My grandmother and I each had a hand puppet. She had two, actually, but she mostly played with this bear called Bärle, and I had Schnuffi, a little dog of the Beagle persuasion. He was given to me by the family of a colleague of my dad’s when I was only a few years old, since I played with him a lot every time we visited them. Schnuffi soon became my alter ego, commenting on plenty of things I did or didn’t do. Over the years, he got pretty old and finally, an aunt conducted major surgery on him, giving him an almost entirely different look, especially where his fur colour and smoothness and his ears were concerned. This earned him the nick name ‘Terminator Dog’. Schnuffi has been staying with me now for something like 35 years. You don’t meet a friend like him very often.
My grandma dedicated her entire life, even past her retirement age, to helping blind people. When she was younger, she accompanied them to faraway countries like Egypt and Israel, and as she got older, she still travelled quite a bit to various spa resorts in Germany. Bärle accompanied her on all her travels and she always took a photo of him sitting on her bed in each of the hotel rooms that she stayed in. After my grandmother passed away, my mom made a photo album for me with the best of those photographs, and it’s an amazing document of the changing designs of hotel room interiors.
Until my grandmother passed away, she and I kept on re-enacting talks between Schnuffi and Bärle, and when she died, my family put Bärle into her coffin, following my suggestion for him to take that final journey together with her, too. Schnuffi, on the other hand, keeps travelling with me, though he doesn’t go out much anymore due to his old age. He is now about to undergo surgery again, because he’s worn out his second skin, too. As it turns out, not only cats got seven lives. I was thinking of going to a Korean hospital with him – a tailor, basically – but now that we are heading to India, I think I’ll have someone there do it. After all, medical tourism to India is so common nowadays.
Schnuffi has seen several friends come and go over the years. Currently, he lives together with Mr Brown, Cheburashka, Pingu Chingu and myself. While people make fun of my antics, they also keep giving me new puppets to play with, and a little owl by the name of Mr Brown has become the most famous one, with friends in many countries and over 350 photos taken of him since he became my friend in 2009. He even made it into a photo calendar for an NGO in Thailand that helps children and families living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
Hand puppets, or stuffed animals in general, are great to play and connect with children, and so I don’t mind if people make fun of me or think I’m weird. I’ll keep playing with puppets until the day I die, just as my grandma did.
Update: Schnuffi underwent surgery a second time. Do you want to see how he looks like now? Then view his photo album TD-3. The Rise of the Sewing Machine.