The Egyptian Struwwelpeter,
a curiosity
in Austria's juvenile literature?



Paper given by Adelheid Hlawacek at
" Struwwelpeter Reconsidered"
an international symposium on the German children´s classic






November 9-11,1995
Kerlan Research Collection of Children´s Literature

Walter Library,
University of Minnesota

The Egyptian Struwwelpeter, a curiosity in Austria's juvenile literature?

There is hardly another adaptation of ‘Struwwelpeter’, or Shock-headed Peter, of which we know so many details on its background as is the case with the Egyptian Struwwelpeter. Moreover, this is the only Austrian adaptation of Struwwelpeter I know of. Get into the mood and let me take you to Vienna, to Vienna as it was one hundred years ago.

To understand how unique the Egyptian Struwwelpeter is, you have to take a closer look at the cultural and historical background.

There were really no particularly close or traditional historical ties between Egypt and the Austro-Hungarian monarchy except for those represented by a few personalities, such as Slatin Pascha or Negrelli. The Anglo-Egyptian general Slatin Pascha (i. E. Rudolf Karl Slatin) was born in Vienna in 1857. As an Austrian lieutenant he headed the aid organization for prisoners of war maintained by the Austrian Red Cross during World War I. Alois Ritter von Negrelli (1799-1858) drew up the design for the Suez Canal which was realized later on by the French Lesseps, who did not even bother to mention the originator of the design when the Canal opened. So, their activities can be classified either as ‘normal’ diplomatic relations or as cultural relations in the broadest sense of the word.

Why an ‘Egyptian Struwwelpeter’?

Relations between Austria and Egypt

From the various adaptations available, the ‘Egyptian Struwwelpeter’, which was created by a group of authors at the time of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, is probably the most exotic one. Just why did the authors transfer those stories to Egypt? After all, there were no historical relations whatsoever between the two countries; they were more of a cultural kind, dating back, however, to a time when Vienna was still called Vindobona. (The Romans occupied this area at around the birth of Christ.)

In the course of construction activities in 1800, one came across Roman findings in the heart of town. This alone was not spectacular, since such findings had already become something of a ‘routine' in Vienna. What was spectacular about these findings, however, was the ancient Egyptian stone sculpture which was among the findings. It was created about 1200 B.C. and was probably brought to Vindobona as some kind of ‘ecclesiastical envoy’ of Egypt. In the Roman Empire there were quite a number of places of worship for the Egyptian Gods Isis and Serapis.

In the mid-16th century another precious piece made its way to Vienna; this time via Constantinople. In 1801 the Austrian Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856), a member of the diplomatic corps acquired a stele in Saqqara.. He gave it as a gift to the ‘Orientalische Akademie’, the oriental academy. Finally it ended up in the Habsburg Münz- und Antikenkabinett, the Museum of Coins and Antiques, although how it got there is not known. The oriental academy was founded by Empress Maria Theresa and is today’s 'Diplomatische Akademie', the diplomatic academy. Hammer-Purgstall also founded the Wiener Akademie der Wissenschaften, the Viennese Academy of Sciences, of which he also was the first president from 1847 to 1849. His commitment to Austrian orientalism, in particular to turcology, won him a high reputation, and he translated several pieces of oriental literature, such as the ‘Diwan’ of Hafiz.

In 1809 Napoleon conquered Vienna and, as the victorious party, the French army confiscated as many precious pieces of art as possible and gave them to French museums. For political and diplomatic reasons, the confiscated treasures were not returned after Napoleon’s fall, but offered in exchange for other things. Fortunately, most of the Museum of Coins and Antiques which also held the Egyptian treasures was secured just in time, and the confiscated pieces were returned.

In 1824 a sub-inventory was made of the Egyptian pieces in the Museum of Coins and Antiques. It held 3770 objects, most of them gifts from the various envoys to Constantinople and Cairo who, however, had not excavated the objects themselves, but had bought them from antique dealers. But there were also a number of merchants, bankers and other Austro-Hungarian tradesmen who gave generous gifts to the Habsburg dynasty.

In 1869 the Suez Canal opened. It was based on the design drafted by the Austrian Negrelli (1799-1858) and the French Lesseps. On this occasion, Emperor Franz Joseph I received three colonnades of eighteenth dynasty papyrus rolls (about 1551-1306 B.C.) from the Austrian engineer Lucovich. When the K.k. Hofmuseum, the imperial and royal court museum (which is now the Kunsthistorische Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts) was built, they were incorporated into the Egyptian halls as supporting colonnades.

Already at the time when Emperor Francis Joseph acceded to the throne there were plans for the construction of monumental edifices to house the Emperor’s collections. When designing the Ringstrasse, this project was to be realized in a large-scale way. From the wealth of designs submitted in the public tender, the design of the Viennese architect Carl von Hasenauer (1833-1894) was chosen as the best solution. The internationally renowned Hamburg architect Gottfried Semper (1803-1879) was asked to alter this design and realize the project. Along with two new sections of the imperial castle, this design envisioned one court museum for the various Habsburg art collections and another one for the rich natural-historical collections. Semper and Hasenauer also considerably influenced the design of the Viennese Ringstrasse, which was to become a gorgeous and magnificent boulevard. The basic construction of the museums was erected between 1871 and 1877. The Museum of Fine Arts opened in October 1891 in the presence of the Emperor and several members of the court.

On the occasion of the World Exposition in Vienna in 1874 Ismail Pascha, Viceroy of Egypt, wanted to present his country in an impressive and independent manner. Since Egypt at that time was still under Turkish sovereignty, this presentation was not only governed by cultural but also political goals. The unmistakable pharaonic culture was to emphasize the Egyptian claim to independence.

The outstanding expert Ernst Weidenbach was asked to paint a minute copy of an Egyptian king’s tomb in the exposition hall. After the World Exposition was over, Weidenbach’s paintings (which were done on paper) were bought and put onto the hall’s walls of the new museum. I will come back to these paintings later on.

Among the many well-known people who served as patrons and buyers of Egyptian art for the Habsburgs also was the successor to the throne, crown prince Rudolf. While travelling through Egypt in 1881, he bought 60 pieces of art and donated them to the collection.

I do not want to leave out one peculiar detail which we have trouble understanding nowadays: in Deir al-Bahri, about 25 km (40 miles) north of Giza, one came across a sensational finding - an undamaged tomb with about 153 coffins. These findings were of such a size as to exceed the space of the museum in Giza. So the Egyptian government took the incredible decision to donate some groups of findings to 17 museums in Europe and the United States. They did so in 1893/1894. The groups of objects were allocated to the diplomatic representatives of the various countries by chance. The objects the Austrians ‘won’ went to the Museum of Fine Arts; those of the United States can be seen in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. What government today would possibly take such a generous decision?

So, ‘everyone’ was talking about Egypt; again and again newspapers and magazines reported new, sensational excavations and excavations there were many, not all of them, however, genuine. Everyone who took pride in such things and could afford them (possibly even without being able to afford them) had an antique of some sort in his parlor. The Struwwelpeter was just as well-known and a copy of it available in almost every home. So it did not take that much to combine these two components into a perfect joke.

The ‘group of authors’ Fritz, Richard and Magdalene Netolitzky

The Netolitzky family

Around 1870 the Austro-Hungarian monarchy comprised approximately 676,615 sq. km (1082,584 sq. mi.), about two third of Egypt today. This melting pot of nations not only implied the advantages of intercultural influence, but also a number of disadvantages, especially for civil servants who could be reassigned to another location at any time. Along with the costs of moving, there was always the concern for the education of the children, in particular when they were intended to pursue studies at the university.

The respected Netolitzky family had lived in Rokitnitz (Eastern Bohemia) since the early 18th century. Until the end of World War I, Rokitnitz was a purely German-speaking town. Fritz Netolitzky’s grandfather not only cultivated the land, but also worked as a baker of gingerbread and as a wax-chandler. His brothers were already doctors of medicine. After the Napoleonic wars, one of them followed a Russian sovereign to his estate in the environs of Kiev, and eventually he decided to stay there. This ‘Russian uncle’ came to play a prominent role in the family tradition and was always held responsible for the ‘urge to go out and see the world’ to which Fritz Netolitzky, too, finally succumbed.

The authors’ parents were the doctor August Netolitzky and Hedwig von Stein from Berlin. August Netolitzky studied in Prague where he married the daughter of Friedrich Ritter von Stein, a professor of zoology at the university who came from a family of ministers in Mark Brandenburg.

The couple had seven children, the eldest three of them forming the group of authors responsible for the Egyptian Struwwelpeter. Magdalene, the eldest one, was born in 1872, Richard in 1873 and Fritz on October 1, 1875 in the Bohemian town of Zwickau.

From his grandfather on his mother’s side, who also was his godfather, Fritz inherited a love for nature, his observant mind as well as his passion for collecting. It was this grandfather who took Fritz and his brother Richard out to collect butterflies and beetles and taught them how to use the microscope. Although Fritz was only nine years old when this grandfather died, his vivid and persistent recollection of him had great influence on his life.

The many brothers and sisters enjoyed a happy childhood in various German and Czech cities in Bohemia, close to nature and almost without any education in social behavior. What Fritz thought particularly characteristic was a daydream he had when he was about ten years old. He was lying in the meadow and what he wished most was to know and be able to name every living thing in an area of one square meter around him. This was a dream, he added resignedly much later, the fulfillment of which would keep several experts busy for quite a while.

Education and career of Fritz Netolitzky

As a doctor of medicine and a civil servant in the monarchy his father was transferred repeatedly, which resulted in a couple of costly moving activities and forced him to change schools several times. He attended the 'Humanistische Gymnasium', i.e. a secondary school emphasizing Latin and Greek, in Eger, having more trouble than fun. In Eger he had to speak German; yet during primary education, the first three classes had been held in Czech and in German for only one year, because he had to change school. In addition, he had been taught by a ‘pedagogical unpleasant teacher’ in Latin and Greek. Although he often had to endure his lack of understanding, it was typical of him to excuse this teacher as an ‘embittered man suffering from a stomach ailment’. Despite his own negative experiences with the Greek- and Latin-focused education, this was exactly what he envisioned for his own children. Once he started secondary school, gone were the freedom and independence which he had enjoyed previously. However, he still had a passion for handcrafting and collecting things. The wild games he had played with his friends and his brother Richard were succeeded by activities, such as swimming, skating, exercising and biking, later on also mountaineering and skiing. When he was a student, he also turned into an enthusiastic photographer who used to take photos of the family on various occasions.

Since his father had again been transferred, this time to a Vienna-based ministry, he finished the last two years of secondary school in Prague, away from home. Together with a cousin, he lived with his grandmother Emma von Stein as a lodger. After all, at that time boarding was the common solution to the problem of going to school when away from the family. It is most likely from this cousin that he got his first ‘love token’, a curl of her hair, which his granddaughter has kept until today. Different teachers in the school in Prague helped him score better and he ranged above average, graduating on July 13, 1893.

Fritz followed his family to Vienna, reuniting the family again. In the fall of that year he took up his studies to become a doctor of medicine. In Vienna, the closely knit family ties were once again restored, despite their being rather poor. Fritz kept a regular and detailed diary, thus vividly depicting the family’s financial needs and concerns. But he also carefully wrote down his own financial troubles. For example, he did not have the money to buy a new notebook to use as a diary. So, he just jotted down brief notes on slips of paper, which he summarized later on in the diary. When he needed dental treatment, he had to save money for months before he could afford it. Yet, the atmosphere in the family was mostly cheerful and affectionate. In the winter, they enjoyed skating on the water the janitor poured onto the courtyard of their house or they made trips to Nußdorf with friends, taking the steam train to this suburb of Vienna which was independent until 1892. They were always careful to take their younger sister Emma home from her gymnastics classes in the afternoons. Most likely, these classes were held in one of the many gymnastics clubs common at the time. Fritz Netolitzky, too, was a member of the ‘Wiener Akademischer Turnverein’. These academic gymnastics clubs were founded at the universities and were structured similar to the fraternities of the time. These brotherly favors also gave them the chance to meet friends and other girls, among them my grandaunt Kitty von Gunz, one of my grandfather’s cousins on my mother’s side. The diary reads: ‘... We had to take Emma home from the Gunz family. The girls are said to be beautiful, I hardly even saw them, but Emma said we (i.e. Fritz and his brother Richard) are each to take one (since there were three sisters). Women really do tend to come up with weird ideas. . ...

When their father was transferred the next time, the students Fritz and Richard stayed in Vienna and Mrs. Gersuny looked after them. So, from time to time she would take care of their clothes and invite them over for dinner. They continued to take French and English lessons which were given at home. At home they were also introduced into society, which was partly achieved by participating in dancing lessons. Every now and then Mrs. Gersuny would give five guilders to the brothers who lived in great poverty ‘so they could have a good time at the balls’. This relationship was to become decisive for the creation of the Egyptian Struwwelpeter.

On March 23, 1899 Fritz graduated from the university as a doctor of medicine. He then served voluntarily for one year with the Kaiserjäger elite troops of the monarchy in Vienna and afterwards as a deputy assistant doctor in Innsbruck. There he worked as an assistant in the pharmacological faculty of the university from 1899 to 1904. During this time, he also took the clinical exam which entitled him to work as a public health officer. During a one-year vacation which followed he worked as a ship’s doctor on a small steamship of the German ‘Kosmos-Linie’ in Hamburg, an educational journey which took him along the South American west coast. Such an opportunity was nothing ordinary, since normally ship’s doctors had to sign contracts of several years’ duration. Yet, fortunately this special contract was limited to a certain journey. When he returned in 1902, he spent one semester working at the pharmacological faculty and the faculty of physiological chemistry at the university in Strasbourg.

In 1904 he was appointed assistant at the ‘K.k. allgemeine Untersuchungsanstalt für Lebensmittel’, the royal and imperial food examination institute, in Graz which was related to the hygienic faculty of the university. In the following year he qualified for lecturing in pharmacognosis and food microscopy at the university in Graz. In 1910 he joined the food examination institute at the Czernowitz university, which was still Austrian at that time, as an adjunct, with his teaching license being transferred to that university. In 1912 he was appointed associate professor of pharmacognosis. When World War I broke out in 1914, he had to stop his activities in Czernowitz, since he had to join the service. In the beginning, he served as a senior doctor at the Carpathian front, then as a regimental doctor in the salubrity commission in South Tyrol. This commission was in charge of the soldiers’ health in general. He was bestowed the order of Franz-Joseph for his commitment to controlling epidemics in the war zone. Shortly before the end of the war, he was appointed member of the expert committee of the 'K.k. Amt für Volksernährung', the royal and imperial office for national nutrition, and assigned to the Vienna-based agricultural-chemical research laboratory.

After the collapse of the monarchy in November of 1918 he returned to Czernowitz to resume his previous lecturing activities. This was agreed upon with the Austrian education authorities at the university which in the meantime had turned Rumanian. He became a Rumanian citizen and ‘Professor titular’, something similar to a full professor, at the pharmaceutical institute of the department of natural science. Netolitzky’s wish was to stay in Rumania as a German to continue teaching. First, his decision was emphasized by the plan to establish a German faculty for the Transylvanian Saxons in Hermannstadt (today’s Sibiu). Transylvania had turned Rumanian in 1918, and this project was to stress the cultural significance of this German minority. However, nothing ever came of this plan and Fritz Netolitzky became the head of the plant physiological institute at the university in Czernowitz.

Already in 1904 Netolitzky had married Katharina Edle von Gunz (1880-1935), one of my grandfather’s cousins. They led a very happy marriage and had five children. Now he was confronted with the same problem that his father had had to deal with before: to ensure a good education in German, possibly stressing Greek and Latin, for his children. If possible at all, this was definitely not an easy task considering the insecure political situation and the lack of financial resources. So in 1919 he decided to stay in Czernowitz while his family returned to Vienna. After all, he still had high hopes of being transferred to Vienna, which the Austrians had suggested shortly after the end of the war. Unfortunately, this wish never came true, imposing difficult times on the entire family. He himself once referred to his life as that of a ‘captain in troubled waters’. People who were not informed of the details even thought they were divorced. Eight months of each year Netolitzky would live in his faculty in Czernowitz with nothing but a small cot and an old servant to take care of him. His meals he would take in a modest inn. The remaining four months, during summer break at the university, he used to spend in Vienna with his wife and children. As a loving father, he wanted his children to get the most out of the time together. He would invent a great many stories which sprang from his imagination as well as from his comprehensive knowledge of history and literature. He also taught them much about science and literature long before these topics came up in school. Once he read ‘Faust’ to them, and they knew of the theory of relativity long before it was even mentioned in school. Yet, the situation for the family continued to be very difficult. Times were rough and, to make matters worse, it was not possible for him to have his salary transferred legally. But in spite of all these difficulties, four of his five children pursued studies at the university.

In 1935 his wife died. But since he passionately longed for a place to feel at home he remarried in 1939. His second wife was a long-term acquaintance, Mrs. Luise Duesterberg née Langenhahn, a wartime widow of World War I. When in 1940 the Russians occupied the Bukovina, and thus also Czernowitz, fortunately he happened to be out of town with his wife. Leaving all their belongings behind, they fled on foot over the mountains to Hermannstadt in Transylvania, which was still Rumanian. When he reached the age of 65 years, the Rumanian education authorities allowed him to retire at the end of the year. From there the two of them were resettled as ethnic Germans of Rumanian nationality into the German Reich in 1941. They were naturalized in Litzmannstadt/Lódz in German-occupied Poland. The university in Königsberg was ordered to look after retired Netolitzky by means of ‘permanent support’ similar to a retirement pension. In these difficult times he longed to get back to Vienna more than ever, back to his children as well as to the numerous possibilities of scientific work of which there were none at all in Lódz. Supported by the then dean of the Vienna University and director of the botanical institute and gardens, Professor Fritz Knoll, who intervened with the Berlin education authorities this wish came true in the same year. In the summer of 1941 he moved back to Vienna with his wife where he also got a teaching assignment for pharmacognosis at the philosophical department. In the summer semester of 1943 he also took up lecturing on history and medicine and joined excursions on herbal medicine which were arranged for students of medicine. Despite increasing economic hardships due to the war, he managed to continue his successful scientific studies. On January 5, 1945 a heart attack in the open street put a sudden end to his industrious life.

Creation of the Egyptian Struwwelpeter

Entry in Fritz’s diary of Thursday, October 19, 1893

When I got home from class at the university, I was confronted with the bad news that I had to attend a dancing class at the Gersuny's, where the families Billroth, Nothnagel, Told etc. were to take dancing lessons. Congratulations! So much for fun; don’t they have anything better to do?

So what do the dancing lessons at the Gersuny's have to do with the Egyptian Struwwelpeter? At that time, every member of a certain social class just had to know how to dance. Most of the time, families who knew each other took turns in arranging for dancing lessons in their homes or always at the same family’s home. For this purpose, they hired a dancing instructor and a piano player. That was all it took for them to have a good time.

So who actually was the Gersuny family at whose house the Netolitzky brothers and Magda attended dancing classes? Doctor Robert Gersuny (1844-1924) was a renowned doctor of medicine in Vienna, a surgeon who closely worked with Theodor Billroth. Theodor Billroth (1829-1894) was a famous member of the medical school in Vienna who contributed epoch-making findings to medicine. Among other things, he introduced the narcosis consisting of both ether and chloroform. He also invented the so-called ‘Billroth-Batist’, a waterproof cambric. His most important initiative led to the establishment of the ‘Rudolfinerhaus’, a school still existing today. It goes back to a donation of the successor to the throne, crown prince Rudolf. Billroth himself had led this school for the training of nurses until his sudden death. After Billroth's death, Doctor Gersuny became head of the school. But Doctor Gersuny also developed surgical and gynecological methods of surgery and was a leading surgeon in the field of plastic surgery.

Fritz Netolitzky’s diary indicates that - opposed to previous information - the Gersunys did have a son of their own: Edmund who was about the same age as Fritz and Richard. Since the fathers of the two families had the same profession, the families had known each other for quite some time and also the father of his first wife, my grandaunt, was a well-known Viennese doctor who particularly looked after the poor. The Gersuny family enjoyed having guests, among them a number of well-known and famous personalities of the Viennese society, such as Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach.

Interestingly, they took a book to the Gersuny’s in the afternoon of December 24, 1893. The diary reads:

... In the afternoon we had to go there ourselves, since we had to take a Struwwelpeter there which Magda had bought on her way home, because Edmund had not found one. Probably he had gone looking for one in coffeehouses. ...

The diary does not say who was to receive the Struwwelpeter, probably however a little child from one of the Gersuny’s acquaintances.

The diary continues with details on the festivities in the family circle: ‘The festivities were very delightful. Although I was happy about all the presents I got, there was one present by Mrs. Gersuny that touched me more than the others - a book! I can hardly believe it: you go there for food and drinks, learn to dance for free and then they even give you presents. One should do her a favor in return. But what would she like to get? ... Even Richard and Magda got books from Mrs. Gersuny, the ‘aunt of dance’.

On December 26 the diary reads: ‘We want to create an Egyptian Struwwelpeter for Mrs. Gersuny. We’ve already got the cruel Frederick. My idea. ...

December 27, 1893: '... In the evening we went to fetch Emma from her gymnastics class and while we were waiting and discussing Struwwelpeter I had the glorious idea of turning ‘Hans Guckindieluft‘, Johnny head-in-air, into a girl which turns to look after male students. It was me who came up with the idea. This will be marvelous. ...‘ This was not realized, instead the "Pyramidenfex" was created.

December 29, 1893: ‘... For Mrs. Gersuny 'Robert' is turned into a guy who runs around in the simoom in his mother’s crinoline. (Also my idea, realized as always by Richard.) ... If we had had money, we would have discussed Struwwelpeter over a glass of wine or beer in some inn. But we had to go home where we played a game of halma.

December 30, 1893: ‘... While I was studying, I smoked Richard’s pipe. It was then that it occurred to me that we could turn Paulinchen into someone coming through the father’s pipe, and Richard turned the Suppenkaspar, the Augustus who would not have any soup, into Walzerramses, the Ramses of waltz.

The brothers went to the university library and the Rede- und Leseverein der deutschen Hochschüler in Wien “Germania” (speaking and reading club of German students in Vienna) to study there, but also to have fun. When they did not have to be in class, they read there and took out books. On January 5, 1894, they were in the university library ‘... where Richard was going through Uhlemann, a standard book on Egypt, for ideas on Struwwelpeter, while I was leafing through two volumes of Indian history. I continued with Egypt and the book fascinated me so much that I decided to read some more as soon as possible.

On January 10, 1894, the diary reads: ‘... and Magda drew a couple of pictures for the Struwwelpeter which are also very good, since she copied some originals in the K.k. Hofmuseum (the imperial and royal court museum).‘ These originals are the paintings by Ernst Weidenbach which I mentioned earlier. They can still be seen today.

The brothers and sisters were busy collecting information on Egypt from various books to make sure everything was correct and they continued working on their project in their free time.

Sunday, January 28, 1894: ‘...While Richard was studying in the garden, I slept the sleep of the just on the couch until I finally woke up at 4 p.m. and worked on some pages for the Struwwelpeter.

Friday, February 2, 1894: ‘... Instead of going to a coffeehouse as we had originally planned to do, we worked on the Struwwelpeter which has to be finished by the end of February. Dad, too, seems to like it.

Most likely, the book was really intended as a birthday present for Mrs. Gersuny which is evident from the diary indicating that it was to be finished by the end of February. Yet, it seems that this was her 40th birthday rather than the 60th or 70th as was previously assumed. This can be concluded from the facts we know of her husband, the assumed age of her son and the average age difference of about 8 to 10 years between husbands and wives of that social class at that time.

Saturday, February 3, 1894: ‘... Then we relaxed and produced some paper for the Struwwelpeter until we had to go to the office for corrections. ...

In one of Fritz’s diaries the motto reads: ‘A bad mirror which shows nothing but the beautiful. Even worse a diary which says nothing about the setbacks.’ True to this motto, Fritz wrote down what he thought about the various girls whom he found beautiful. In this context, he also wrote about my grandaunt: ‘.. for this reason we also missed the chance to go to the Gunz family, which I deplored heavily, since I would have loved to get to know Kitti, with whom I seem to have fallen in love without ever having seen her. This can't be true, this is not for real. ...‘ (And indeed, it was to take another ten years before Fritz Netolitzky and my grandaunt finally got married on November 10, 1904.)

The death of professor Billroth also put an end to the dancing lessons at the Gersuny’s, something Fritz regretted strongly. What is said about his change of attitude supports the theory that the character of the ‘Walzerramses’ might actually be based on him.

Sunday, February 25, 1894: ‘In the afternoon I ‘made‘ some paper for the Struwwelpeter and then went on to relax as much as I could, which is the best you can do when you’ve worked like a dog all week long. ...

Even by checking Fritz Netolitzky’s diaries as thoroughly as possible it never became clear when they actually gave the Egyptian Struwwelpeter to Mrs. Gersuny. The only thing we know for sure is that it was before April 12, 1895 because this date is given on one of Doctor Gersuny’s original business cards on which he wrote to Magda: Dear Mss. Magda! The publisher would like to take the Egyptian book to Leipzig at the end of April. However, he would need to have the title changed to Egyptian Struwwelpeter and the cover picture of the Gigerl-Typhon, a dandy Typhon, replaced by one corresponding to the title. Will the group of authors be willing to do that? Kind regards, R. Gersuny.

Typhon is actually a god of Greek mythology, namely the youngest son of Gaia and Tartarus. He is depicted as a giant who had a snake’s head with 100 heads. In Egypt, he was identified as god Seth whom the Egyptians of the time held responsible for everything strange and therefore evil.

The actual impression is first referred to on October 27, 1895 when Doctor Gersuny took a remuneration of 150 guilders to the group of authors. The brothers and sisters were more than happy even though they had not yet received a copy of the book which, however, they were promised to receive within the next few days. Lithography and impression were done with Nister in Nuremberg; the publisher was Gerold & Sohn in Vienna.

So who actually initiated the printing of this burlesque? Mrs. Gersuny kept the original in the parlor for everyone to see so that her guests could enjoy it, too. Among the many guests was the poet Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach née Duchess Dubsky (1830-1916) who already at this time was a well-known and prominent member of the Viennese society. She convinced her own publisher, Gerold & Sohn, to publish the book. But since they had not thought about ensuring the right to publication, the original publishers of the Struwwelpeter, Rütten & Loening, filed suit against them. However, in the history of the publishing house of Rütten & Loening which I read to check for any mentioning of the suit for plagiarism this incident is not mentioned at all. I am afraid that the archives will no longer hold any papers on that matter, since the publishing house moved several times, both within Frankfurt as well as within Germany. The biggest damage was inflicted on the publishing house’s archives during the last months of the war. Papers which had been moved to Templin (about 60 km or 96 miles north of Berlin) were used to ‘fill up air raid trenches in the woods’. When the time had come to dig them up again, most of them had already been ruined. But there were much more valuable things than those letters that were destroyed there, such as first editions, original manuscripts, contracts, etc.

I can only make assumptions as to why so little of this lawsuit ever made it to the public. The persons directly involved, i.e. Doctor Gersuny and Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, were prominent members of society. Maybe they tried to avoid a ‘scandal’ and settled the whole matter without any public attention. The archives of Gerold & Sohn are located in the Wiener Stadt- und Landesbibliothek, the library of the town and province of Vienna. Already in 1975 when the Egyptian Struwwelpeter was reprinted as a new edition with Kindler in Munich, Mrs. Doctor Luitgard Knoll, a granddaughter of Fritz Netolitzky, went through the papers on the period in question, without however finding the least hint as to the incident.

After Mrs. Gersuny had died, the original of the Egyptian Struwwelpeter was returned to the family of Magda Netolitzky, Kuzmany by marriage. It was in her possession until April 1945 where the original, the so-called ‘Urstruwwelpeter’, the original Struwwelpeter, was destroyed when the apartment was hit by a bomb and burned out completely. This loss was even worse considering the fact that the original comprised one story that was not included in the printed edition, a story on Zappelphilipp, fidgety Philip. This story pokes fun at the recruit training. In 1895 even in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy it was not a good idea to ridicule the holy institution of the army. What was handed down from one generation to the next was only the last line of the story which was bad enough: ‘Down with the army!’

Only about 15 original copies of the Egyptian Struwwelpeter still exist today: one can be found in the Austrian National Library, each one in the twos museums in Frankfurt, one in the ‘Institut für Jugendbuchforschung’, i.e. the faculty for research on juvenile literature at the university in Frankfurt, and another one belongs to Doctor Luitgard Knoll, a granddaughter of the author. The other copies are in the possession of private collectors, unknown to me. Even this "exotic" Struwwelpeter found his fan: in 1993 it was translated into Finish, "Egyptiläinen Jörö-Jukka" and was published in a private press. Unfortunately I have no copy of this.

Scientific works

Botany stems from the naturopathy of ancient medicine. Therefore, the botanists of that time were often doctors. Among them were a great many of botanical researchers, the most famous probably being the Swedish Karl von Linné (1707-1778). Originally a doctor, too, Netolitzky always stayed close to the medical science even though later on he almost exclusively concentrated on botanical research. He published more than 300 major and minor papers in various fields. Among them, there are purely botanical papers, but also research findings concerning pharmacology and medicine. When going over the titles, one cannot but notice the affinity to the ancient Egypts. In a number of papers he dealt with findings on food remainings and with the medicine of the ancient Egypts.1) The library of the Zoological-Botanical Society in Vienna holds an almost complete directory of all his scientific papers.

Juvenile literature

As mentioned earlier, Netolitzky’s obvious literary talent was not only put to use in the creation of the Egyptian Struwwelpeter. His own children, too, came to enjoy their father’s talent when he told them stories. But even before he had children of his own, he published short stories in various daily newspapers. For example, in the Innsbrucker Nachrichten of February 12, 1903, he wrote about his ‘Fahrt nach der Westküste Südamerikas‘, his trip to the South American west coast. In 1939, various other newspapers, e.g. the ‘Czernowitzer Tagblatt‘, the ‘Ostdeutsche Rundschau‘ or a Rumanian newspaper, the ‘Deutsche Tagespost‘, published his articles on nature as well as specialized reports.

Under the pseudonym Fritz Volker, he wrote a number of serialized novels for the widespread and particularly long-lived boys’ magazine called 'Der gute Kamerad‘, ‘The Good Companion’. Nine of these stories were collected in a book called ‘Die Jagd unter der Erde‘, ‘The Subterranean Hunt’ which was published with the Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft in Stuttgart, which also published ‘The Good Companion’. This illustrated juvenile magazine was established in 1887. It was published weekly until 1933, monthly until 1944 and finally yearly from 1951 to 1970 when it ceased to exist.

The evangelical juvenile magazine ‘Die Hochwacht‘ was published monthly in Austria and Germany. In this magazine he wrote a number of short stories under the pseudonym Fritz Neto.

All those stories written for children are based upon his own experiences. In particular, ‘The Subterranean Hunt’ clearly reflects the independence Netolitzky enjoyed when he was a child.

Heinrich Hoffmann and the Struwwelpeter in Austria today

Overview and summary of my project '150 years of Struwwelpeter'

Let me briefly discuss my own project called ‘150 years of Struwwelpeter’. How did it all start? In the beginning, I wanted to exhibit my collection in a couple of showcases in an institute for the training of teachers in primary education. The collection turned out to be so huge that I had to go looking for some other space. In the course of time, the simple ‘exhibition’ of books turned into a ‘project’ which I wanted to realize WITHOUT AN OFFICIAL ORDER. A financial institution was willing to sponsor my project and not only did they allow me to use their lobby, but they also generously supported all activities related to the project.

Since there are two major pedagogical institutes in Baden (Pädagogische Akademie des Bundes, Federal Pedagogical Academy in Lower Austria and Bundesinstitut für Sozialpädagogik, Federal Institute of Social Pedagogics) with which I happen to entertain close relations I thought of integrating them into this project. I am employed with the Pedagogical Academy and it is at the Institute of Social Pedagogics where I studied when the training for educators was still in its early stages in Austria.

The latent yet inevitable discussions on the character of Struwwelpeter made me hope that such a project would meet with wide public interest.

On January 18, 1845, Hoffmann was talked into publishing his picture book ‘Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder...’, 'Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures'. Exactly 150 years after this decision, my exhibition opened in my home town of Baden on January 18, 1995. 100 years ago the ‘Egyptian Struwwelpeter’, the only Austrian adaptation of the Struwwelpeter so far, was published. The authors of this book were relatives of mine.

There were a total of ten school classes in my home district and adjoining districts who wanted to take part in a tour of the exhibition which I did in my free time. Although some children initially expressed a negative attitude towards the book, which mostly seemed to reflect their parents' opinions, most of them developed an understanding once they got an insight into the historical and social background. Other classes went to see the exhibition without me as a tour guide just by using a catalog provided for that purpose.

At a panel discussion all participants agreed upon the fact that children should not be given this book without any guidance. It is not a means of education, but it seems its characters are ‘pedagogical archetypes’ which may account for the fact that this book still retains its power of attraction.

I take great pleasure and pride in the fact that I incited a young artist to compose music and that young people received the chance to discuss the heavily disputed children’s book from a critical point of view. Students at the Institute of Social Pedagogics arranged for a world premiere. Professor Martin Vogl wrote the texts and music for a highly critical interpretation of the Struwwelpeter which the students presented in an extraordinarily successful performance under his direction. The musical ‘Neues vom Struwwelpeter’, ‘News from Struwwelpeter’, enriches the musical literature on that topic.

The performances were highly acclaimed in the various daily and weekly newspapers.

Four different radio shows of the Austrian radio aired reports and interviews: Kinderwurlitzer and Radioclub (which are both children’s shows), Leporello (which deals with cultural reports) and Gugelhupf (which is a satirical news summary of the week’s political and cultural events).

Once I had informed television stations of the project, they, too, showed great interest. Mini-ZIB (a news show for children), Niederösterreich heute (a regional news show) and Seitenblicke (a daily gossip column on TV about culture and fashion) all showed reports on the day the exhibition opened in Baden.

Currently, the exhibition is being shown in the northern part of Lower Austria. When I get back, it will be displayed in Tyrol. Finally it will once again be shown in Lower Austria.

I want to conclude my presentation with a pleading in favor of the Struwwelpeter. All the experiences I made while organizing my first exhibition and the events that followed were of an extremely positive nature. Apart from my personal success with the project, the experience was so pleasant that I can say, using and modifying an old saying, ‘She who arranges an exhibition, has many encounters.’ What definitely surprised me most was the present I got from an old lady whom I had never met before. She had seen a report on my exhibition on TV and gave me a copy of ‘Struwwelliese’, the female Struwwelpeter, which she had kept since she was a child. (This copy dates back to the beginning of 1920s.)

I am definitely in favor of the ‘Struwwelpeter’! But this is not only due to the above mentioned reasons and because it is one of the books I remember most vividly from my own childhood, but because the individual stories comprise a vast range of topics to discuss with children. It is also owing to this fact that this book is entitled to a place in the bookshelf along with numerous other books which need a mediator, i.e. someone with whom to read the books.








Supplement to “The Egyptian Struwwelpter”

The Egyptian Struwwelpeter: being the Struwwelpeter papyrus; with full text and 100 original vignettes from the Vienna papyri; dedicated to children of all ages.

Under this titel was an English translation published by Grevel, London in 1899, printed in Bavaria. That means, the book was printed by Nister in Nürnberg, the same, who did the original Austrian edition. Probably in 1899 was also an American edition published by Stokes, New York, printed by Nister.

Egyptiläinen Jörö-Jukka

Translated by Veikko Pihlajamäki the book was published by the translater in Tampere / Finland in 1993. The whole edition of 1000 copys was sold during an exhibition of Egyptian arts in the museum of Tampere, August, 30. 1993 – January, 2. 1994. A 2nd edition was done in 1999 also by the translater.



1) For example:

Nahrungs- und Heilmittel der Urägypter in Umschau Nr 49 of 1911, S. 953ff

Nahrungs und Heilmittel der Urägypter. Ztschr.f.Untersuchung d. Nahrungs- u. Genußmittel, Bd. 21, H.10, S. 607-619

Hirse und Cyperus aus dem prähistorischen Ägypten. Beihefte zum Bot. Zentralblatt, Abt.2, Bd.29. S.1-11

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