added it as if it belonged there, and I repeated it, thinking it did.


On the second page was a picture of a child (Peter) whose hair was all “struwwelig” – officially “strubbelig” I think (messy, to say the least), and his fingernails were dirty and long. This boy never allowed his Mama to comb his hair or cut his nails, and he was a horrible boy (not what any good child would want to be). He was called Struwwelpeter (messy or slovenly Peter).


NOW things get more controversial. The stories (in rhyme) which follow are now considered harsh and brutal and not fit for children to be exposed to, and there are many adults who believe they should be banned.

But in spite of the shocking way the lessons in childhood behaviour are presented, I want to say that although the stories had my full attention at a young age, they did not give me nightmares or upset me. I grew up in a loving home and when my mother read these stories to me, she assured me that I was safe with her and that the awful things in the stories only happened to very bad people.

Meanwhile, I loved the cadence of the words and the rhymes and the often justified (at some level) endings.


Here is the story of Friederich, who was a very cruel boy. He tore the wings off flies and was mean to animals and to his sister. A dog getting a drink from the fountain looked like an easy target. Friederich sneaked up on him and hit him with his whip. The dog cried and howled, but then he’d had enough. He bit Friederich’s leg and ran off with his whip.


Now comes the part that I liked. Friederich had to go to bed. The doctor was called and Friederich had to take some medicine that was very bitter. (YES!)

Meanwhile, the dog ate Friederich’s supper of liver sausage, and he even had a drink of wine (not so sure if that was good for either dog or boy). He had brought the whip with him and kept a close eye on it.


This next story about little Pauline was very, very sad. It brought out every bit of empathy I had in my small child’s body. Thinking back, I remember this story so well because the poor little girl ended up burning up.

Much later, as an adult I thought, “If only a certain little boy I knew (in real life), had been told this story, maybe he would not have done exactly what Pauline did.” Luckily, he only burned down the family home and not himself or his family.

The beautiful thing about this story/poem is the rhyme. The repeated refrain that tells the warning from the cats, Minz and Maunz, really hits home. 70 years later, I still know who Minz and Maunz are.

Pauline had been told not to play with matches but the temptation was so great, she had to do it anyway. The cats warned her again and again, but she wouldn’t listen to them. At the end of the story, you can see how upset the cats are. If only Pauline had listened to her parents. I was impressed as a child, that all that was left of Pauline was a pair of red shoes.

Kaspar is one guy I didn’t feel sorry for. All he had to do was eat his soup. But no! He had tantrums (another no-no) and refused to eat his soup every day even though he got thinner and thinner.

I see that his Mama must have missed him and loved him a lot because even beyond the grave she was still trying to get him to eat his soup. See the bowl on his grave?

This one about Philipp who misbehaved at the table left me cold. I didn’t feel sorry for Philipp. He got what he deserved. But Philipp’s Mama, in every verse, did the same stupid thing. She put her handheld spectacles to her eye and looked around the table wordlessly. The Papa, on the other hand, did a lot of admonishing,  but he also got no respect from me. He let his son ignore him. And see in the picture – look how he is holding the knife!

Well, Mama and Papa may have been ineffectual parents, but natural consequences taught them all a lesson and none of them got any supper that night.

I have to add one little anecdote. Whenever my mother made Jell-o at home, she called it Zappel-Philipp. For years I thought that’s what it was really called, but she only called it that because Philipp from the story “zappelled” (fidgeted and rocked around)  just like the Jell-o did.  Unless Jell-o is really called that and I don’t know it.

The last story is one that upsets a lot of people because the tailor comes with his huge shears and cuts off Conrad’s thumbs.

But hey! His Mama told him not to suck them. She told him what would happen if he did.

Okay, I’m just kidding. It is a bit brutal, but again, I did not have nightmares or even take the story seriously. You’d have to be pretty stupid to believe that this would really happen. Unfortunately there are many people who would ban the whole book for being too real and brutal and upsetting for children.

The truth is, I loved these stories. I loved the rhyme and the cadence and the funny pictures. This story has stayed in my head all the years of my life since pre-school, and I still love how it starts with,

“Conrad, sprach die Frau Mama,

Ich geh aus und du bleibst da.”

(Conrad, said his Mama,

I’m going out and you’re staying here.)

It’s such a catchy little rhyme. And then after she tells him to be good and not suck his thumbs or the tailor will come with the big shears and cut them off, he can hardly wait until the door closes. I love the word that tells how he puts his thumb in his mouth – WUPP!

And then the sound of the tailor coming in the door. BAUZ! (pronounced like BOWTS).



There are more stories in the Struwwelpeter book, but this post is already quite long so I’ll leave you with a couple of thoughts.

Before you say how horrible these stories are, consider that it makes a difference how they are presented. I agree that I would not raise children using these stories as examples nowadays.

But I also feel that we don’t need a witch hunt to eradicate every book we don’t agree with, and those who consider themselves holier-than-the-rest-of-us don’t have a right to deprive everyone of the opportunity to see what went on in our history. It is not their right to erase our past – good or bad. We can learn from it either way.



Author: wordsfromanneli

Writing, travel, photography, nature, more writing....

67 thoughts on “Der Struwwelpeter

  1. Grimm’s Fairy Tales were my bread and butter, along with some troll stories from my Swedish grandmother that would make your hair curl. Such stories are ways for children to experience, recognize, and deal with fears. I always heard the stories in a loving environment, and that made all the difference. Just today I heard a very interesting presentation on the damage being done to today’s children by NOT allowing them to fail, experience fear, or learn to solve problems for themselves. It’s not a marshmallow world, and learning to deal with it step by step is so important.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This was amazing to read, Anneli, and I agree that those who believe that they are holier need to just shut up. Do you speak German?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Who knows if that way or the new way is better. Or worse. I sure don’t think adults know! I bet kids raised with that book were just as happy as kids raised with “I have two mommies”. Sigh. I remembered girlfriends telling me I was too strict with my kids. Now, they love me, love family, love their country, work hard. What more could I want?

    But I digress. Interesting book, Anneli. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Love it!

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone


  5. I enjoyed reading this, Anneli. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I had this book too when I was a small child. It impressed me a lot and tried hard to be a good girl. Unfortunately I don´t have this book anymore. Thanks for sharing!


  7. Lovely I too made sure that my girls speak Portuguese not perfect I might add but enough to get by. Now we are trying to get granddaughter to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good for you, Ana. I remember that my brother and sisters and I grumbled about having to speak German around home, and whenever my mom was out of sight, we switched to English, but I’m so glad she insisted that we try to keep our language. It has turned into a valuable tool over the years. So keep up the good work. The kids and grandkids will thank you for it forever.


  8. I read “Struwel Peter” to my granddaughter with great pleasure because it is a book that my grandmother read to me. German fairy tales are a major cultural asset in our history. Should we now take all German fairy tale books off the market because some parents believe that their children could be harmed as a result? It also sounds bad when the wolf ate Little Red Riding Hood and the grandmother or when the stepmother poisoned her own child with an apple. If our children, whom we want to teach at least three languages by the age of four, shouldn’t recognize at a very early age what reality and history are.
    At least my granddaughter says my mom would never cut off my thumb. That’s just a story.
    I wish you a nice weekend.
    Werner the bird clipper

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dear Anneli
    The “Struwwelpeter” was one of the first books I really liked. The stories are cruel like the Paulinchen-story but, as you write, it’s important how they are presented. Dr H. Hoffmann was a psychiatrist at the end of the 19th c. and on one hand he represents the zeitgeist nevertheless he also created with this book an outlet for childish aggression. Like all my friends I liked the struwwulpeter-stories when I was a child. – The “Struwwelpeter” is a German cultural asset and fortunately culture isn’t as one-dimensional as its critics would like it to be. Actually, what these critics are advocating is to fill our child with kitsch and thus to dumb them down. This is child abuse, isn’t it?
    Thanks and cheers
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. You made me remember these stories, horribly stories and not for children nowadays, but then they were only for children’s best to teach them. I think they worked, because we still remember them, in good and bad. Struwwelpeter has a Finnish name Jöröjukka.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re so right, Kristiina. They are cruel stories, but as I pointed out, it depends on how they are presented – and the poetic quality of the stories is beautiful. Definitely there are better ways to teach these things, but they reflect the custom of fairy tales, as Werner mentioned in his comment. No one thinks it’s good to poison Snow White with an apple, or shove the witch into the oven and fatten up Hansel to eat him. It is fantasy. Possibly disturbing, if we take it too seriously. But look at the video games kids play today where they shoot as many people as they can. Some of them (not many, thank god) go out and act on these videos. But I haven’t heard of anyone pushing old ladies into an oven or eating children. There are two sides to all of these stories, and if we don’t belabour them, they can still be told as some small part of history.


  11. Dear Anneli, I feel humbled and honoured that my post prompted you to write a photo essay on your thoughts and feelings about Struwwelpeter. You indeed have a way with words. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Reblogged this on The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project and commented:
    More thoughts on Struwwelpeter by Anneli


  13. Lovely lovely Anneli, lots to ponder along with the memories of nightly story time. Life is difficult, thank gosh we had the freedom to learn from our own experiences. Life is full of possibilities when we try, we accomplish or we learn from the mistake.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Kids love fairy tales, and have been read to them for ages. That must say something!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Anneli, these are the stories from our parents, and we heard them as we grew up. Noone ever had nightmares or a problem. The brother Grimms’ fairy tales are far worse, and they still remain popular today. Have you ever read the original Cinderella? When the birds pecked out the eyeballs of the evil stepsisters…that was harsh. I am a staunch believer in not banning books. So many that have been banned, like Charlotte’s Web, are great literature. Thank you for sharing these books!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. LOVE THIS WONDERFUL EXHIBIT OF THE BOOK. I wrote an essay for an academic text years ago showing the “nursery rhyme” origins of Sylvia plath’s poetry. This is what I wrote about that last story:
    “another tale within the book. “The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb,” about thumb-sucking Konrad, is well-known for its cavalier horror. Konrad’s mother warns him to stop sucking his thumbs, but he can’t help himself. When Mother leaves the house, Konrad sucks his thumbs. A tailor snips off Konrad’s thumbs with an over-sized scissors.
    What looks like quite a leap in “Cut” from an injured thumb to the self-humiliating cry of “dirty girl” could be in fact the disgorgement of a childhood reading of Struwwelpeter.”
    Lots of Americans have read Sylvia Plath’s poems, but have no clue about Struwwelpeter stories!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thanks for sharing this Anneli. I love how wrote this. Anita

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Oh my goodness, what a treasure this is! And I agree with you — no need to BAN books. Just… don’t read them, if you don’t like the message. Or, better yet, TALK about why you don’t like the message. Plus, I think most fairy tales are pretty brutal. This post caught my eye because Dwight Shrute on The Office talks about Struwwelpeter in one episode! I love that it’s a real collection of stories!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, we agree on the banning issue. This morning when I woke up, the first thing that popped into my head was a verse from Jabberwocky.
      “One two! One two! And through and through,
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack,
      He left it dead, and with it’s head,
      He went galumphing back.”

      Now if that isn’t violent. But while I don’t like violence, I LOVE this poem.
      And your comment about Dwight Shrute … just the mention of his name makes me laugh. I missed the episode where Struwwelpeter was mentioned. Would love to have seen that.
      On censorship, you’re so right. We don’t need someone to lord it over us, what is good for us to think and read (in their opinion).

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Den “Struwwelpeter” lieh mir meine Cousine, die in der Wohnung neben uns wohnte. Da wir damals noch keinen Fernseher hatten, fanden wir es total spannend, gruselig und kurzweilig und lasen uns die Geschichten immer wieder gegenseitig vor.. Meine kleine Schwester bekam zu ihrem Geburtstag die “Struwwelliese” von Cilly Schmitt-Teichmann. Sie war sehr begeistert von diesem Mädchen und wollte dann auch immer so sein wie sie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I bought the newer copy of Struwwelpeter (50 yrs. ago) I also bought Struwwelliese, but I didn’t get as attached to it, having grown up only with Struwwelpeter. But I’m happy to hear that you also enjoyed the gruesome stories in Struwwelpeter. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I wrote a bunch of retellings of the Struwwelpeter poems to give them happier endings… sorry not sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

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