SPIEGEL: Mr. Heine, you will be 80 years old on Easter Sunday, how are you?
Heine: thanks good. We have a nice day in late summer and we were just swimming.
Gisela von Radwitz: 23 locusts.
Heine: Yes, it’s 23 degrees here.
SPIEGEL Ah, your wife is here too?
Radwitz: Yes, I am in charge of the Internet.
SPIEGEL: Are you looking back or only looking forward?
Heine: I tend to look forward, but of course I am a little back too. And I think I lived a very interesting life. Basically because we lived in Africa for more than twelve years, then in Ireland and Japan. But we have been living here for the longest time.
Heine helmetsBorn April 4, 1941 in Berlin, he studied business administration, worked and traveled before becoming a children’s book author. He had accomplished his accomplishments in 1982 with the picture book “Friends” and in 1983 he developed the Dragon Character for Peter Mafai’s musical “Tabaluga”. He lived in South Africa for more than ten years, also for a few years in Ireland and Japan, and since 1990 in New Zealand. He also writes novels for adults with his wife, Gisela von Radwitz. To this day, Helm Heine writes and illustrates comic books and is active in various artistic fields.
SPIEGEL: How do you celebrate your birthday?
Radwitz: Everyone is invited.
Heine: Yes, we celebrate a few hours in the park with about 30 Russell friends. There’s a little finger food, champagne, and some speeches made.
SPIEGEL: What lows and highs do you see when you look back?
Heine: They were all in Africa. Because there I mutated from a business economist to an artist. In 1965, she emigrated to South Africa. I worked for an advertising agency, met friends there and discovered my artistic side through them.
SPIEGEL: Was this transformation the most prominent thing in your life?
Heine: Yes – and at the same time the poorest time. I was robbed eight times and of course there was hate. I bought a gun and said I’m going to shoot the next robber. I almost shot the milkman.
SPIEGEL: Was this the low point?
Heine: Yeah. But there wasn’t as much laughter and dancing there as in the poorest neighborhoods and in Africa in general. This made me strong. I was poor too, and I came up with nothing. How to gain power through positive thinking is what impressed me about Africans.
SPIEGEL: There are many countries where the sun shines. Why did you go to South Africa of all places, a country with an apartheid system?
Heine: I wanted to see for myself how it is there. It was also easy to migrate to South Africa. Going to the US or Canada was complicated, and in the US you risked enlisting in the Vietnam War with a green card. Immigration to Africa then cost 100 marks by ship from Trieste via Venice via the Suez Canal to Africa.
Peter Stephen / Dr.
SPIEGEL: Was it not known how the Boers ruled in Germany at that time?
Heine: Yes, that’s why we set out and tried to change things. I founded a political-literary cabaret. We were the only ones in South Africa to deal with apartheid.
SPIEGEL: Were blacks in the group, too?
Heine: It was impossible. But we played Jane Genet’s “maids”, for example. If you see the maids in the play, everyone knows what is meant by it. It was a balancing act. We have received calls from the German embassy saying: ‘Heine, please take it slow. Not only were we living there and using it positively, but we also tried to think about this country politically.
SPIEGEL: How do you deal with apartheid in everyday life?
Heine: Treat black people like everyone else in the world.
SPIEGEL: Did you pay them better?
Heine: Sure, they lived better for more food, as much as I could in my humble circumstances. Trust me, we haven’t made it easy for us.
SPIEGEL: It’s best known for the picture book Friends since 1982. To this day, people think about it primarily when they hear your name.
Heine: Yes, that’s a classic.
SPIEGEL: Rooster, mouse and pig take on harmless adventures in the countryside, and there’s a call to cohesion.
Heine: Well not quite. My books differ from most picture books because they contain an initial story. I wonder: What is friendship? how many people are there? They’d be normal friends, so I’ll have three – because I want the problem, too. Then I write to children who cannot read. It is not enough to say that the three are friends. I have to clarify that. This is how I came up with the bike, which only three of them can ride as a tricycle. It is about friendship, not friends.
SPIEGEL: Want to convey a message and not tell an interesting story much?
Heine: both of them.
SPIEGEL: The characters operate in isolation from the outside world, the three move into a sterile universe.
HeineWell, one can present more difficulties. However, only one page of text and twelve double pages of images are available.
SPIEGEL: What is a good children’s book for you?
Heine: It is not a story in the childish language of bla-bla-bla, but more like film than literature. It should also be of interest to adults. Otherwise it is not a good picture book.
SPIEGEL: Have you ever thought about making storyboards?
Heine: No, this is too poor for me. I have never liked reading comics. I think Peanuts are good, they have a philosophy.
SPIEGEL: I’ve written so many “friends” – and other animal books – that it sounds like a scam.
HeineI have written many books with people, but books with animals are more successful. On “The Wonderful Journey Through the Night” I thought about how to film jazz. Or “Saturday in Heaven”: I tried to tell the story of evolution.
SPIEGEL: “Friends” fit the zeitgeist of the 1980s at the time of the peace movement. Will it still be such a success today?
Heine: I’m still selling well today. In my first book, The Elephant Once, it was said that kids wouldn’t understand – it was a success. Then when you wake up someone says again “Oh, so cute, but it’s over.” I do not believe that. Elementary stories always find their readers. In Germany it may be one at a time.
SPIEGEL: Janusz wrote similar books.
Heine: “Oh, How Beautiful is Panama” is one of the few books that stands out because it contains an initial story. Lots of other things were just too skinny for me. And I’m sorry that I love Janusz in his own way. Then marketing! There have been over 1000 articles, you spoil yourself with that. I always avoided that.
SPIEGEL: But they also promote on your website.
Heine: Yes, but much less.
SPIEGELWhy write for children?
Heine: For me, it is not about the target group, it is about my own creativity. What fascinates me is the staging images. It is a myth that you have to keep a child awake to write to children. For me, this is the biggest nonsense. Great children’s book author Beatrix Potter hated the kids so much that she would move across the street when they approached her. She also interviews authors who say: “I would like to write a novel, but first and foremost I will write for children.” I can hardly see red.
SPIEGEL: Author Enid Blyton once said coldly of Verrisse: “I’m not interested in criticism from people over the age of twelve.”
Heine: The child is a ruthless critic. If the book is not impressive, it gets up and goes. To become a great children’s book author you have to be a writer and illustrator. The two are fire and water. The author thinks about the words and takes time to develop something. A painter who lives in the present time. We think a picture on the spot. If the author describes this, he will need ten pages.
SPIEGEL: Did you intend to make the world a better place with children’s books?
Heine: No, no one can make the world a better place. I did this myself.
SPIEGEL: Do you have life-long friends?
Heine: Yeah. I have few friends, but they’ve always been this way. If we met earlier, everyone should have brought a story and told. I learned that in Africa, there is a wonderful tradition of storytelling there. My wife and I write a letter to all of our friends every Sunday. Sure, the contact is missing. But here I have a great garden and twelve months of great light. This is very important for a painter.
SPIEGEL: What repeatedly drove you to move away from Germany?
Heine: I will not let anything come from Germany. It’s a wonderful country – but so narrow, everything needs to be planned down to the smallest detail. In particular, I like the Germans more than the herd.
SPIEGEL: Together with singer Peter Maffai, you invented the little green kite “tabalog”. This musical figure is now terribly nervous for many people. Have you already experienced such reactions?
Heine: No, I didn’t notice that. It disappeared behind this dragon. He died to death a little. I have mine there Participate I got, but I don’t want to mention.
SPIEGEL: Are you good at participating?
Heine: Yes, very good. My wife always says I’m so reckless. I find money only interesting when I can share it with friends. I’m also very good at getting rid of it. The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation contacted me because they were interested in my property. What made me so happy was that the kids don’t have to throw it away.
SPIEGEL: Is it okay to talk about your death?
Heine: Not bad at all. How are you supposed to be 80 and not think about death? Everyone in my family died a wonderful death. My father died while walking in the woods. My mother slept and never woke up.
SPIEGEL: Are you really close to Heinrich Heine?
Heine: Unfortunately no. I love his poems and I just memorized a great one from him:
Happiness is an easy whore
He does not like to be in the same place;
Hold your hair by your forehead
And he kisses you quickly and flaps away.
On the contrary, Frau Misfortune has it
Bring you close to the heart.
She says she is in no hurry
It sits beside your bed and knits.
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