Monday, January 04, 2010

An Apple a Day

I’ve been reading a lot of books to my Lovely Son. A recent favourite is Das Bäumchen, which came from a friend who remembers it from her childhood in East Germany.

It’s told entirely in pictures and is about a man and a little girl (presumably father and daughter) who plant a tree. The girl swings on one of the branches, breaking it, but they look after the tree and it eventually grows apples for everyone.

It’s a charming tale, but given its origins I can’t help looking for communist messages within its pages. With widespread censorship and propaganda in the DDR, a children’s book would be the ideal place to promote socialist ideals.

For instance, is it significant that it is the right-hand branch which breaks, whilst the left remains strong and bears fruit? Does this represent a break with the Nazi past? Or a proof of the innate superiority of the left?

The taping up of the broken bit of tree and then just carrying on – is this a refusal to acknowledge the obvious shortages in the five-year plans, where everyone just lied about how productive they were being?

And who are the other children who also eat the apples at the end? They don’t look related to the little girl – is this simply a sweet moral about sharing, or is it promoting the collectivisation of agriculture?

The children also queue very obediently for their hand-outs, which must be good preparation for a life of empty shops.

And what about the fact that there are exactly enough apples to go around at the end – a message that the state will always provide?

Whatever the subtext, it must have been difficult creating art or literature under a totalitarian regime. I will try to remember this the next time I disagree with the myriad BBC execs’ notes – at least I’m not getting direction from the Stasi on top of this (though I think they had a hand in [insert name of unpopular TV show here]). But I am going to have another look at that clause that says the BBC can shoot me for trying to escape to The Other Side (ITV). That looks a bit worrying.