Friday, March 25, 2016

Movie rummage table : Krabat reloaded !

Today I spent most of the day putting all the pictures I downloaded while doing my last post in the right folders but I nevertheless wanted to do a post. Since the Easter holidays started Yesterday I wanted to return to my KRABAT post because that movie was shown every Easter on german tv.

Probably because big parts of it take place during the holidays and the theme of the movie plays into the whole religious aspect of it. Anyway, I´m not sure if they are still showing the movie every Easter but since the Krabat post has been one of my most popular posts I spent some time fixing a few things so I could re - post it. So you may ask how I came to write about the awesomeness that is Krabat. Well, it´s one of my favorite movies and while it's pretty well known in Germany, Serbia and Russia because pupils there have to read it for school most people in the United States or outside of Germany and these countries never heard of it.

The first thing I ever saw of Krabat was the animated movie done in 1977 by Karel Zeman. If you have ever heard of it then probably under the title " The sorcerer's apprentice ". Now you might ask yourself why I decided to turn this into a MOVIE RUMMAGE TABLE post but you should be able to find all the movies I´m talking about here for relatively little money.


I remember that I was still very young when I saw the stop motion movie KRABAT and it totally creeped me out. It was so terrifying that I had troubles sleeping for months and indeed you can say that the images haunt me to this day - such an impact did the movie have. Even if it's a movie aimed at kids there are some gruesome deaths, gory mutilations and other scary scenes in it. I don't know how it ever passed the censors of german television of the 70s but somehow it did. And I'm glad because it's one of the best animated movies I have seen in my whole life.

Even if the animation is a bit crude by today's standards it is amazing what wonderful effects they achieve in the film. The director of the movie Karel Zeman ( born on the 3th of November 1910 in Ostroměř; died on the 5th of April 1989 in Prague ) was one of the founders of the chezck animation movie and one of it's greatest innovators. His invention was that he integrated parts of real movie footage into animated sequences.

In Krabat there are many things like fire, smoke or snow falling within the animated sequences which gives it such a realistic feeling. I saw it again and it's astounding how modern the movie looks and how scary it still is.

Here is a four minute clip with subtitles from " Krabat - the sorcerer's apprentice " that shows how Krabat comes to work at the black mill.

Now what's the movie about ? It is based on Ottfried Preussler's famous childrens book KRABAT ( published as THE SATANIC MILL in english ) an interpretation of the wendish tale ( sorry, the wiki page is only available in german ) that dates back to the 17th century.

The movie tells the story of Krabat , a fourteen year old Wendish ( i.e. Sorbian ) beggar boy living in the eastern part of Saxony who is wandering through the region of Lusatia ( Lausitz in german ) during the Great Northern War ( Grosser Nordischer Krieg ) at the turn of the 18th century.

He tries to get by as good as he can but because of the war food is scarce and he has to sleep outside on most days. Traveling together with three companions and begging while singing Christmas carols they get some food but the winter is harsh and they soon have to part company again.

For three consecutive nights, a raven appears in his dreams and tells him to listen to his master's voice and seek out the black mill near the village of Schwarzkollm which he finally does when the hunger gets to him ( even if all the people he meets on the way try to discourage him from going to the mill ) where he becomes the new apprentice for to the master.

At first Krabat lives a good life at the mill and although he is working hard he has food on the table and a warm place to stay and a nice bed to sleep in. These are things most people take for granted and you only appreciate them if you don´t have them. But Krabat soon discovers that strange things happen around him and that the mill is actually a school for black magic and that he and the mill's journeymen are virtually prisoners there.

During the week they do the normal work of running the mill but on Friday nights the master initiates them into the strange rituals of the Art of Arts. The very first Friday the master turns Krabat into a raven, a trick the boy quickly learns to do himself.

The senior apprentice Tonda, Krabat's best friend and older brother figure, dies, ostensibly of an accident, on New Year's Eve in Krabat's first year at the mill. Tonda offers strangely little resistance to his own death.

Krabat's suspicions of foul play are further reinforced when another journeyman and friend, Michal, dies the following New Year's Eve. He soon realizes that the master is bound in an horrible pact : he must sacrifice one journeyman every year on New Year's Eve, in exchange for his powers. So every year on New Year's Eve the master and the senior apprentice go at it mano a mano - or better claw a tooth - in real mortal combat style in a magic " free for all no disqualification deathmatch " .

These are some of the most horrifying scenes of the movie with flashy strobe light effects, scary music and an overall frightening mood.

When Krabat first arrived at the mill it had stopped and when he agreed to become the new apprentice the river started to flow again and the mill continued to grind corn ( or whatever it is they grind there ). At the end of the year with the death of the senior apprentice it stopped again until a new apprentice joined their ranks. The whole scene in the movie is tainted in red and it looks like the river turns into a river of blood.

In the movie that is the circle of life and death and although Krabat hopes that they will not find another fool to live there he knows that the mill doesn't work till that happens. And because of the war there are enough starving beggars out there who are willing to make a deal with the devil.

The master never gets mentioned by name ( I guess it is assumed he made a pact with the devil ) and is more badass than Darth Vader. Besides the normal tasks the apprentices have to do to keep the mill working the master sends them on secret missions where they have to use their magic to trick people and basically rob them of their money and their valuables.

On one side the master uses this as another revenue stream to keep the mill running on the other hand he secretly sabotages the missions to take the senior apprentices out of commission - or at least to injure them so bad that his victory on the upcoming New Year's deathbattle is assured.

Wishing to take revenge for his friends' death, Krabat secretly trains with a friend to increase their magical strength so one of the two can win against the master. Whenever they can they break into the master's chamber and practice the spells of his big book of magic the KORRAKTOR.

Krabat´s quest is aided by a girl from the nearby village, a church singer whose real name is never mentioned and who is only called Kantora.

I think because Krabat meets her on Easter and is entranced by her beautiful singing her name is derived from the word Kantor ( in english cantor ) that is the name for the chief singer of a church choir. Krabat learns that to end the spell, his lover must challenge the master for him; then whoever loses the challenge, the master or the two lovers, will die.

I'm not going to say more because maybe you want to watch the movie ( it is embedded further below ) and there should be some surprises. Suffice it to say that KRABAT is one of the best movies I have ever seen.


It's all pretty heavy for a kid's movie because aside from the horrific main story it also shows the horrors of war but since it's one of the best known tales in Germany nobody thought twice about it. The whole movie is like hardcore Harry Potter in fact it predates it by twenty years.

But while the Potter books treat magic and evil as something trivial that can be toyed with impunity it is by far more dangerous in the movie as Krabat learns to use extraordinary power at the price of enslaving his being to the evil miller. The Potter kids find they can defeat the most horrifying evils with a few magic tricks and a little cleverness and courage. Evil deserves more respect than that, because it is far more dangerous and powerful, working primarily through corruption of the will. The movie depicts this process with the miller breaking the wills of his apprentices through pointless work. Eventually, the men are so dominated that they acquiece in their own deaths, literally digging their own graves.

Another difference between Harry Potter and Krabat is that Krabat lives in a much harsher world. Yes, Harry's an orphan and an outsider and Voldemort is out to get him - buhuhu. Cry me a river, why don't cha ?

Krabat would give his right arm to live in a nice house like the Dursley's even if he had just a small chamber. He has to sleep outside in winter. And he has to beg for food. Yes, in Harry's world a war is on the horizon. But Krabat lives in real war. He doesn't visit a nice school like Hogwarts and has to work at a mill till exhaustion. Besides that he knows that his days are literally numbered because it's only a matter of time till the year when he is the senior apprentice and has to battle the master in a duel to the death on New Year´s EVE. He has to learn magic to survive because the death of one of the two in inevitable. So, yes, Harry had it easy.

Naturally there are also wonderful landscapes in the movie and quiet scenes like when Krabat spends time with the Kantora or his companions. It's just one of the masterpieces of animation art everyone should know.

Being based on the book of Ottfried Preussler it is full of christian symbolism and events like New Year's Eve and Easter play a big role but the movie is far from being preachy. It has some nice lessons about good and evil and naturally love conquers all but you never get the impression that somebody is trying to impose his values on the viewer.

Of course when I got older I realized that there had to be a book that this was based on so I sought it out at the local library. And the book that was written by Ottfried Preussler was the second book about Krabat I read.


Why the second book ? Because when I finally read the book KRABAT I was very surprised as I didn't pick the normal version that the movie was based on but a book written by Jurij Brezan called KRABAT - THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE WORLD. Well, at least I think it was.

Jurij Brezan ( jurij english wiki / jurij german wiki ) - born on the 9th of June 1916 died on the 12th of March 2006 - was the greatest sorbian writer, writing in sorbian and in german and he wrote three books about Krabat : The Black Mill ( 1968 ), The Transformation of The World ( 1967 ) and finally Krabat - The Preservation of The World ( 1993 ). His books have been translated in 25 languages. I'm not entirely sure which of the last two I read but judging from the dates at which the books were written it must have been Krabat - The Transformation of The World. I remember that the story was much broader in scope and Krabat takes on the role of a Dr. Strange type white magician who battles against the evil miller in a battle that literally takes them through centuries. There is much more magic and mythology involved ( things like the winter solstice play a great role ) and the end battle is like out of The Lord of The Rings.

If you only know the book by Ottfried Preussler or if you don't know any of the books you should read Jurij Brezan's adaptations. I only read one but it was one of the best fantasy books I have read. And of course you have to pick up the original book which is also a very captivating tale.


When I first wrote this post - almost eight years ago - they had just finished doing another adaption and things really looked promising.

And while I would never discourage anybody from seeing a german movie for me the movie has a small flaw because the producers did not have the cojones to even try to compete with the Harry Potter franchise. Which is probably the sole reason why you never heard of this film. It delivers on all other aspects with great actors, fantastic costumes and great special effects. But while it manages to realistically portray the horrors and desolation of war it just falls short because if any material had the potential to make the Harry Potter movies look like child´s play it´s this.

Still, the movie is good enough that it is worth watching despite this flaw.

Now what many people don´t know is that there is a third Krabat movie although technically speaking it was the first one since it was produced in 1975, two years before Karel Zelman´s great masterpiece in animation.

The Black Mill was produced by the DEFA studios in what used to be the German Democratic Republic. Under the russian regime there were many restrictions but like with the Digedag comics they found a way around that by making fairy tale movies since they were technical speaking german literature with historical meaning. The stories were sometimes filled with anti establishment messages ( just read the Münchhausen stories ) and they had action and fantasy in it. They really went all for it and produced what many consider the best german movies to this day.

The movie was on YouTube but I never finished watching it when I still had the chance. I have it in my amazon basket since forever and a day but I never get around to include it in my order. From what I have seen the production values are pretty good and the actors make their characters believable. It seems to be more aimed at kids but I have heard that there are some gruesome scenes like the Black Miller killing apprentices when he´s angry. This movie goes back to the traditional folk tale so people who are only familiar with the book by Ottfried Preussler might get a bit confused. There are some things they wont know like the master possessing The Book of Knowledge or that Krabat has a light circle around one of his arms. In the original tale he saved an old woman´s life and because she had nothing to repay him she gave him luck and ever since he´s had this light circle on his skin and he always had good fortune.

For Today´s kids the movie might seem a bit slow but there are many people who grew up with this version and prefer it to the newest movie.  


Besides movies and books KRABAT is a big part of german culture and many schools perform it on stage like these kids from Lichtenstein.

But there are not only these plays by aficionados, even serious theaters like the Schauspiel Frankfurt can´t resist Otfried Preußler´s rich material.

Of course the evening is not complete without Krabat - The Musical.

There is a band called KRABAT and even a german hardrock band called ASP ( german wiki / english wiki ) that has many songs about Krabat.

Even though this is not the kind of post where you expect some links I managed to come up with some interesting ones I just have to include.

Chris Kubica at THE RUMPUS has an interesting post, The Last Book I Loved : Krabat about how this book literally changed his life, THE FREE LIBRARY even has an interview with Jurij Brezan by Gregory Wolf and if that is still not enough for you then you can read the pdf file of Adrienne Eva Muncy´s Seniors Honors Thesis Postmodern Mythology : Ecology, Cultural Survival, and Sorbian Folklore in the Works of Jurij Brezan

With all the videos I have already added up to this point you might think I could pass on the videos I include at the end of the post just once but I have too many of them. And sometimes I´m even flabbergasted myself about the high quality of the videos you can find on youTube. Like this great documentary that shows movie pioneer Karel Zeman at work.

Here is the english version of the Karel Zeman documentary for those who don´t understand german. I would have posted just one but the quality in the german version is much better. It says that this is in two parts but don´t despair if you can´t find part two, it´s only a minute long.

Since The Black Mill was deleted I wanted to add another fairy tale movie from DEFA. Here is The Twelve Months of which I had never heard before. I picked this because it´s beautifully animated and you can see that it is all hand drawn. Sometimes you have to remind kids that there were animated movies before all this computer animated, soulless crap they now flood cinemas and tv with. And I´m sure my sister would love this.

About which I have heard something is the Karel Zeman museum in Prague which is visited by Club de Animacion in 3D. Yep, we are totally putting as many languages as possible in this post and this clip is for my spanish speaking readers. Assuming there are some of those readers left.

And we are also totally educational with another documentary, this time about the comic with the Digedags ( which I mentioned in this post ) MOSAIK which was THE biggest comic in the German Democratic Republic.

Last but not least here´s another video from The Voice which I think fits very well into the overall topic of the post about traveling and being lost.

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest / best of the best

The dead are dead and talking won´t bring them back to life.

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