In times, when wishing didn’t
help any more…
Very few of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales
with ‘Once upon a time ...’.
‘The Frog Prince’ has
one of the loveliest opening lines: ‘In olden times, when wishing
still helped ...’
Ghosts has two roots. A good year ago, I was in Ardennen, in Sedan
and Charleroi, and in a post office there, I saw photos of girls who
had disappeared from Belgium and France. They had been gone a long
time. There was always the last photo of them, and then a series of
computer-generated images. The images showed the girls as they might
have looked three and two years ago, and how they might look now. The
computer-generated portraits were strangely ghostlike. In them, you
saw visages without any traces of social experience, strangely pale,
not of this world. In reality, dead. Ghost portraits.
At the time, I was reading my daughter a Grimms’ fairy tale
every evening. Many of them are brutal; they come from the time of
the Thirty-Years’ War, a terrible, unprincipled world. The fairy
tales are about that world, and they try to offer comfort. One tale
is called The Shroud. A four or five year old girl has died,
and the mother cannot bear her loss. She cries every day, every night.
Suddenly, she hears noises in the house and sees her dead child, wearing
a shroud, sitting at the little table where she always ate breakfast.
She sees her daughter playing in the room, in her corner, which still
hasn’t been touched. Several days pass. The mother speaks to
her dead child. The girl is desperate.
‘Mama, you must stop crying over me or I can’t go to heaven.
Your sorrow is holding me here!’ But the mother cannot let go.
Only at the very end can the child go to heaven. A horrible fairy tale.
Well, not for my daughter, who believes in heaven – like all
her seven year old friends. They imagine heaven as a great big birthday
The film came from The Shroud and the ghost portraits. My
thought was, that one of the computer-generated girls from the post
office in Sedan lives in Berlin. And her mother is looking for her.
Christian Petzold, December 2004