Heyoka’s Workbench


A collage of early drawings of the blog author (copying famous cartoon characters)

I was a good pupil – not overly ambitious and not a teacher’s pet, just good at nearly all subjects, even sports. In my years in the GDR, this almost automatically meant that I was among the candidates eligible whenever some fancy medal was to be awarded or the venerable offices were to be staffed without which no school class in the worker’s paradise could exist.

Hadn’t it been for my diffidence, dreaminess and undemandingness, I might even have soared to become the ruler – pardon: the Gruppenratsvorsitzender of the class (which roughly, though probably not much more comprehensibly, translates as Head of the Pioneers’ Board of the Class). But, alas, Machiavelli would have despaired of me and my hamster-like lack of aggressiveness and cunning. Thus I found myself appointed not Gruppenrats…(etc.) but, humbler and an endlessly better fit, Wandzeitungsredakteur. (You can see that in the GDR long words and especially monstrously verbose titles were even more popular than in the German language of Mark Twain’s times.)

My office, in plain English, was editor of the class room’s wall newspaper (or rather notice-board). My artistic vein and the fact that I had already published a first issue of my own gazette (circulated within the confines of my room at home and even beyond) and that, furthermore, I’d begun to write at least seven (highly promising) novels – this fact, I contend, must appear to the impartial observer to have predicted a long and glorious reign of your humble blog author as Wandzeitungsredakteur.

In reality, it was an embarrassingly short tenure for only some months later, I was promoted away to the pro-forma post of Stellvertretender Gruppenratsvorsitzender. Even more letters in the title, but patently nothing to do and thus nothing to screw up. I did not spend too many thoughts (if any) on this affair for I had novels to write, pictures to draw, and the neighbourhood to roam together with my bosom friend D. (I’ve already alluded to Machiavelli and how he might have commented …)

Only many years later, it occurred to me that my demotion by promotion was very probably attributable to my habit of copying cartoons.

I started drawing the moment I could hold a pencil (literally). And I’ve never stopped since (not quite literally). In the early years, a great source of inspiration and practice for me was copying cartoons. Not by tracing them, of course, but by studying them keenly and then trying to draw them myself (and soon to modify and extrapolate the originals). Tracing would have been against my artist’s pride and sportsmanship!


I was not picky about the cartoons. Especially not politically. I copied anything, be it from the East or from the West. I didn’t care. The panoply of Walt Disney characters or »Fix & Foxi« from West Germany were just as good for me as the »Abrafaxe« from East Germany or »Bolek and Lolek« from Poland or Wolf and Hare from the Soviet Union.

How this relates to my short tenure as editor of the notice-board? Well, it might have happened now and again that I appropriated the notice-board to post completely unauthorised announcements and bulletins (totally harmless but lacking official commission). To be frank, this was rather the rule – I simply treated the notice-board as an extension of my two-page newspaper at home. Moreover (and crucially), it might as well have happened that now and again I adorned those proclamations with drawings that very obviously mimicked Walt Disney’s and other Western cartoons.

Maybe that was a bit too much for our teachers. For in the end they had the say, no matter what fancy titles we little dignitaries held. Back then and in that place, a good boy would have liked (and known, for that matter) only cartoons from Socialist countries. I’m not quite sure if such boys or girls actually existed. I knew none. – But then, hadn’t our teachers been trained to believe, too, that there was something like an actually existing socialism …?

Wer unter den deutschsprachigen Lesern mehr über die emsigen Umtriebe des Blogautors zusammen mit seinem Busenfreund D. lesen möchte, dem sei das Buch »Feinbaum« und darin die Geschichte »Wildwuchs« empfohlen.