Wednesday, February 18, 2009


In Germany and its neighbors, as early as 1533, there appeared in the folklore a kind of goblin or bogeyman called a Kinderfresser (Child-guzzler) or Kinderschrecker (Child-scarer). It appears in an illuminated Book of Hours, in popular broadsheets sold at Carnival, and even as a fountain in Switzerland. Wherever it appears, it has three distinguishing characteristics: it steals children, it puts them in a sack, and it eats them.

I mention this now because I have lately been reminded by John at The Absurd Good News Network ( of the bogeyman of my youth. In his words: "There was also the man who took kids who would not take their naps away to the dump in a burlap bag, there to barbecue his naughty prize on a pile of burning trash." I realized I had been conflating this figure with an actual Peeping Tom who plagued our neighborhood for a while; I think our mother added it as a rider to make us take the danger seriously.

What impressed me was the cultural survival of this tale, how it seems to have come down through our German heritage as a sort of folk fossil, for 400 years. The stealing, the bag, the cannibalism. Take a look at that picture. One of those kids is pooping himself in fear. This is what makes this boogeyman peculiarly German; we have always had a profoundly humorous antagonism with our own bowels and their products; in fact, I suspect we might never had have the Reformation if Martin Luther had been more regular.

1 comment:

Babel said...

There is also a close resemblance between a bowel movement and the German national favorite link of sausage! Seriously, it is amazing how effective the kinderfresser was, but I can not bring myself to carry on his tradition with my kids...The result? I have two spoiled kids who won't go to sleep willingly or easily. Hmmmm...