Just because you are 70 does not mean that you are old. At least that's how Elfie Donnelly sees it. "Sometimes I still feel very young," she says. Maybe that's because of their job.
Donnelly is the woman who invented the radio plays about Benjamin Blümchen and Bibi Blocksberg. Millions of children grew up with the loud “Töröö” of the speaking elephant Benjamin and the “Hex hex” of the little witch Bibi.
On January 14, Donnelly turns 70 – but that's no reason for her to retire. Instead, she writes, among other things, on her autobiography. However, that was not so easy: "I have to put the puzzle of my life together first." And there are quite a few parts at Elfie Donnelly.
Born in Great Britain as the daughter of a British and an Austrian, she quickly lost her sense of home. When she was five years old, she moved to Austria with her mother. The father is seriously alcoholic, as she says. The mother dies when Donnelly is 15. "In the past I was always looking for a home," she says. Today she and her third husband call many places their home – including the Balearic Islands and Lisbon, but also Vienna, where she grew up and became pregnant at 17. And of course Berlin – “one of the most important cities for me”.
In Berlin she took her first steps as a freelance writer in the 1970s and 1980s, where she met her second husband Peter Lustig, the moderator of the children's program “Löwenzahn”. «That was love at first sight for both of us, although he was almost 13 years older. He freed me a bit from my homelessness. »
And in Berlin in 1977, she had the idea for the talking elephant with a taste for sugar cakes: Benjamin Blümchen. "Of course, the story developed out of my own longing for an ideal world," she explains. The elephant's adventures had nothing to do with the children's world of experience, she says. Despite, or perhaps because of, the stories turned out to be a huge success.
According to Kiddinx Studios, more than 60 million radio plays have been sold. Benjamin Blümchen alone has 143 radio drama sequences, an animated series, and a film was released in cinemas in 2019. Bibi Blocksberg has produced 130 radio drama sequences, three feature films and a series of tricks. The “Bibi and Tina” decoupling after all on 95 radio drama sequences and a total of four films.
Elfie Donnelly has very little to do with it. She ceded her rights in 1988. A radical step, one that may have cost them a lot financially. According to her own statements, she is now involved to a small extent. But she still doesn't regret the decision. "Back then I needed freedom," she says.
She no longer wanted to be bound by series and contracts, but to do “tabula rasa”. This led her and Peter Lustig to the Guru Bhagwan's ashram in India for several years. «I was looking for meaning. And Peter had suffered a lot of trauma as a refugee child. »The two were almost 18 years old, have a son together and remained friends after their divorce.
Since she has ceded the rights, she has been little concerned with her creations. She neither listens to the newer radio drama sequences, nor does she watch the films – with one exception: «I found Bibi and Tina too sexualized. It is no longer my Bibi, »she says.
But even without Benjamin Blümchen and Bibi Blocksberg, the author has not been bored in recent years. After daring to take a short trip into adult literature with two crime novels, she quickly returned to her roots and published various radio plays for children. She is currently writing new episodes for her radio play series “Draculino” about a little boy who grew up first in a Catholic orphanage, then with good-natured vampires. The play comes much more politically than the earlier things, she thinks.
Because despite her unconventional lifestyle at that time – the son from her first marriage grew up with her father for a few years from the age of four – her early figures were quite classic. In the Bibi Blocksberg radio plays only the women of the family can witch. Father Blocksberg remains the boss, Donnelly thinks. "I would do it differently today," says the author. The radio plays are just a child of their time: "Even though I lived very differently myself, I always had in mind what it should be like."
If it were up to her, the Benjamin Blümchen universe would also look different today: Donnelly says that she could well imagine a lesbian Karla Kolumna. But one or the other thing their old pieces have in common with the new radio plays like Draculino: "There is once again a bribing mayor – in my radio plays there must always be a politician who takes advantage of his position," says Donnelly and laughs.