Cheskel Zwi Klötzel, Moses Pipenbrink's Adventures. A Young Adult Novel between Urban Adventure and Zionist Utopia

Michael Nagel

Source Description

“Moses Pipenbrink’s Adventures” is one of the first novels with Zionist tendencies written for Jewish children in the German-speaking world. Published ten years before Erich Kästner’s Emil und die Detektive [Emil and the Detectives] (Berlin, 1929), it is also an early example of modern German children’s literature set in an urban environment. In his debut, author Cheskel Zwi Klötzel (born Hans Klötzel) mainly addresses boys aged between seven and twelve. The book runs to 78 pages and is illustrated with eight pen drawings by the author.

Beginning in July 1919, Cheskel Zwi Klötzel published the novel in serialized form in the Zionist children’s magazine Bar Kochba Blätter für die heranwachsende jüdische Jugend [Bar Kochba Paper for the Jewish Youth] (Berlin: Welt-Verlag, 1/1919-2/1920/21), which was also published by him. In 1920 it was also published in book form by the same publishing house. In 1957 the Central Welfare Office of the Jews in Germany’s youth department Jugendreferat der Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Juden in Deutschland in Frankfurt am Main initiated a new edition; another edition was published in 2001 by the Heidsiek publishing house in Cuxhaven, this one a reprint of the 1920 edition with a foreword by Cary Kloetzel, the author’s daughter, and an epilogue by Hans-Jürgen Kahle.

  • Michael Nagel

The plot

The plot begins around the year 1900, when young Moses is left behind in Cuxhaven by eastern Jewish migrants boarding a ship there. Unaware of his Jewish origins, he grows up in the household of Protestant ship pilot’s widow Tina Pipenbrink in Hamburg. He is friendly with the children in his neighborhood and takes part in all games played on the street. The plot takes a turn when Moses meets the Jewish boy David Silbermann. David’s learned father recognizes Moses’ origins and agrees with his foster mother that the boy will from now on be raised Jewish according to religious law. However, Moses, a freedom-loving boy, does not think much of the strictly regulated life at the “German-Israelite Orphan Home” Deutsch-Israelitisches Waisenhaus on Papendamm where he is subsequently sent or the dry education he receives at the Talmud Torah School on Elbstraße. He runs away and, following several meanders through the city and its port, returns to his foster mother, Tina Pipenbrink. She does not know what to do with him. In the meantime, Mr. Silbermann has managed to locate one of Moses’ uncles in the United States, who owns a large farm there. The boy now embarks on a journey to live with his uncle and “become a real man and a proud Jew,” as the book’s ending reads.

Crisis and departure, Hamburg as setting

Over the course of the stringently and entertainingly developed, realistic plot the author, at the time of its publication an experienced teacher who later was to become a successful journalist and travel writer, touches on important aspects of Jewish existence in Germany, which had grown less secure since the First World War and was caught between integration and exclusion, hostility and self-assertion. According to the novel’s central message, a stable sense of belonging and a safe home can only be found by a renewed turn towards one’s own people. By this the author does not mean the German-Jewish congregations of the time with their traditional, deeply anchored institutions and their self-image as largely assimilated, but a closer and more intense community that actively shapes its Jewish identity with its own ideas and hands.

The metropolis of Hamburg plays a special part in Klötzel’s novel. Rendered vividly and with detailed local knowledge, it is the setting for the first, carefree and non-Jewish phase of Moses Pipenbrink’s life. He explores life and the goings-on in the big city, listens to the stories of well-traveled sailors in dockside pubs, plays “trappers and Indians” with his friends from the neighborhood and street, and he has built himself a hiding place between crates and sacks in one of the large storehouses in the district, where the workers are happy to tolerate him since he does not mind getting them a beer from the pub when they ask him to. Such scenes show that the author is familiar with modern German children’s literature set in urban environments, and in his very own, original take on it, he particularly draws on the first work in this genre, Hamburger Bilder für Hamburger Kinder [Hamburg Images for Hamburg Children] by Ilse Frapan (Hamburg: Otto Meissner, 1899). Hamburg then becomes the setting for Moses’ reconnection with his Jewish roots and subsequently for his encounter with outdated institutions of Jewish community life that seem superficial and vacuous to him. Finally, it is his point of departure for embarking on an alternative life oriented on Zionist values. Passing through “the gateway to the world,”as Hamburg traditionally calls itself, which here can be read as standing for Germany in general, young Moses, following a period of dramatic struggle for his own identity and orientation, pursues his own path towards a new, and as the close family ties to his rediscovered uncle indicate, more intensely lived Jewish community. He must choose this path because the city of his carefree childhood that he experienced as unified splits into a Jewish and a non-Jewish part in the further course of developments, thus becoming the scene for confusion and conflict. He loses his home with the non-Jewish foster family. Furthermore, the local Jewish congregation’s rigidly and joylessly run educational institutions wholly separate from city life cannot replace it. Yet, according to the epilogue, he will find his home outside of Hamburg and Germany and perhaps grow into a profession that corresponds with the Zionist ideal: significantly, the uncle in America discovered by Mr. Silbermann’s research whom he sets out to join at the end of the story does not work in a typically “Jewish” profession; he is not a tradesman or an academic, but a farmer, just like the Jewish farmers in Palestine who, following the Zionist slogan, “redeem the soil through work.”

Autobiographical influence

Beyond its direct and indirect comments on Jewish life in Germany, the novel is clearly autobiographically influenced. Many of the motifs and places and some characters in the plot are familiar to the author from his own childhood, of which he gave detailed accounts in a number of serialized articles published in the Tel Aviv-based German-language newsletter published by Irgun Olei Merkaz Europa in 1947 / 48. Like his child protagonist, Cheskel Zwi Klötzel was forced to spend part of his childhood – since 1900 – in the German-Israelite Orphan Home Deutsch-IsraelitischesWaiseninstitut) on Papendamm, built in 1883, and like Moses, he found this secluded institution too strictly regulated and too confining for a boy who was thus excluded from life in the port city: “One of the gravest mistakes in orphan home care was our almost complete seclusion from the outside world,” he criticized in his recollections of this time.  C. Z. Kloetzel, Eine jüdische Jugend in Deutschland, in: Hamburgische Geschichts- und Heimatblätter, 11 (1987), p. 116.

Neither did young Cheskel Zwi Klöstzel think much of the Talmud Torah School on Elbstraße (founded in 1805), which was highly regarded for its level of instruction. There is no mention of vivid pedagogy in Moses Pipenbrink’s story or in the author’s recollections, instead both texts describe an often pedantic way of drumming subject matter into the students’ heads. However, Klötzel also very respectfully mentions the learning and teaching style of some individual teachers.

Omission of Antisemitism

The author largely spares the young readers of his novel the subject of antisemitic prejudice or even open hostility towards Jews. There is only one reference, when Moses’ non-Jewish playmates team up against David Silbermann, a boy who has just moved to the neighborhood: “He’s a Jew boy, we’ll pick on him real good!” The reader guesses that if his playmates had found out about Moses’ being Jewish at this point – which he was himself unaware of at the time – he would have lost the respect he had gained with them by means of his physical strength and wit and they would have “picked on him real good,” too. By contrast, all of the non-Jewish adults who know about Moses’ Jewish identity and respect it are portrayed as tolerant and conciliatory. Especially the invariably loving affection of his Protestant foster mother, Tina Pipenbrink, for “her” boy stands out in this context; here the author makes a positive comment on the question of Jews and non-Jews coexisting peacefully. This might seem surprising given that Klötzel, a staunch Zionist from an early age, in 1912 / 13 had contributed to the controversial and very public debate on Moritz Goldstein’s essay “Deutsch-jüdischer Parnaß In: Janus. Münchener Halbmonatsschrift für Literatur und Kunst, 2 (1912 / 13) 1. semester, nr. 2, pp. 57-60, nr. 9, pp. 450-454, nr. 10, pp. 507-513, nr. 11, pp. 568-575, concluding remarks on the discussion of his article in in 2. quarter, nr. 1, pp. 42-48, reprinted in: Menora. Jahrbuch für deutsch-jüdische Geschichte vol. 13 (2002), pp. 163-191 (including contemporaryres-ponses) [German-Jewish Parnassus] with an essay titled “Das große Hassen. Ein Beitrag zur Judenfrage in Deutschland Moritz Goldstein, Deutsch-jüdischer Parnaß, in: Kunstwart, 25 (March 1, 1912) 11, pp. 281-294 and 1. issue of April 1912, p. 6-15. [The Great Hatred. An Essay on the Jewish Question in Germany]. In it he had postulated an “eternal enmity between Jewry and non-Jewry,” albeit with the intention to provoke. Did Klötzel in 1919 / 20 really consider the antisemitic hostilities in the galuth – which had increased significantly compared to 1912 – as secondary and therefore did not mention them in his otherwise realistic story about “Moses Pipenbrink?” His other works from the Weimar period do not provide any clues to this question, for only a small part of his literary and journalistic works after Bar Kochba and until 1933 make reference to Jewish circumstances. As a journalist, he worked for leading papers of the general press such as the Vossische Zeitung and Berliner Tageblatt. His second, particularly successful novel for children, BCCü. Die Geschichte eines Eisenbahnwagens [BCCü. The Story of a Railway Carriage] (1922, ten subsequent editions until 1930), was published by Berlin’s Jewish “Welt-Verlag” publishing house and parts of it had previously been serialized in Klötzel’s magazine Bar Kochba, yet it does not contain any Jewish characters or motifs. It seems safe to assume that the novel “Moses Pipenbrink’s Adventures,” like Klötzel’s teen magazine Bar Kochba overall, barely mentioned contemporary, virulent antisemitism at all because the author sought to use both to picture the hopeful utopia of a new, emotionally and practically more intensely-lived Judaism. This Judaism was meant to be attractive not from a negative perspective, as a refuge from a present darkened by hostility, but positively, sought out of one’s own free will and fascinating in itself. In the story it is portrayed as a unique and lively community connected across generations and national borders without making any particular reference to Palestine, which is not mentioned anywhere. That the staunch Zionist Klötzel has his protagonist travel to America in the end is a result of the cosmopolitan self-image of this future travel writer on the one hand, and since America had been the dreamland of his own childhood, he also knew that it had the same meaning for most of his young readers. Most German Zionists supported the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine at the time but did not consider emigrating there themselves. One recurring motif in this novel about the transformation of a Hamburg child into a Jewish boy is the emotional connection within the Jewish community. Other Jews can sense at first sight that Moses Pipenbrink is a fellow Jew without him revealing it to them, and he feels drawn to some of them at their first meeting with a sympathy that surprises himself. Thus a well-traveled Jewish sailor with whom he strikes up a conversation on board a petroleum tanker in Hamburg’s port seems strangely familiar to him like an old acquaintance.


The novel “Moses Pipenbrink’s Adventures” vividly documents the places and spheres of Jewish life in Hamburg in the first decade of the 20th century. It illustrates a utopia for a new understanding of Judaism shaped by Zionist ideas, and in its modern form which considers its young readers both in language and subject matter with great sensitivity, it stands out from German-Jewish children’s literature after 1900. Its many new editions are proof of its popularity even decades after it was first published.

Select Bibliography

Ilse Frapan [this is Elise Therese Levien, since 1901: Ilse Frapan-Akunian], Hamburger Bilder für Hamburger Kinder, Hamburg 1899.
Caroline Jessen, Keine leichten Pakete. Cheskel Zwi Kloetzel, Goethe-Institut Jerusalem n.a.
C. Z. Kloetzel, Eine jüdische Jugend in Deutschland, in: Jedioth, Mitteilungsblatt, Alija Cha-dascha, beginning with 11 (August 8, 1947) 32, p. 7. The series was again published with some additional explanations in: Hamburgische Geschichts- und Heimatblätter 11 (1987), pp. 105-127, pp. 201-216, pp. 290-301.
Annegret Völpel, „Bar Kochba“, in: Zohar Shavit, Hans-Heino Ewers (ed.), Deutsch-jüdische Kinderliteratur von der Haskala bis 1945, vol. 1, Stuttgart et al. 1996, pp. 126-127.
Annegret Völpel, Klötzel, C. Z., Moses Pipenbrinks Abenteuer, in: Zohar Shavit, Hans-Heino Ewers (ed.), Deutsch-jüdische Kinderliteratur von der Haskala bis 1945, vol. 1, Stuttgart et al. 1996, pp. 607-610.

This text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the work is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.

About the Author

Michael Nagel, Prof. Dr. phil. habil (Modern German Literature Studies), until 2016 he was assistant at the research institute "German Press Research" at the University of Bremen, where he was responsible for the department "German-Jewish Press". His research interests include the general press (especially 18th century), antisemitism in the historical German press, German literature (18th and 19th centuries), historical children's and youth literature, German-Jewish education since the Haskala, and cultural history. Since November 2017 he is director of the DFG funded project "Bibliographical-biographical Manual of the Historic German-Jewish Press from the Enlightment (1755) to Nationalsocialism (1943)".

Recommended Citation and License Statement

Michael Nagel, Cheskel Zwi Klötzel, Moses Pipenbrink's Adventures. A Young Adult Novel between Urban Adventure and Zionist Utopia (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, October 01, 2018. <> [April 15, 2024].

This text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the work is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.