The small Struwwelpeter Museum on Schubertstraße, a quiet residential street in Frankfurt’s Westend, had been on my to-do list for years. My yearly visits to Germany are always jam-packed so I was glad I finally made it to the museum last September.
The stories from the book Struwwelpeter were part of my childhood repertoire although strangely I never owned a copy and do not recall ever reading the book or being read stories from it. However I can still recite their opening lines by heart: Paulinchen who sets the house on fire while her parents are out; Konrad the thumb-sucker who gets his thumbs severed; Kasper who refuses to eat his soup and dies within a few days. And, of course, the title character, the unkempt Struwwelpeter.
Therefore I expected my visit to the museum to be like checking in on old childhood friends. Instead, I got a fascinating lesson in the history of my hometown. What Heinrich Hoffmann, the author of Struwwelpeter, viewed as his life’s accomplishment has nothing to do with the book that he created for his three-year-old son as a Christmas present in 1844 because he could not find any children’s books to his liking.
Heinrich Hoffmann was a physician in Frankfurt. In 1851 he was nominated director of the city’s Anstalt für Irre und Epileptische (Institution for Lunatics and Epileptics). Hoffmann had no prior experience in the field but the right instinct. Appalled by the crammed inner-city facility he lobbied to build a new hospital on the outskirts of the city where patients would be surrounded by fresh air and nature. For several years he toured new psychiatric facilities all over Germany, and even went to neighboring countries for ideas. It took more than a decade until eventually, backed by Hoffmann’s wealthy supporters, Frankfurt’s first modern psychiatric hospital named Anstalt auf dem Affenstein opened northwest of the city in 1864.
In 1928 the psychiatric hospital was torn down and moved to the neighborhood of Niederrad on the other side of the Main River in close vicinity to the university hospital (on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the psychiatric hospital, the German newspaper FAZ ran an article last year). It has been since located on Heinrich-Hoffmann-Straße.
Whenever I took the tram to see friends at the university hospital, I had heard that stop being announced and always just assumed that the name of the street was solely to honor the author of Struwwelpeter. Now I know we owe Hoffmann more than the world-famous book. The Struwwelpeter Museum was definitely worth the visit.
Chicken Soup with Royale (Hühnersuppe mit Eierstich)
Because the weather here is more deep winter than actually spring, we’ll have chicken soup for dinner tonight – with Eierstich (Royale). I never passed that one on as a child – unlike Suppenkasper.
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons milk
Pinch of salt
Vegetable oil or butter for the mold
2.5 to 3 pounds (1 to 1.3 kg) chicken pieces with bones, most skin removed
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 medium stalks celery including the greens, chopped
4 parsley sprigs, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
1. Beat the eggs with the milk and a pinch of salt in a small bowl.
2. Grease a heat-proof mold with straight sides. Depending on the height of your mold, bring about 1 inch (2.5 cm) water to a boil in a saucepan with a lid.
3. Carefully place the mold with the eggs in the saucepan with the water and immediately reduce the water to a simmer. Add enough boiling water so it comes up about halfway to the sides of the mold. Make sure no water gets into the eggs.
4. Cover the pan and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the eggs have set. Make sure the water is kept at a simmer at all times. Remove from the heat and let cool. Cut into cubes.
5. For the soup, rinse the chicken under cold water and place it in a large heavy pot. Add 2 quarts (2 l) water and bring to a boil. Skim off the scum that forms on top. Add 1 quart (1 l) water and the remaining soup ingredients. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 1 hour.
6. Remove the chicken and the bay leaf from the soup. Let cool slightly, then take the meat off the bones and chop it into bite-size pieces. Set the meat aside. Return the pot with the soup to the stove and salt to taste. Add the royale cubes and reheat thoroughly over low heat.
Makes 6 servings