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Rennefarre: Dott's Wonderful Travels and Adventures
by Malve Von Hassell
Paperback, first English edition, adapted by the translater, 297 pages
Published December 2012 by Two Harbors Press (first published 1965)
Imagine riding on the back of a blue heron across time and space. Imagine befriending crows, being kidnapped by magpies, and being given a lift on the back of a kindly stag. Imagine experiencing life as an outcast from human society, encountering spirits and mythical creatures from the world of legends, experiencing the plague in Dresden, and being chased through Berlin by Frederick the Great.
Dott is a twelve-year old girl. She lives in the countryside east of Berlin in an unspecified time between the two world wars. When Dott sneaks out to see the bonfire at the edge of her village on the evening of the midsummer night festival, she has no idea what will happen next. In the dark of night, the magical Rennefarre flower falls into her shoe. It not only makes her invisible, but also allows her to see things no one else could see. No longer able to stay with her parents and her young brother and sister, she begins her search to find a way out of her predicament.
Her quest to return home to her family winds its way through the cities and countryside of 20th century Germany—and beyond. As she befriends the local animals, they help her on her way with gifts of food, shelter, and—through the help of a kind spirit—a magical cup which allows her to become small and ride on the backs of the birds.
Flying across the country on the backs of crows and herons, Dott finds herself seeing the country not only as it is, but also as it used to be. She lives through moments in history others can only read about—meeting historical kings and fanciful spirits along the way. But, even with all of the excitement of her travels, she always has one goal in mind: returning home to her family.
Part coming-of-age story, part fantasy, and part social-cultural portrait of Eastern Germany in the early part of the 20th century, the book covers real ground. That is, one could follow Dott's travels on a map of the area. Seamlessly blending elements of fantasy and history, the book contains a fascinating array of details of day-to-day life in rural and urban areas in eastern Germany. Dott’s adventures are interwoven with folklore and myths as well as vivid accounts of different eras and the diverse cultural and ethnic strains that have formed the basis for a rich and complex history of Germany and Eastern Europe. Written on the eve of World War II, the book offers a sobering perspective on the human potential for causing devastation. At the same time it is filled with hope. In one scene, Dott gets a glimpse of the future — an utterly destroyed cityscape; it inspires her to look to her own responsibilities and actions in life.
I have a weakness for fairytales from around the world... and this adventure from Germany sounds absolutely amazing. I am happy to share the book & history as well as give away an eCopy with Tribute Tours!
Please welcome Malve Von Hassle to Colorimetry!!
When rereading Rennefarre as an adult, I began to appreciate the amount of research Tamara Ramsay must have engaged in. Alongside an emotionally compelling story of a girl’s attempt to return home to her family, the book offers a wealth of factual detail, vivid descriptions of geography, plant, and animal life, a rich fabric of history and historical figures, and a colorful tapestry of legends and myths, doubly attractive for being rooted in concrete places and events.
For instance, the legendary Frau Harke, protector of nature and animals, appears today in the name of a mountain in Lower Saxony, and she is still celebrated in some local traditions. I searched for information about the plants that Tamara Ramsay mentions and discovered that these plants are not imaginary, but rather real plants that have potent properties and feature in homeopathic and folk remedies. Hence, the Springwurzel, given by the giant spirit Rübezahl to Dott as a remedy for her little sister, is the caper spurge. The caper spurge (euphorbia lathyris) has been used as an anti-inflammatory agent and to treat a variety of medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis.
In one of my favorite scenes in the book, Dott and her friend Klaus spend an evening in the cemetery of the church St. Anna in a town called Rosenberg. Today, this town is called Olesno, and it is in Poland. The children, who had been conflicted about their journey, are transported into a moment in deep winter. The children watch pilgrims from all over the county travel to the church for a service. The first wave of pilgrims consists of animals, among others, horses from the mines in Silesia, bent and blind from their labors. Men, women and children dressed in their finest follow. The children watch this procession and decide to go along; and the experience helps them to resolve some of their doubts. When I researched St. Anna, I found that this church had indeed been the site of regular pilgrimages since the 15th century.
In another scene, Dott encounters the bridge builder Matteo Foccio, thought to have built the first stone bridge in Dresden in the 13th century. Matteo Foccio shows Dott a sculpture in one of the pillars of the bridge, claiming that it was his self-portrait and that he carved it himself. I was able to track this down and verify that until 1813, one of the original pillars of the Augustus Bridge featured a stone relief sculpture of a man in a sitting position and dressed in the style of the period. According to local lore, it was a portrait of the Italian architect Matteo Foccio. The bridge was dynamited in 1813 and rebuilt; the figure was lost in the process. This is one of many such instances in the book where Dott’s personal story is linked in seemingly effortless fashion with real history as well as the shifting ground in the way in which we experience and rethink history.
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About the Author:
Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph. D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published several books and journal articles, in particular, The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell's memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schließt sich - Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She has published a children’s picture book, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (Mill City Press, 2012), and completed a manuscript for a historical fiction book set in the 13th century for young adults, Falconello. She is working on a historical fiction novel set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades.
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