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In spring 1908 a hiker came to a Tyrolean village. He is in his late twenties. On the way he met a group of Swabian children led by an old man on a snowy mountain path. The hiker purposefully takes the path to a remote mountain farm. Kaspar (Hary Prinz) knows his way around, because it is his birthplace; he had spent his childhood here. His older sister Josefa (Naomi Krauss), who lives with her four children in the house, while her husband, who works on the railroad and is rarely at home, long ago thought he was dead. Father Anton Ritter (Vadim Glowna) also did. Kaspar sits down on the bed of the dying old man and tells how he has been doing since he had to leave the village when he was eight.
At that time, Kaspar’s mother Agnes had been killed in an avalanche accident. Agnes had improved the family income with sewing work. The father desperately tried to sew the children’s dress that the gracious woman (Andrea Eckert), who lived in the nearby castle, had done, because he needed the money to feed himself, Josefa, Kaspar and the toddler Ambros. But the gracious woman got frantic when she tried on the dress for her daughter: the beautiful fabric was ruined! Anton didn’t get any money for it. After all, he had no choice but to follow the priest’s advice (Werner Prinz) and to register his eight-year-old son Kaspar (Thomas Unterkircher) for going to Swabia.
A Catholic chaplain, a cooperator (Tobias Moretti), led Kaspar and a dozen other children of needy mountain farmers between the ages of seven and fourteen through snowy mountain passes. One of the girls slipped and fell into a stream. Although she took off her wet dress and wrapped herself in a blanket for the night, the child contracted pneumonia and died on the way. In a blizzard in which the exhausted co-worker lost his bearings, they would all have frozen to death if one of the boys nearby had not found a hospice and asked monks for help.
The cooperator offered the children as maidservants, servants and servants at a street market in Ravensburg. The fourteen-year-old Magdalena (Eva Maria Fleissner) came to the Hiebele trading house as a maid. For Kaspar, the Saubauer Klemens Steinhauser (Jürgen Tarrach) paid only thirty-five marks instead of the usual forty, but the cooperator agreed to trade.
In the yard of the farmer and his wife (Vera Lippisch) Kaspar had to get up at 4 am and work until they dropped. Steinhauser ensured order with draconian punishments. When Kaspar, who cried his pillow wet every night, put him to bed, the Saubauer locked him in the drafty outhouse next to the house despite the freezing cold. He should spend the night there. But with a candle and matches that a servant had given him, Kaspar first lit the newspaper and then the door of the toilet house so that he could break out.
Then he ran to Ravensburg, went to the Hiebele trading house and persuaded Magdalena, who had been impregnated by her employer, to run away with him. They made their way to America.
Kaspar tells his father that he is now married to Magdalena and lives with her in Chicago. After hearing this good news, Anton Ritter dies in the presence of his son.
Kaspar Ritter or Rider, as he is now called, is a journalist. He makes the public in the USA aware of the cruel fate of the Swabian children and denounces the Swabian going.
In this theatrical home drama, accompanied by pathetic music, Jo Baier illustrates the fate of the “Swabian children”. Even if it is a fictional and fate that is not plausible in every detail, history has a historical background, because the Swabians actually did exist.
“Swabian children” are the children of mountain farmers from Tyrol, Vorarlberg and Switzerland who are in need and who each spring are sent by their parents to the Ravensburg and Tettnang area, where they are paid for by farmers at a corresponding market as cheap helpers for the summer were taken over. The children returned home in autumn. The strenuous and life-threatening march of the children, usually led by a clergyman, aged between seven and fourteen years, along the partly snow-covered mountain paths was called "Swabian Walking".
In 1908 articles appeared in the US press denouncing this form of exploitation practiced in Swabia. The campaign helped abolish the children’s markets in 1915, but it wasn’t until the Second World War that Swabia finally ended.
Jo Baier discovered ten-year-old Thomas Unterkircher when “Schwabenkinder” was filming when he flew back to Munich from a casting in Vienna. In the row of seats behind him he heard a bright boy with him right Dialect that kept talking to his parents. When he got out, Jo Baier spoke to the family, and after improvised test shots, he offered Thomas Unterkircher the leading role in his film “Schwabenkinder”.
The first broadcast of the television film "Schwabenkinder" by Jo Baier took place on March 7, 2003 at Arte.
Elmar Bereuter registered book about the Schwabenkinder: The Schwabenkinder. The history of the Kaspanaze (Verlag LangenMüller, ISBN 978-3-7766-2304-8, as an audio book: ISBN 978-3-7844-4068-2).
Summary and review: © Dieter Wunderlich 2005
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