Rest in Peace, Max Kruse

Max Kruse, German writer of children’s and YA books, died aged 93. Die Welt has a lovely obituary.

Everybody who grew up in the German speaking world in the past 45 years is likely familiar with Urmel aus dem Eis (Urmel from the Ice), Max Kruse’s best known children’s book. Urmel aus dem Eis is the story of the critter Urmel who emerges from a deep frozen dinosaur egg and navigates the modern world. Kruse was allegedly inspired to write the story when his family purchased a freezer in the late 1960s. Here is a clip of Urmel singing from the famous TV adaptation by the Augsburger Puppenkiste puppet theatre.

However, Max Kruse wrote a lot more than just Urmel. And yes, many of his books are SFF. Hell, Urmel even gets to travel into space in one of the books. Indeed, it’s telling how many of our great SFF writers of the postwar era were children’s book writers such as Michael Ende, Ottfried Preußler and Max Kruse. And quite often, these writers and their books were beloved by young readers, but not by teacher and educators who hated them for their escapism and lack of realism, as this obituary for Max Kruse in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung shows.

Max Kruse also had a fascinating life story apart from his books. He was the youngest of eight children of a famous family. His father was the sculptor Max Kruse, his mother the dollmaker Käthe Kruse. Young Max even became the model for one of his mother’s dolls, namely this cutie, the life-size baby doll “Du Mein”, which was originally developed for nursing students, because its head and limbs were weighted, so it behaved like a real baby.

I was thrilled when I learned that the man who wrote the Urmel books was the son of Käthe Kruse and the model for the life-size Käthe Kruse baby doll I craved so much as a young girl, but couldn’t afford, because Käthe Kruse dolls were prohibitively expensive due to being still handmade. I never did get a “Du Mein” baby (and they’re no longer being made, it seems), but I do own a small Käthe Kruse baby doll that I bought in the late 1980s. I call him “Baby T”, because he looks just like Mr. T down to the distinctive hairstyle. And yes, there are black Käthe Kruse dolls and have been at least since the 1980s. I own two of them, Baby T and his big sister Tonya, who are joined by their white friends Irene and Patricia.

So rest in peace, Max Kruse, creator of Urmel, Don Blech, Lord Schmetterhemd and many others.

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3 Responses to Rest in Peace, Max Kruse

  1. People don’t mention die ‘Der Löwe ist los’ Reihe… I wonder if it’s because black and Muslim people are featured? From what I remember, I actually thought the role of the white girl Pip had a lot of agency, and the Sultan, once they’d saved him, was a great companion to Löwe – who then became a friend to the lion hunter, too. Although it’s true enough that female roles are not so prevalent in his books (Wutz being a mother, of course).

    Some of those Käthe Kruse Waldorf Puppen are rather affordable ^^. I gave one at Loncon to Andrea Höst and a tiny one to Michelle Sagara West, that one you can hang in sight of a baby’s crib, usually.

    Donauwörth has the Käthe Kruse Museum, by the way (and a factory), where you can see all kinds of dolls displayed. Last year they had a special display with Augsburger Puppenkiste dolls from Max Kruse’s book series.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, the “Der Löwe ist los” books are curiously forgotten compared to the Urmel books, even though they also had an Augsburger Puppenkiste adaptation. You might be correct that the black and Muslim characters are the reason why they are less remembered than Urmel. They might also be rather dated by now – a common problem with older children’s books. I haven’t read them in years now and don’t quite remember.

      Yes, the Käthe Kruse Waldorf dolls are more affordable compared to the classic dolls with the handpainted faces. And that’s a lovely present for Andrea Höst and Michelle Sagara West.

      I mostly associate Donauwörth with Unimog these days (a side-effect of doing translations for a truck company), but of course the Käthe Kruse factory is there, too. That museum sounds fascinating. I’ll have to pay it a visit next time I’m in the area.

  2. Sylvia says:

    Thank you all for the lovely words on my father, Max Kruse. He is missed. “Loewe ist los” is pretty dated, but the stories are about integration between people/animals of different background, etc… Lovely themes particularly in our present political climate where children are confronted with people of different background and creeds in today’s political climate!

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