Thursday, February 11, 2016

The One Where I Get Sucked into the Mecki Universe


This circa 1960 postcard, warped and heavily creased down the middle, served as my introduction to Mecki, the famed hedgehog of German pop culture.

If you're from Germany, Mecki needs little explanation. He's as ubiquitous as Bugs Bunny, Darth Vader or the Kardashians are here in the United States.

Gleaning information from translated German-language websites and a variety of other sources, here's what I can tell you about this anthropomorphic hedgehog:

  • Mecki has his genesis in the Grimm Brothers' tale "The Hare and the Hedgehog," which is, of course, a variant of the more ancient "The Tortoise and the Hare," from Aesop's Fables.
  • Then along came the Diehl brothers — Ferdinand, Paul and Hermann. They were pioneers in stop-motion film-making, with 1937's The Seven Ravens being perhaps their most well-known movie outside of Germany. During World War II, the brothers were commissioned to make educational films for the Third Reich. Out of that effort came a silent version of "The Hare and the Hedgehog," which featured the yet-unnamed Mecki. The short film was popular both in the classroom and with soldiers.
  • After the war, in 1946, a German equivalent of TV Guide magazine, titled Hörzu, was launched. A cartoon version of the Diehl brothers' movie hedgehog became the magazine's mascot, and it was named Mecki by Hörzu editor Eduard Rhein. The was some lengthy legal wrangling between Hörzu and the Diehl brothers, because Mecki's image had been used by Hörzu with permission. Eventually the two sides came to an agreement.
  • From there, we'll let Dr. Sigrun Lehnert pick it up, in this excerpt from a 2014 post on Animationstudies 2.0:
    "In a lawsuit, the publishing rights for comics and books were assigned to Hörzu, whereas the rights for the doll-production were assigned to the toy company Steiff. One of the Diehl brothers, Ferdinand, started his own cartoon film production in 1948 and made films on Mecki adventures. ... The Mecki films were intended to be educational, such as Mecki Fights the Flu (1952) or Mecki, the Just (1954). Moreover, stories of Mecki ... were used to increase the voter impact in times of German Bundestag elections: Mecki directly encouraged his audience to go to the ballot box and prevent the empowerment of radical groups — particularly those with pro-Nazi attitudes. Mecki made sure to point the viewers to the potential consequences of political abstinence."
  • And that was just the start, as Mecki developed into a pop-culture empire, with books, comics, toys and much more. Mecki's "friends" include Micki, Charly Penguin, Chilly, Poppo, Kokolastro (the villain) and, according to Google Translate, "the seven genuine Syrian golden hamsters."

Getting back to the postcard, it dates to those post-war, stop-motion films made by Ferdinand Diehl. The text on the front, Alles für die Gesundheit, translates to "for health" or "all for health."

Here are some Mecki film clips you might find interesting...





In "The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation": History of Stop-Motion Feature Films: Part 1, author Ken A. Priebe makes an interesting point about one aspect of the Diehls' stop-motion film-making, both before and during the Mecki films:
"An interesting prelude to [1937's The Seven Ravens] shows a live actor taking a jester puppet out of a box and assembling it, before the jester comes to life through stop-motion and begins narrating the story. It was a common theme of the Diehl brothers to show the process of stop-motion in this manner, as if signaling to the audience right away that they were watching a puppet film. They also used the technique in their short films featuring Mecki the Hedgehog, who would come to life after being sculpted right on his workshop table. Because most films exist only within themselves and would not show the actual process, this was a unique approach to the puppet film. It seemed to suggest to the audience right away what they were actually watching, while at the same time creating a very realistic and believable world in miniature."
Here are a couple final links about Mecki:

Addendum
This postcard is dated October 31, 1960, and addressed to the Fetterman family of Paterson, New Jersey. The message states:
"Dear Everybody, I left the hospital Oct. 22nd and get along nicely. Your long letter from Oct. 14th contains a lot of food for thought and was a welcome change for a 'penned-in.' The weather does not permit me to sit outdoors and therefore I stick my nose in books too. At the present I read Dostojevski's The Idiot. It's great! Congratulations on your new driving effort! More power to you. With lots of love to everyone from all of us."

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