Stories on W(h)alls: Erika Fuchs Haus, Museum für Comic und Sprachkunst, Schwarzenbach.

“This is a fictional country isn’t it?”
“No, it’s real – we just don’t know where it is yet.”

My mum, daughter and I had just arrived in Schwarzenbach to visit the Erika Fuchs Haus, named after my god mother and my mum’s aunt, Erika Fuchs, who used to send me ten Deutsche Marks annually for my birthday which was quite a tidy sum for a youngster back then.

In those days I was completely oblivious to her work and much more inclined to follow The Beano. But I was rapidly brought up to speed some 50 years later when being introduced to the museum by its head, Dr. Alexandra Hentschel, and private collector, Gerhard Severin.

After being introduced to a multimedia history of comic stories and graphic novels in a darkened studio, a side door opens and a bright green gallery of the country of Entenhausen and all the Disney characters greets you in a sunny, shiny green lively reveal which made us all go ‘wow’ in unison.

Gerhard showed us an interactive map of Entenhausen which looked simultaneously plausible and impossible and which prompted my question of whether or not Entenhausen was fictional. His response of “No, it’s real – we just don’t know where it is yet” struck me as the perfect riposte to those of us who struggle with whether stories are fictions, whether fictions are facts, whether facts are fictions, and all those impossible questions about what constitutes real worlds, unreal worlds, truths and falsehoods.

It’s also a great antidote to those who tell you, in these post-Brexit times of ‘There is No Alternative‘ in the UK, that there is a very real, viable and tangible alternative: we just don’t know where it is yet.

 

As well as enjoying the museum we were also fortunate to encounter the stories of the stained glass windows in the restaurant of our accommodation, the Hotel Strauss in Hof.  They provided a comic contrast to Erika’s work, simultaneously conjuring up the work of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and playing against the religious symbolism of the Whall windows I’ve been visiting across the UK.

Many personal and family stories revealed themselves over the following days and helped place various pieces of the missing family jigsaw into the relevant slots in the bigger picture: whether they are actually truth or fiction is an ongoing question which will require a few more visits to Schwarzenbach and its homage to the work of my mysterious god mother and Great Aunt, Dr. Erika Fuchs neé Petri.

Why is Coca Cola thanking us for ‘sharing’ our summer with them?

Sharing – that ancient tradition of passing something onto someone which may be of mutual interest – has taken on a new dimension recently with the advent of social networks and the desire of many commercial operations to generate compelling content which can will be transferred painlessly from customer to customer in a mimetic act of contagion.

Marketeers – and we’re all marketeers now apparently, even if its a simple matter of telling others about our pet dogs foibles – are sighing a huge sigh of relief now that bloated advertising budgets have been replaced by viral videos, popular posts and contagious copy. It costs them a fraction of what it used to and the happy conduits of their marketing message are now the rest of us and we’ve taken on this mantle of the surrogate marketeer through our adoption of the concept of sharing.

In the old days, per-social networks, sharing as a young boy used to mean pretty much one thing. I have something – a dead hedgehog –  I think you’d be interested in. I’d like you to experience it in order to strengthen the bond between us. Usually this act was reciprocated. You had something – a frog in a bucket – which you thought I might like to see. We swapped hedgehog and frog, back and forth in acts of unconditional sharing. There was no other agenda and pretty soon we moved onto other objects of our desire and affection- axolotls were big in those days.

Post social networks however, sharing has come to mean something else. Not only do I have a dead hedgehog which you are interested in, but I also have an old copy of The Beano I’m trying to get shot of.  I give this to you in an act of sharing, even though you’ve read it a thousand times and have moved onto 21st Century Schizoid Man. Likewise, your frog in a bucket eventually loses its interest to me and I’d rather you share your mountain bike with me, even though I haven’t passed my cycling proficiency test yet and you have no desire whatsoever to ssee me wreck your shiny new acquisition.  In social network protocols, I will continue to bombard you with requests to share my Beano in return for you sharing your mountain bike with me for a week.

Coca Cola, in their recent campaign which thanks us for sharing our summer with them know this meaning of sharing only too well.  I had no intention of sharing my summer with them and would have much rather banned their empire for a month than have negotiated their sales camps set up in the local supermarket. And whilst they were after my hard earned cash in the spirit of sharing, I would have much rather dumped a shed load of dead frogs in buckets on their door step in return for knocked down bottles of black fizzy nastiness which rots your guts, social networks and moral fibre.  Coca Cola – I didn’t share my summer with you and I will not be sharing anything with you any time soon. Not even my Beano.