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junipergreen

pareidolia

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Hemmersmoor / Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone - Stefan Kiesbye

Hemmersmoor - Stefan Kiesbye Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone (Paperback) - Common - By (author) Stefan Kiesbye

Marienwürmchen, flieg heim, flieg heim! Dein Häuschen brennt! Die Kinder schrein!

(Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home. Your house is on fire, your children all gone.)

 

This pesky old nursery rhyme combines the sweetest melody with tales of greatest horror. In German, there are about a trazillion different versions², most of them referring to some war or the other - the 30 Years‘ War? The Seven Years‘ War? Historians are squabbling. Some sing about lady bugs, some about cockchafers³, but no matter the version, two facts remain: 1) the family the song refers to is very much dead. 2) The song is quintessentially German in origin. Wilhelm Grimm quoted one version of it for the German folk and children‘s song collection „Des Knaben Wunderhorn“. What better reference to use for tales of German small town horror? Tales inspired by the darkest, the most unsettling fairy-tales the Brothers Grimm collected?

 

Stefan Kiesbye leads us to the (fictional) village of Hemmersmoor in the Teufelsmoor (Devil‘s Moor, although the name is supposed to come from the old German doofes Moor, taubes Moor = deaf moor). Hemmersmoor seems strangely removed from the rest of the world, fallen out of time. Christian, Martin, Anke and Linde are our four first person narrators, children growing up in an atmosphere of superstition and gossip, peer pressure and casual violence. This is told about in short stories, separate but interconnected.

Just like the old nursery rhyme gains its unsettling quality through the dissonance between sweet melody and gruesome content, Kiesbye‘s stories gain their horror through their dispassionate, almost flat tone of voice. The darkness is nothing unfamiliar in Hemmersmoor, it‘s nothing remarkable; it‘s a part of everyday life, hardly noticed and soon forgotten. The nonchalance shown by our narrators while committing the most hideous acts quite literally made my blood curdle. The first two stories seem especially violent and frightening. After that the tone is set, the following crimes seem not nearly as outrageous. But the horror stays there, unrelenting, chewing away at you, never letting go. Making you shudder. I found the last story to be the creepiest of all: it‘s so easy not to see, it‘s so easy to forget…

 

Soundtrack: Tom Waits used the line „Your house is on fire, your children are alone“ for his song „Jacket Full of Bourbon“. But I‘m going with my favourite band this time, Get Well Soon and „The Only Thing We Have to Fear“.

 

²The probably best known version containing the lines “Vater ist in Pommerland, Pommerland ist abgebrannt.”

³Seriously? That’s what you call poor Maikäfer in English?