De Strippkes Trekker

An autumn day that I didn’t expect like this in November. Luminous. A sky as if painted with sea blue. A drive from Düren, further through villages never seen. Road villages. Green, there is a lot of it on both sides. A ride into a perfect world. At least that’s what it looks like to me. I am in the Eifel, in the Hürtgenwald. Since I had imagined this region with rocks folded by time and eerily gloomy.

And then I see it, on the hill the Roman Catholic monastery of the Franciscan Order towers. Vossenack Monastery has a coeducational Franciscan grammar school and a boarding school for boys. I see the church, the monastery, the buildings, connected and as well separated. It is quiet here, a wide silence that reaches for me. Already, vividly narrating, the leader of the monastery, Brother Wolfgang Mauritz, leads me through endless paths inside the buildings, and already huge figures and puppets nod at me, turning and casting shadows. Austere. Laughing. Diabolic. Witches and demonic creatures whisper with a magical mouse in a blue dress on strings, with important looking old men who possibly will be representing kings and in between the blond shock of hair of the little prince shines.

© Simon Düring/Köln

What Antonie de Saint-Exupéry once conceived and brought into the world is now being performed by the local puppet players, they slip into this role, breathe life into it, and perform the “Strippkes Trekker” (Lower Rhine and means: “The Thread Pullers”) with dexterity and linguistic ability on the ensemble’s stage in front of the spectators in the always sold-out Kloster Kultur Keller. This theatre holds fifty seats, in which dreams only have to be nudged in order to awaken. The room is enveloped in a warm, dim light. Figures whisper, above hangs an impressive puppet of an old man and will watch. A moving-mouth puppet, a pig, seems to laugh about it. Brother Wolfgang tells with enthusiasm in his voice about ateliers in which such figures are made. In one of the workshops which is housed in the rooms and above all in the KreatiVO (Creative Centre Vossenack) he hosts on Wednesdays, during the school time, a puppet building AG in cooperation with the associated Franziskus Gymnasium.

The figures seem familiar to me, for such creatures have accompanied me for many years and determined the course of my life. I look around in a workshop room. It smells of wood, of glue. This is where marionettes are created which first are only visions. Drawings with models of the figure heads lie around, which are later modelled out of papier-mâché and plasticine. Here the corresponding bodies are produced, mainly from wood and screws, and the hands as well as the complicated playing crosses. Productions for children and adults are created after elaborate joint work in order to again be able to perform a new work. Because the “Strippkes Trekkers” do not only play in their own house, they are also on the road, in many other cities.

© Simon Düring/Köln

What possibly may at first seem playful in the workshop – the work is not, it is complicated, precisely conceived and imbued with the joy of letting new creatures become. In the corridors there are display cases with figures from Indonesia, Japan, Russia and other countries, in splendid robes and with mysterious mienes.

Another room again. Papers, folders, files. And there are little puppets on the tables. One can see, these have their own special stories. Glamorous? No, they’re not like that. Plain. The years have touched them. Two figures side by side, they immediately create contradictory and intense feelings, even before Br. Wolfgang tells something from their story. The somewhat better preserved one was carved by an American prisoner of war, the clothes are still in good condition, he must have had access to quite decent fabrics. Sewn by hand. Next to it, a photo. Soldiers. And there you also can see its creator. And the smaller figure, bedded on a light cloth, shabby, tattered clothes, touches me immediately, especially when I hear: “This also was made by a prisoner of war, carved from a bedpost, and he must have laboriously collected up the rags for the suit.” Stitch by stitch I believe I feel desolation and hope. What is the fate behind it? What has been used by that man to carve this serious face?

Later, I also can go under the roof. Also here a workshop, which is reserved only for the ensemble. Back again through corridors and corridors, past stories that murmur and giggle, into one of the monastery kitchens. Fantastic. Old-fashioned in a way that conveys a ‘feeling of home’, the bottles for the apple liqueur that will soon be bottled are already standing on a table. Even such delicacies are made by the so talented Br. Wolfgang, too.

When I go home again the next day after my reading in this enchanting theatre, I think I could stay in the House of Enchantment for a while.

At home I am left with the Dülmener Rose, a delicious jelly, of course also made in the monastery from monastery apples.

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