The previous post on the Rhinogradentia mentioned the book by one 'Karl D.S. Geeste' entitled 'Stümpke's Rhinogradentia'. It turned out that Geeste and Stümpke are in reality one and the same person, who in real life is called Gerolf Steiner. This puts the interview, in which Geeste questions Stümpke about how the Rhinogradentia came into being, in a new light: in essence the interview is an autobiographical style figure. There are only a few pages about the early history of the Rhinogradentia in the book, but they have something to tell.
The overall feeling you get from the Rhinogradentia is one of good uncomplicated fun, without any cynicism or sarcasm. There is hardly even irony. It is all extremely good-natured. Even the responses to letters Steiner received from people who had failed to get the joke, or who felt that scientist should never joke in such a way, show a great deal of respect for the sentiments of the senders, even when these were rather dour. And yet, the circumstances during which the Rhinogradentia were conceived were not nice at all. The following is from 'Stümpke's Rhinogradentia (Fischer Verlag 1988, pp 64-67).
The project started by chance early in 1945, in Darmstadt, in the western part of Germany. Germany was not yet beaten but Darmstadt was occupied by Americans. There was nothing to eat, so Steiner had even tried frying snails with the last 10 grams of fat. He found that the mucus of the snails made the snails stick in his throat, so he was unable to eat them, and cried for being so hungry. Steiner, bombed out of his own home, lived in a room in a house in the outer parts of the city, less damaged by bombing than the city centre. He had some paper and some pencils there, that had survived the bombing. One day a student who wished to become a zoologist shared some asparagus with Steiner; this was a wondrous great gift. He wished to do something in return, and decided to make a drawing for her; something not too serious, but uplifting, and with a zoological theme. And that's how the Nasobem was born. Because he liked the drawing himself, he made another one for his own amusement. And later another one, etc.
By itself this story is not that surprising or that moving. But there are a few sentences describing what life was like in the suburbs of this ravaged city. These tell their own story and make you wonder how Steiner managed to evade cynicism or despair. For those who can read German, the original text follows first, followed by my translation. I tried to stay close to the original text.
"Ein bisschen satt zu essen zu bekommen, gehörte zu diesem Beglückenden ebenso wie später die Frülingsblumen oder die schönen Chorgesänge der freigelassenen Russen, die plündernd durch die Gegend zogen. Dazwischen hörte man das irre Schreien vergewaltigter Frauen, die sich -ausgebombt- in ihre Gartenhütten einquartiert hatten."
"To be able to get a bit to eat so you didn't feel so hungry anymore was one of the things that made you happy, just as much as spring flowers later did, or the beautiful choir singing of the freed Russians, who wandered through the countryside, plundering as they went. In the midst of this you heard the mad crying of raped women, who, having been bombed out of their homes, had found shelter in garden sheds."
What a contrast.