This edition contains three stories: Der Hahnepeter (Cock Peter), Der Paradiesvogel (Bird of Paradise), Das Paradies auf der Wiese (Paradise in the Meadow). Käte Steinitz describes their genesis in her memoirs of Kurt Schwitters (pp. 54). Der Hahnepeter was created in 1923 at the suggestion of Sophie Küppers, the future wife of El Lissitzky. She noticed an old Easter egg in Kurt Schwitters's kitchen and spontaneously invented a story about it. Käte Steinitz transcribed it on the typewriter "with shouts from the children, to whom he wanted to tell the story anyway." Steinitz made drawings to go with it and "then Kurt came with a big pair of scissors and went to work on the drawings."
When they could find no publisher for the whimsical little story, Schwitters and Steinitz printed the lithographs themselves. "Der Hahnepeter was published by Merz-Verlag as Familie Hahnepeter No.1, dedicated to Väterchen. We printed only 100 numbered copies and called the edition the Luxuspeter. (...) He flew straight to paradise and the children watched him go so sadly that a sequel became necessary." (Steinitz, p.62/63) This is how the other two fairy tales were created, in part with the same characters.
As for the plot, out of the egg hatches Hahnepeter, a figure modeled after a rooster, with only one leg that resembles a spinning top. His tail ends in a propeller with a crank, which the children can turn until the Hahnepeter finally flies away. The fairy tale "The Bird of Paradise" is designed as a sequel. Hahnemann is looking for the Hahnepeter and finds him in paradise, where all the animals are friends, where there is a royal riding school, but where one must also decide either to stay there forever or to go home. "Paradise in the Meadow" tells of the letters that Hahnemann writes home and that make little Ernst decide to go to paradise, too. All sorts of crazy things happen and culminate in the question of what a lie is and how to recognize it.
The short texts of these three little nonsense stories are interspersed with line drawings, groups of capitals, black bars, painted or cut figures. Different font grades and types alternate, creating varied typefaces on open spaces.
Kurt Schwitters, born in Hanover in 1887, died in Ambleside, Great Britain in 1948, was a well-known German visual artist, poet, reciter, publicist and typographer. From 1909 to 1915 he studied at the Academy of Arts in Dresden. From 1915 he lived again in Hanover, producing his first poetry and paintings in the Cubist-Expressionist style. From 1918 he used a wide variety of materials for his works and worked with the techniques of collage, montage and assemblage. He becomes known as a dada artist with his idea of "Merzkunst", the magazine Merz, from 1923, and especially the "Merzbau", a partly walk-in surreal installation, begun in the same year, and with his picture poems and nonsense texts (Ur-Sonate). In the same year he went on a Dada tour in Holland together with Theo van Doesburg. In Berlin at about the same time, Schwitters met El Lissitzky and Laslo Moholy-Nagy and became intensively involved with both the Russian avant-garde and international Constructivism.
Together with Käte Steinitz he created three picture books, which were published in 1924 in "Die Märchen vom Paradies". The protagonists allude to his wife Helma and son Ernst (b. 1918), among others. Schwitters's picture book works are to be seen in the context of his works for the Merzhefte and seem like finger exercises for dealing with the conventions of a bourgeois conception of art. Schwitters and Steinitz also founded Aposs Verlag in 1924, naming its program after the initial letters: active, paradoxical, without sentimentality, sensitive.
In 1937, four of Schwitters's works were shown in the "Degenerate Art" exhibition. In the same year he immigrated to Norway, lived from 1941 initially in London, from 1945 until his death in Ambleside, northern England.
Kurt Schwitters Archiv, Sprengel-Museum, Hannover www.sprengel-museum.de
Kate T. Steinitz, Kurt Schwitters. Erinnerungen aus den Jahren 1918-1930.
Zürich: Arche 1963 /1987
Kurt Schwitters. Merz – ein Gesamtweltbild
Ausstellungskatalog Museum Tinguely, Basel
Basel: Benteli, 2004