Not Your Heidi

Original by Ulrike Ulrich
Translated, from the German, by Marielle Sutherland

This piece was published in 2016, in German, in Viceversa 10, under the title Nicht das Heidi.

“You want for nothing, nothing at all. You’re an unbelievably ungrateful little thing, and because you’re so comfortably off here, you have too much time to think up all kinds of mischief!”

I am not your Heidi. Adelheid is my name. Same as my mother’s. I’m neither “lassie” nor “sweetie-pie” nor “dearie”. You can neutralise yourselves. I’m not “young miss”, either. Or “little girl”. Adelheid is my name. And if you use me again, in a referendum battle, or in a campaign against building second homes or a second tunnel, if you ask again what our Heidi would say, if there’s one more poster or flyer: then I’ll be off. Your Heidi is saying nothing. This is Adelheid speaking now. And I’ve had enough. If you exploit me again. If you stage another Heidi play to kick-start an election campaign. If there’s another heteronomous determination in Frankfurt, freedom at home on the Alp, I’ll pack my bags. Oh, I know all about it. Heteronomous determination. The Rebels will now perform the Heidi song. I am at home in heteronomous determination. Your version of freedom gives me nightmares. No more child labour. No more yoghurt and muesli. I’m lactose-intolerant because of you. Nothing against nanny goats; I like these animals. But sometimes I’d rather go out without them. Bleating and bitching used to be their department alone. And I smiled away. But not anymore. I am not your Heidi. Adelheid is my name. She of noble kind. Nothing to do with “Heiden”, the heathens. But I’m not pious anymore, either. Sorry. I don’t pray like I used to. The good Lord will put things right, for sure. Johanna – that’s the name of my other mother – believed that. She probably trusted in it. Wait and pray. Wait and pray. A lot has happened since then. A lot has gone downhill. If she only knew (Johanna, I mean), she’d do a full rotation in her grave at the Sihlfeld cemetery. Of course, I still know the names of the flowers. Rosebay willowherb and centaury. But now I also know Beznau and Mühleberg, the power plants. I live in the valley and I read the papers. I can read and vote. Yes, I actually live in Zürich now. Sometimes I visit Johanna. Other people put flowers on her grave, too. I live in the Hardau high-rise on the twenty-second floor. I love the view over the city, over the railway, up to the mountains. I love the mountains. I still do. Of course. It’s not their fault. They’re not doing much better than I am. I still like going to Graubünden. I hike there regularly. Only not barefoot. And not in Heidi Land, either – certainly not. Have you ever been there? The song blares out every hour on the hour as soon as you get to the roadside services: Heidi, Heidi. Come back home. Your joy is here. And have you seen what’s going on in the Heidi village? Heidi sausage. Heidi wine. Heidi coffee. Heidi chocolate. Heidi is everywhere. With goat, with Peter, with bouncing plaits. And blonde! You’d have obviously preferred this. Or is it the Americans’ fault? Heidi of the Alps. The golden-haired Shirley Temple. The blonde, plaited Jennifer Edwards. I am not blonde and I am not your Heidi; not the innocent country girl, not holy simplicity. I am not the angel in the house. I am Adelheid, and I don’t have to sleepwalk to find the exit. I earn my own white bread now. I work freelance at the lending library for the blind. No, I didn’t come under foreign rule. Thanks, Alm-Uncle. Thanks, Doctor. Nothing against either of them. Nowadays they live in shared accommodation for the elderly in the Jura Mountains. Quite content. They both just want their peace and quiet. But no one wants to give it to them. Now it’s Bruno Ganz. Nothing against Bruno Ganz. But can’t you film something else for once? Anything else. As long as it’s not William Tell. Just recently, I spoke to Hedwig on the phone. She said William was burnt out. It all just got too much for him. On top of everything else, they’re calling him Willy now. Now it’s on Walter’s head again. Can’t you find some other material? There are so many books. So many stories. From all over the world. But the Germans just had to go and computer-animate the Japanese cartoon series. Heidi new in 3D. Her semi-circle mouth still wide open. Still wearing the same colour clothes. But the song’s been all jazzed up, and Heidi and Peter are slimmer. I am not your Heidi. Adelheid is my name, and I don’t have a body mass index. I’m unsuitable for the mass market. I’m not related to the Heidi on the catwalk. She’d just been born when Gitti and Erika’s Heidi song was blaring through German living rooms. Now she does commercials for burgers and “Yoghurt Gums”. At least she’s earning something – from her name, from her brand. Or her father is. My name is not protected. Switzerland’s Eternal Cost-Free Top Model. At least Johanna spent her twilight years in relative prosperity. But fifty million books sold. In fifty different languages. Who’s making money out of this? Quite apart from the merchandising. I’m telling you: one more campaign, one new product – and I’ll take off. Like the mountain eagle. That bird has always been my role model. Keeping track with ultra-keen senses. Not needing to look up. With big, wondering eyes. Whoever I was with, I was always the smallest. But not anymore. I haven’t been a child for a long time now. I won’t make it easy for you anymore. You can’t transport me back and forth anymore. I won’t be quiet anymore; I won’t do what I’m told anymore. I’m not beneficial to your health anymore. You’ll have to find your own ways of making yourselves happy now, my friends. I did enjoy doing it. Back then. I didn’t know any different. Everyone’s Darling. That has its upsides too. When everyone loves you. Except perhaps Rosemarie. Back then. We’re on first name terms now. Frau Rottenmeier and I. She’s in adult education. Teaches German to foreigners. She can use what she’s learned. Sometimes she still says those things, though. That they should be content. Because they’ve got everything. And just give it a rest. But she’s mostly laid-back; even does yoga. When I visit her in Frankfurt, she asks me if it’s true – what people are saying about Switzerland. She’s still never been here. I like travelling. Sometimes Clara and I go together; we’ve been to a lot of places already. We usually fly from Basel or Bern, where there’s no terminal E with a yodelling Sky Metro. One day I’d like to be able to travel somewhere and say: I come from Switzerland. And to hear someone say: Oh. Geneva. Geneva Refugee Convention. Or Dada. And to find no one recognises me. They might say Lucerne, meaning the festivals. They might say Sophie. Sophie Hunger or Sophie Taeuber. They might say Pippilotti Rist or Rousseau. Giacometti or Kübler-Ross. Dimitri or Del Ponte. They might say Jean-Luc Godard. Or Agota Kristof. In Germany they’ve at least heard of Emil. And Roger Köppel from the SVP, of course. Perhaps Köppel will replace me in Germany soon. What do you associate with Switzerland? Clocks, cheese, Köppel. Peter thinks that’s good. Peter – oh dear. He’s always acted out of fear. Out of hunger. Or out of rage. Sometimes I think he’s secretly your hero. Raising a fist, into the backs of the others; the wheelchair down the mountain. Nonetheless, a tenner from Frankfurt every week. For a lifetime. I should have paid more attention to him; listened to him once in a while, too. I’m still sorry about the methods I used to teach him to read. More efficient than the tutor, the nice Herr Kandidat. I scared him. I threatened him with the catchphrases from Clara’s ABC textbook: If you stall at J, K, L, you’ll be whipped and beaten well. If you forget M, N, O, P, you’ll get nothing for your tea. Now he’s a candidate himself, working with catchphrases just like these. Sometimes we meet at the station for a coffee. He’s on the road a lot. Bi di Lüt, he says: “With the people”. But not because of the TV show of that name. He’s not on good terms with public service television. It doesn’t annoy him in the slightest when people call him Goat Peter. He’s not bothered by the image, either. As long as they don’t call him “Peter the Goatnerd”. But now the TV people are also calling asylum seekers training as shepherds in the Bündner region “Goat Peters” – well, he’s not happy about that. Heidi, he says, my Heidi, we have to defend ourselves. And he’s right, of course. We have to defend ourselves. Only, my name isn’t Heidi – he just doesn’t seem to be able to remember that. I am not your Heidi. Adelheid is my name. Neither the innocent country girl nor holy simplicity. And if you don’t stop doing it. One more poster. One more slogan. If you keep filming me, processing me; if you don’t leave me in peace. Then I’ll take you to court. Personality rights. But you’ve already heard of those. Or haven’t you? If you carry on like this, I’ll take you to court. Get it? And I’ll take it all the way to Strasbourg. 

  1. This open letter, dated 15 October 2015, was sent to numerous Swiss magazines but was not printed because it was too close to the day of the Swiss federal election; it was thereupon disseminated by Adelheid via social media.
  2. Translator’s note: In addition to the connotations of “neutralise” here, the Swiss German words used in the original text are all diminutives referring to women of different ages (“Meitli”, “Mami”, “Grosi”). “Heidi” itself is an affectionate diminutive of “Adelheid”. These diminutives have the neutral gender “das”, and female names are often used with the neutral gender in Swiss German, so there is a play on the idea of grammatical gender. Heidi is frequently referred to as “das Heidi” (“the Heidi”) in the original novel. Ulrich’s original text is called Nicht das Heidi.
  3.   Adelheid, too, took part in the successful crowdfunding campaign “Mir langets” (“I’ve Had Enough”) to protest against canvassing by the national-conservative, right-wing populist party, the SVP (Swiss People’s Party) shortly before the election on the cover of the free daily Swiss newspaper 20 Minuten.
  4.   After the Heidi theatre performance that kick-started the election campaign, SVP politician Nathalie Rickli spoke on the issue of “No Annexation [note the choice of word here!] to the EU” at the SVP delegates’ conference in St Luzisteig on 22 August 2015.
  5. Not all consumers appreciated the fact that Migros, the retail company behind the Heidi brand of food products, filmed its Heidi advert in New Zealand in 2011. The following year, it returned to the Swiss mountains.
  6.   Heidi Schoggi (chocolate) is produced in Romania and is owned by the Austrian firm Julius Meinl AG. Its logo is the famous “moor”, whose dark skin colour was changed under public pressure.
  7.   The New Zealand Migros Heidi has blonde plaits, as does the Heidi on the MySwitzerland website. In the original book Heidi is described as having dark, curly hair.
  8.   “You may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily.” From the essay “Professions for Women” by Virginia Woolf.
  9.   Adelheid has also narrated the essays of Virginia Woolf for the audio library for the blind.
  10.   Ganz played the grandfather in the 2015 film “Heidi”. In response to a request by the Raclette Suisse Association, the production company integrated a Raclette scene into the film, a scene which was used in a TV advert for Raclette even before the film premiere.  
  11.   “Anime Heidi in 3D” (2015) has already been sold to one-hundred countries.
  12.   Gitti and Erika have recently released the new CD Wolkenlose Gefühle (Cloudless Feelings). Their album with the Heidi title song has sold forty million copies.
  13.   Günther Klum has been director of the multi-million company Heidi Klum GmbH since 1996.
  14. Translator’s note: Johanna Spyri’s novel was originally published in two parts, the first called Heidi: Her Years of Wandering and Learning, and the second called Heidi: How She Used What She Learned.
  15.   In the nineteenth century, a private tutor with a university degree was permitted to use this title.

Ulrike Ulrich was born in 1968 in Düsseldorf, and has lived and worked as a writer in Zurich since 2004. Her debut novel fern bleiben was published by Luftschacht Verlag in Vienna in 2010; this was followed by her second novel Hinter den Augen in 2013 and a story collection Draussen um diese Zeit in 2015. Together with Svenja Hermann, she has also published two anthologies of literary texts to mark 60 and 70 years of human rights. Ulrike is part of the Zurich literature group Index and is involved in the art project Literatur für das, was passiert.Her writing has received many awards, including the Walter Serner Prize and prizes from the city of Zurich for her novels. In 2016 she was awarded the London Stipendium by the LandisGyr-Stiftung and was granted a working year by the city of Zurich to work on her new novel, “Während wir feiern”, which will be published by Berlin Verlag in April 2020.

Marielle Sutherland studied German at Oxford University and completed a PhD at UCL. She taught German Studies at various universities and English at secondary level before becoming a freelance translator in 2011. She holds a Diploma in Translation from the Institute of Linguists. Her academic publications include Images of Absence: Death and the Language of Concealment in the Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (Weidler Verlag, 2004) and ‘Globale Empfindsamkeit: Rolf Dieter Brinkmann’s Poetics of the Global’ in Local/Global Encounters, ed. by Renate Rechtien and Karoline von Oppen (Rodopi, 2007). Her publications as a translator include Extinguished, by Catrin Barnsteiner, in Comparative Critical Studies 4.1 (2007) (short story); Rainer Maria Rilke. Selected Poems, co-translated with Susan Ranson, ed. by Robert Vilain (OUP, 2011), Dark Matter: Choreografien von Marco Goecke/Choreographies by Marco Goecke, ed. by Nadja Kadel (Königshausen und Neumann, 2016), and Bauhaus Architecture 1919-1933, by Hans Engels (Prestel Verlag, 2018).