Der Burgermeister

Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.”

The story of David and his victory over Goliath is the story of a family in poverty.

Jesse is not a King yet but a very old man with his youngest tending to sheep in Bethlehem. People made fun of David not only because he was poor but as a small child doing the work of a man, “Why can’t David play like us because he’s a redneck and a farmhand!” other kids would say. However, he kept working to provide for his elderly father, his mother in Bethlehem, and his family who are the sons of the tribe of Judah.

The Philistines were not only the richest but they flaunted their wealth on a giant slave from Gath that they named Goliath who boasted, insulted, and crushed any warrior who met him. His armor, helmet, everything bought and paid for by the Philistines and made of bronze and what made things worse was he insulted and belittled all the tribes of Israel to the point Saul and his army gave up. At first, David was told by Jesse to deliver food to his father’s troops until Goliath had the Gaul mess with David’s flock of sheep. This was the last straw for David for wealth was the religion of the Philistines but Davids's family had something more powerful than wealth; hope, and faith. David took a sharp stone and a sling and flung it right into Goliath’s massive forehead, and to rub it into the wealth of the Philistines he took Goliath’s sword and chopped off his head.

However, The Bible is not history but is a cultural narrative or monomyth, like Herodus’s tale of the 300 Spartans, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Bagvad Geda, The Koran, The Kaliva, The Volga Saga, and the Sutras of Buddhism. It’s a way of understanding a culture's values, fears, explanations for the unexplainable, and our roles as humans in a complex world.

Jim Carry as The Grinch

For Germans, Krampus is a figure that although freighting for many non-Germans is one that puts society in check during Christmas when people can be greedy and selfish. When Germans came to America like Theodore Geisel’s parents they told stories from the old country about Krampus and all the tricks he would pull on nasty children and even adults! Later on, we German American children would grow up with an iteration of Krampus we call The Grinch because Theodore Geisel is Dr. Seuss.

Unfortunately, we also grew up with another Christmas tradition and monomyth that was ugly, xenophobic, and would be downright outdated. One that started a conversation with my Grandmother at an early age about why xenophobic representation still hurts generations of German-American children. It was Rankin/Bass’s 1970 Christmas Special Santa Claus is Comming to Town which I found a VHS tape of in an attic at their house when VHS tapes were a thing…

At the beginning of the story, we are introduced to a dark place called Sombertown, which is lazy writing but hey it’s the 70s! A place led by a guy who is unabashedly a German stereotype Bugermister Misterberger and his World War One sidekick Grimsly. The people in the town all wear dark gray and black tones except Kris Kringle and Jessica who wears blue to stand out. After tripping on a toy duck in the town square, Bergermister creates an all-out ban on toys. Burgermeister and Grimsly are voiced by voice actor Paul Frees and it’s clear that they sound and are based on anti-German propaganda from World War One. Propaganda was made by America and France and continues to this day.

An Example of Xenophobic Sentiment towards Germans and German Americans.

But It's Only a Show…

No More Toy Makers for The King

The reason it makes me feel uncomfortable watching it as an adult is that I have this in mind, what if my cousin's children watch it without the context of why this kind of imagery is cruel and hurtful? Media studies are important because they help both parent and child understand the hidden or harmful message these two characters send to German American children of the next generation.

German and Austrian clothing in general has colors and our colors and clothing have meaning. Red, Blue, Green, Black, Gold, Grey, and White are the most common in the clothing of marching bands and formal wear. The reason why we don’t wear black and grey except at funerals is because of blacks association with a terrible time we were exploited, pillaged, and assimilated by the Temperance Movement which wore black every day which was seen as puritanical and a threat to rural German Americans and the lives they created for their families. Including places, German American children felt safe which were their schools and community groups like bands, minstrels, and dance tropes who did Schueplattler and Landler.

The Drunkards Progress was put in schoolhouses to indoctrinate children into the movement.

My Great Opa was a barrel maker which is a coveted trade in German Drinking Culture much like the hunter and farmer are to German Americans. Barrel making is a very labor-intensive process that involves the skills of an engineer, carpenter, blacksmith, and attention to temperature and what kind of beir is in the barrel. Imagine what it takes to make each barrel, not a machine but by hand with tools and hard labor, and climbing up that ladder with hard work is what makes you a true Brewster. What people don’t know is that beer can be made out of any fermented plant as long as it’s not poisonous. This is why the German Purity motto is, “Hopp und Maltz Gott Erhalt” or “God Bless my Hopp and Maltz does not poison others and myself”

Vernors a Michigan classic Ginger Ale for a long time was stored in barrels like the kind my Opa made in cellars set at a cool temperature. For a long time, its mascot is not a Leprechaun but a Kobalt in Steirian clothing and a red beard. A Kobalt is a helpful dwarf who helps people in exchange for food and clothing. However, even after Prohibition, Brewers and their families were walking targets of gossip, harassment, and slurs. Once my Opa found a job in America he went back to Germany to get my Great Oma out thus making them illegal immigrants like many German Americans leaving the Thrid Riche. The first time I heard the K-word was in a video about Dr.Seuss who went through the same brutality that is xenophobia. However it’s even far worse for young girls who are surrounded by pictures of women they are made to look up to and assimilate to like Julie Andrews and Doris Day, things my Grandma Lill at a young age was not.

He’s The Bad Guy

Ask yourself if you had to pick any nationality as a bad guy what would they be?

Then ask yourself why aren’t there any bad guys that are American, French, or English? When we make Fascist and Fascist Ideology Only a German issue we are ignoring the problem that all races and ethnicities have bad people with bad problems including dictators and authoritarians. Eugenics was started by an English scientist and was an idea excepted by many American leaders of the industry like Dr. Harvy Kellogg and Henry Ford who were also loved by Adolf Hitler. He kept a picture of him in his office and admired his writings which came from The Protocols of Zion. Henry Ford forced schools to square dance because they believed The Jews taught jazz to African Slaves to take over the world.

Even though this dance was a German dance and Irish jig calls were appropriated by African Americans at social gatherings. Polka and Landler also rolled into a new genre of dance known as Swing and a new genre of American Volksmuik known as Dutchman. Think Lanlers and Polkas with an upbeat swing and a bouncing tuba sound. German Americans do not call their music Polka because the industry exploits German music. Instead we call it Volksmusik because the right to make and express music belongs to the people thus Volksmusik or Peoples Music. To take this right away is taking the voice away from a culture, and that is what the American Music Industry did to Volksmusik by calling it Polka Music.

The IPA (International Polka Association) is dominated by Polish names which lead to the genre’s downfall of assimilating all kinds of Volksmusik cultures as one Larence Welk show without showing the cultures and group diversity. Volksmusik is not just German or Austrian music, it’s about the people who live around Germany or other countries like Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, and Ostirol which is on the top of Italy. Larence Welk was also never German but Lithulainian and was adopted by German Americans only to imitate their accent as a fake persona. If there are any bad people in this industry it’s the people who don’t give families or artist full credit and rights over their voice and use it to sell 101 Favorite Polka Hits.

“You're a Non-Conformist and a Rebel!”

I’m not the only child of immigrants that has called out how animation in particular loves stereotyping and tokenizing people. Hari Karthikeya Kondabolu a child of Indian American Migrants is the creator of the documentary The Problem with Apu. The documentary is about ethnic microaggressions and minstrelsy of Asian and Indian people in media and the same thing goes for people of Eastern European descent as well. When people mock us with our language and dialects or misuse Gemutlichkite which no German American says because of its anti-Semitic connotations towards people of German heritage.

The same goes for schools with Native Americans as mascots and with dance routines like the tomahawk to Peter Pan’s What Makes the Redman Red which is never acknowledged to be racist by Disney but is extremely racist to Indigenous People of many North American nations. One school dance troupe danced at Disney World without consequence from Cast Members but with a lot of backlash from people of Native descent.

In my opinion, Santa Claus is Coming to Town does not belong as a Chrismas Special but in a Media Studies or History Class to talk about how anti-German rhetoric and tropes are still in American media including The Producers and Jojo Rabit. However, one film that breaks the mold is Dr. Seuss’s The Five-Thousand Fingers of Dr.T which is a commentary on American Neoliberalism and Altruism. Dr. Seuss’s real name is Theodore Geisel, a young boy who was called everything from Kike, Kiser, and many other epithets to his father who was a brewer and a huge part of his life. He knew that one step into Facisum is people turning a group of people into a scapegoat with silly assumptions.

He also was why the generation that went to war with Germany also helped rebuild the country as a Socialist Democracy that teaches history with reality and no sugarcoating. The message to German children is clear, never again will we allow hate and aggression to happen. The same goes for the children of immigrants and migrants. He and my Grandmother’s generation is called The Greatist for a reason. Children of immigrants need to welcome other immigrants and give them safety and security. I created Struwwelkinder because German is a wonderful, funny, and poetic language when it’s not in a villainous light. When people think of powerful soprano arias they think of Mozart’s Queen of The Night singing Der Holler Rache.

Heavy Metal rock can trace its sound to the German art movement Sturm und Dram which focused on the tragedy and flaws of ordinary people, and the abuse or misuse of the supernatural. It also focused on conflicts and superstitions many people in villages held on to like in Carl Maria von Weber’s opera Die Freischutz where Agathe loves Max but is made to marry the prince of Bohemia for money. In the first act, Max sings an aria Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen about seeing Agathe at her door greeting him which is full of love and passion but turns into doubt and fear of losing her to someone she does not love.

One of the greatest singers of German opera and leider was once a soldier in the Wehrmacht after graduating from music school, and a prisoner of war captured by Americans during the Second World War. His performance of Schubert's Der Erlkonig became viral after his death along with the ranks of Franzl Lang and Troloman. His name is Dietrich Fisher Duskau and he is considered one of the great baritones of the 21st century.

The leider Der Erlkonig is complex because it involves playing four people all at once like a one-man show, the narrator, the father, his child, and the looming specter called The Elf king. This would be like if one single person did all the voices for an episode of The Simpsons in one act. The story is about a father riding hastily on his horse home, his child tells him, Don’t you see the Elfking in his dark cloak in the woods?”. “Oh that is just the wind or a log in the night,” the father says but then things get worse when the Elfking tries to steal his son when all else fails he kills his son on the way home with the narrator's last words being, In his father arms, the child was dead….

The poem Franz Schubert put to brilliant music is by Gothe, he suffered from syphilis and the treatments of Mercury that came with it. If anything the poem itself is a metaphor for how no matter where you hide you can’t hide the symptoms that came with the disease syphilis and that it does not care if you are a father, woman, or child.

Today the piece is used in Music Appreciation Classes, Poetry Classes, and Music History to demonstrate the revolution Schubert created with his music including the Romantic Movement and Hevey Metal with borrows a lot from Sturm and Dram Music, Gothic Design, German Expressionism, and Kabaret a dark form of German Vaudvile popular in the Weinmire District before the Third Riche’s rise to power which was portrayed in the musical Cabaret.

Without Germany’s Silent Films we would have never had what historians call The Golden Age of Animation a period that Authur Rankin and Jules Bass grew up in and hardly noticed that people and studios like Max Fletcher, Warner Bros, and Disney hired German artists regardless of immigrant status but for their talent and art. It made me wonder where Burgermister and Girmsely might be all these years so that if we did as Dr. Jones says, “Put them in a Museum” we as German Americans can give them more context to history than the monomyth of Santa Claus is Comming to Town. Sadly only Gott knows where both Bergermister and Grimsly puppets are because many of the people involved including the puppet builder, his voice actor Paul Frees, and both Rankin/Bass have died.

What Joespeth Campell gets wrong about the hero is that he or she is not one singular entity but also a very complex character with complex issues. The hero can’t always be gloriously handsome or pretty, like Struwwelpeter he can be something we as readers assume to be ugly and ashamed of being. However, I as a creator and granddaughter of the next German Americans can give characters like Struwwelpeter, not their own bliss but the purposes and principles they have as characters. In one comic I created called Wast Das? Struwwelpeter is the first one at his orphanage to get the Covid shot to be an example for both his brunden and Swalbin at the orphanage in Frankfurt am Main. He pulls off his famous coat, “ICH GEHE ZU ERST!” he shouts “Sie?” the doctor says and he has this to say…

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Christina Bishop

Christina Bishop

Tuba player, creator of Struwwelkinder and The Flying Circus Orchestra