Mori-Ôgai-Gedenkstätte Berlin / ベルリン森鷗外記念館・ベアーテ・ヴォンデ

Kewpie and World War I

Japan Kewpie Club News 41, 2014 (Engl. Ausgabe), S.5

Kewpie and World War 1

Although it is already more than 8 years since the Kewpie exhibition took place at the Mori Ogai Memorial Centre, it seems to have carved itself in the collective awareness of the Berliners. In the second week of July 2014 I received many calls, emails and newspaper clippings. The reason for this was that the Berlin newspaper „Der Tagesspiegel“ of 8 July 2014 carried an article on page 21 with the headline „In the land of giants“ which was about a new year-long exhibition in the „Museum Europaeischer Kulturen“ (MEK). This exhibition, which runs until 28 June 2015 and commemorates the anniversary of the beginning of World War 1, has the title „Feeling War“. It deals with emotions in times of war: patriottism, the willingness to make sacrifices and hatred for the enemy on the one hand but also fear, suffering, grief and even love on the other.
Great times demand great leaders, it was said then. With the article is a photograph showing, in front of the Berlin „Siegessaule“, a giant „Iron Hindenburg“ – a 13 meter high and 27 tonnes heavy (wooden!) statue of the Imperial Chancellor unveiled on 04 September 1915 after the victorious battle against the Russians at Tannenburg.
Next to this photo there is a picture of a small, cute Kewpie doll with a spiked helmet.
I think it is interesting for the history of the Kewpie doll to see how the so-called Kewpie-craze in Germany became, at the start of World War 1, directly connected with the war hystery and led to the production of infantry Kewpies. I cannot say whether this was to glorify the war or to diminish feelings of fear. It may also have been a wartime satire, because there where Kewpie normally has its tuft of hair, the helmet has its spike and it looks, therefore, as if Kewpie’s hair were cast in iron and that this helmet were the ideal cover for his particular hairstyle – had there not been the military context.
But, however cute Kewpie looks with his spiked helmet, this was not a war of honour and smart uniforms, but a massive machine of destruction in which millions of people died a horrible death.
The caption of the photo in the paper only states: „Toy with spiked helmet“. (Does the curator of the exhibition not know that this is a Kewpie?). I, myself, am not even sure if it is a genuine Rose O’Neill Kewpie doll or one of many immitations from one of the many factories that, after O’Neill’s visit to Ohrdruf, mushroomed until the production in Germany came to a halt during WW1 because of the American and English embargo.
It is interesting that this soldier-Kewpie can be found in Berlin in the MEK rather than, as people in Japan might assume, in the collection of the Asian Art Museum or Ethnological Museum next door. But in the early period of the Kewpie, i.e. 1912-1915, the doll was still considered to be German/European. In Europe it was then forgotten, but survived in Japan.
As soon as I find the time, I’ll go and have a look at the exhibition and ask the curator if there are any other Kewpies in the collection of the museum. (Perhaps I could give a lecture on the history of the Kewpie when the exhibition finishes next year June, on Rose O’Neill Day).
One thing already gives me a lot of satisfaction: the fact that many readers, seeing the article in „Der Tagesspiegel“, thought: „Ah, a Kewpie!“. Nine years ago probably nobody would have known what sort of „toy“ the Kewpie was, but now people are even able to call it by its name: Kewpie.