Station: [18] James Krüss – Regarding Imagination

Who was James Krüss? And what was he like? And what made him so exceptionally successful and popular as a children’s author? Can the photographs here provide any insights?

In the black and white portrait, a mischievously grinning man in a sailor’s cap gives us an impish look, his eyes full of awareness. A second snapshot tells us more: it shows Krüss at work. His desk is just a narrow windowsill. That was the way he liked to write, always by hand, and sometimes wearing his Frisian cap.

And the key to his skill as a poet and writer? If you ask other writers and literary critics, the answer is always the same: it’s his imagination. By exercising his imagination, Krüss was easily and playfully able to find his way into the world of children and explain many a wise insight about people and animals to old and young. 


I am a human in a very special way.

When beasts are amusing, cheery and droll, 

They’re cheery and comical, that’s about all. 

But being human, I know I’m happy today. 


What animals are, they are once and for all.

A wolf stays a wolf. A lion, a lion.

But I can be anything, dolphin or gull

I am a human. I can simply imagine.


Krüss believed that his imagination originated from his Heligoland roots. This is how he remembered it:  

"On small islands without much of an outlet, even the smallest talent for imagination develops to its utmost limits. And in order to enliven the grey uniformity of time and place with colours, you dab stories into your days."

In his novels and poems, Krüss plays with words and with perception. Despite all the wit and the jokes, he is serious. He’s a moralist, but never a finger-wagging one. Children are the adults of tomorrow. Writing for them was his greatest joy, he once said. And if the children learn along the way to distinguish good and evil, to explore the world with curiosity and a desire to learn, then his work, and his legacy, remain as topical as ever.

All depictions: © Nordseemuseum Museum Helgoland