Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Poem - Handed on a Silver Platter

©Brigitta Huegel

I love the drawings of the Fifties, and sometimes, when I find a book on the fleamarket, I buy it - not because of its (sometimes quite silly) content, but because of the little sketches - so light, so happy, so carefree.
Of course I should add an illustration here and now - but I am to lazy at the moment to pick up my camera.
So I'll try to translate a little bit of a text from Anton Schnack (an author rightly forgotten by now; drawings by Max Schwinger) It is called "Flirt mit dem Alltag - Flirt with Everyday Life", which leads us through the year.
In August I found this sentence for the travelling gardener, which made me wonder:

"Also forgo on early apples and early pears voluntarily: they will be picked unfailingly by free-roaming lads."

Written in 1956.
Well: in the last decades I didn't see any lads nicking apples, or plums, or cherries.
Must have gone out of style.
Maybe it is the fault of the so-called helicopter-parents, hovering over their only child, driving it to violin- and Chinese-lessons - no time to roam through the neighbourhood.
Or fault of the supermarket - everything is there on the shelf.
I remember my astonishment when we still lived on our little island in Hildesheim that people didn't even take home plastic bags of already picked apples that somebody had kindly put in front of her garden gate. Maybe nobody knows how to make an apple pie anymore? Or doesn't care, being bone-idle, as Onslow in Keeping-up Appearances would say?
Well - if no lads had wanted any apples or pears ever, we would never have gotten Theodor Fontane's beautiful and wise poem, written in 1889 and still read today (if this doesn't impress you, maybe this will: "In 2007, the original manuscript of the poem was sold for 130.000 EUR at an auction at Berlin.):

Herr von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck im Havelland  (rough translation by me)

Herr von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck in Havelland: 
a pear tree in his garden stood, 
and when the time of golden autumn came, 
and the pears shone far and wide, 
then, when the clock chimed from the tower at noon, crammed  
the von Ribbeck both his pockets full, 
and when in his pattens came up a lad, 
he cried out: "Lad, do you want a pear?" (this is in dialect, can't translate that
And came a girl, he called "Little dear, 
come over, I have a pear!" 


Well - after his death his stingy son greedily protected the pears - but the old von Ribben ("von" means lower gentry)

but the old one, already anticipating, 
and full of distrust against his own son, 
he knew exactly, what he did then, 
when begging for a pear in his grave, 

You guess it: after three years a pear tree grows from the grave - serving pears for free.
Oh - come to think of it: a lot of things have changed from 1889:
- children prefer pineapples to apples 
- dialect is often extinguished 
- wooden pattens aren't worn anymore - they are replaced by plastic clogs 
- and if old von Ribbeck had offered his pears to little boys or girls, the stern members of child protective services would have cast more than one suspicious look at him. 

PS: the silver-plated fruit basket I found on a fleamarket too.

 ©Brigitta Huegel


  1. Times change and move forever upwards and onwards, but my dear husband would never walk past a bag of free fruit, pass a bush of ripe blackberries or mushrooms growing wild in the fields - they all travel back home with him.
    This evening we shall dine on rhubarb crumble made with, you can guess, fruit from the freezer, but originally found outside a garden gate.

    1. Dear Rosemary, I feel with your husband, collecting those gifts that nature offers us! (People say of me: "With you we will never starve in a wood in summer", because I know plants, berries and mushrooms etc). The rhubarb crumble makes my mouth water - and inspires me to do one myself - (with apples, bought).

  2. What a sweet thought that trees grew from the pears in an old man's pockets. We no longer seem to act without thought of judgement.

    1. Dear Joanne, yes, it reminds me a bit of the hazelnut-bushes in fairies. As to the judgement: do you mean that people suspect that something is wrong with fruits for free?

  3. We all have too much of something, and too much of the distrust that prevents us from sharing it and taking from others. A miserably safe society versus a pear tree?

    1. Dear Mise, yes - too much - which would be in itself a good thing, as I experienced in Crete, when it is shared. And the weird "safety-society" is such a big theme, that it needs more than one post of its own (with the punchline that even the safest will have to die - as much as they may protect themselves - thus supressing the joy of life).

  4. It is not known today from where fruit comes. It is already weighed and bagged and priced. No leaves, no soil, no questions to be asked or answered. No speech required. No smiling.

    1. Dear Rachel, and that sterile world makes one shiver: often no scents, no reminder of things being perishable (some vegetables last for month in a fridge), and the demand that everything has to be perfect (no bruises on an apple, no brown spot on a banana) - at the cost of the world (I mean that - bringing ecological pineapples from thousands of miles away to us in winter).

  5. Ah, here, then is the first, and what a delight. That poem is princess!

    1. Dear Sue, thank you! I love Fontane very much - especially his wonderful novels.

  6. I loved everything about this post. The poem and the story it tells is marvelous. Your observations of how the man would be perceived today were on the spot. And your silver fruit platter is gorgeous.

    1. Dear Emma, thank you! Yes, as a society we are very spoilt. Of course I am happy that we all have enough to eat etc, but a look at the shelves with hundreds of different shampoo-bottles, for example, makes me helpless. As if our mind doesn't have more important decisions to make! Finding the fruit platter was luck.

  7. Theodor Fontane's exceedingly well-translated and annotated poem --thank you dear Brigitta-- and your beautiful silver platter set me to opening a volume of Yeats to "Song of Wandering Aengus" because I was reminded of the closing lines:
    "...walk among long dappled grass,
    And pluck 'til time and times are done
    The silver apples of the moon,
    The golden apples of the sun."

    To me, both are love poems to the universe.

    1. Dear Geo., thank you - you always make me purr :-) Fontane is a very wise (and modest, and humourous man, understanding the nature of mankind very deeply - think of "Effi Briest" - a novel I read 3 times in different life-stages, and always was surprised how I read it differently. I will start now a fourth time.
      The poem of Yeats was new to me - it is adorable, and I thank you very much for it! Also for the expression "love poems to the universe" - which I will nick instantly, instead of a golden pear.

  8. Today - so different from when I was a child. The hunter-gatherer still lives on in me though and when out walking I always have a bag in my pocket to pick mushrooms or blackberries or whatever else I can find - I know all the secret places where they hide - children of today miss out on so much.

  9. Dear Elaine, yes, it has changed a lot. Children will find other things to amuse them - but staring into a computer all the time is limiting very much. And not to give them time to be "idle", not being be-spielt, being without pre-planned time, without adults around.
    To have a bag with you is a good idea!

  10. I, too, am a child of the fifties and, even though I had an idyllic childhood, I don't think that I would want to go back, Britta !! Although, all is true about fruit and veg …. so sterile and absolutely no flavour whatsoever ……. home grown is totally different and so delicious.Goodness knows how long it has been in storage before we see it !!
    Beautiful prose and a wonderful silver fruit basket …… I bet it tastes even better when taken from such a beautiful bowl.
    Have a lovely week Britta. XXXX

  11. Dear Jackie, thank you! I am especially vexed by tomatoes - even if bought at the market stall - so often I have the impression that they are sprayed with tomatoe-parfume, which washes away :-) .
    I was lucky when I went to the fleamarket with the intent to find something for putting fruit on the table - and then I saw this!