The home visit: The one with the mouse

The home visit: The one with the mouse

Sinan Güngör drew Lars, the polar bear, and the main character of the “Show with the Mouse”. As an animator, you also need a sense of humour, he says.

Sinan Gungor

He got Lars and the mouse running: Sinan Güngör in his apartment Photo: Holger Gross

First Sinan Güngör scribbled his exercise books full. Then he studied chemistry. Until he met an animation teacher and realized that the chemistry between them was right.

Outside: Not long ago, Sinan Güngör lived in Lübars, at the end of the Berlin bus line 222, in a village atmosphere with cobblestones, horse stables and meadows. He owned a house with a garden where his four children could run around and a studio where he worked. But now he lives at the end of Berlin-Reinickendorf, in the only apartment building that towers over all the neighborhoods between single-family houses. A post-war block without charm.

Inside: He lives in 40 square meters on the first floor of the high-rise building. He has a cat, a closet and a room with a bed, a table, two chairs and his desk near the window. The view looks out onto the fenced yards of the homes, with a church spire in the distance. Pictures hanging on the walls look as if they were taken from children’s books. “It’s quite a change when you move from such a big house to such a small room. But I have a big basement, and that’s the most important thing.” The move was preceded by the separation. Sometimes life is like that. There is no guarantee of love. He also lives in Turkey from time to time; the small apartment is enough for him.

review: Sinan Güngör has space for his animal drawings in the basement. He drew so many mice and polar bears that at first his children thought all fathers in the world painted polar bears or mice. Daughter Aylin was ten years old when she realized that painting was something special. Her father had taken her to the Ostbahnhof in Berlin, where the “Maus-Zug” had just pulled in. Westdeutscher Rundfunk celebrated the 25th anniversary of its “Show with the Mouse” with the “Mouse Train”. Hundreds of enthusiastic children and parents were at the station, Aylin’s father was sitting at a table and signing pictures of the mouse and Lars the polar bear. When they came home in the evening, the daughter whispered to her mother: “You, mom, dad is famous!”

modesty: Sinan Güngör likes to think about this day. He smiles at it. At parties and events, he also smiles this smile. When guests ask him what he does and he says he draws, and then when they ask what he draws and he says he draws the mouse and the polar bear, they look at him in disbelief and say, “What? You mean Lars, the world-famous polar bear?” And because Sinan Güngör then starts to smile again, they think he’s just joking.

The school: He probably brought this modesty back with him from the small Turkish town on the Mediterranean coast, where he preferred to fill his exercise books with sketches and drawings rather than with letters and numbers. “While the teachers in the front talked and talked, I sat in the back and doodled and doodled.” Later, when he was studying chemistry at Istanbul Technical University, he also drew cartoons for magazines on the side. When he came to Dortmund in 1973, he nevertheless enrolled in chemical engineering.

The Earl: But then he saw a poster in the university canteen: “Saturday – big party at the University of Applied Sciences for Design”. He learned that a certain Count of Rothkirch Lecturer for the newly founded animation department. That was the beginning of something completely new. The two met on a Thursday in 1975, and they only parted ways again 40 years later, when the count was buried in the miners’ cemeteries in Berlin. “You have,” whispered one of the mourners at the grave, “made the count a millionaire!” Sinan Güngör frowned and replied, not without a modest smile: “But I didn’t earn badly either. And then there was the producer, the director, the editor and WDR … I wasn’t the only one …”

Polar Bears and Mice: But it was Sinan Güngör who got Lars going. Until the film industry the little polar bear discovered, the polar circle dweller only existed in the books of the Dutch children’s book author Hans de Beer. At the beginning of the 90s, the Dutchman flew to Japan, where the first test shots were made with Lars in an animation studio. Hans de Beer looked at the development of his future film star and just shook his head: “No way! That’s not my polar bear!” Then someone at WDR remembered Sinan Güngör and the count and they commissioned the two to bring the polar bear from the children’s book to the screen and breathe a soul into it.

Memories of people he loves and characters he loved Photo: Holger Gross

Cooperation: “The Count was one of those people who didn’t make friends with everyone straight away.” It was different with him, Sinan Güngör. The Count knew that he could rely on him. When Güngör was in Izmir after his studies to set up a chair in animation there, the Count called from Germany. He has a major project there, “Aladdin’s Magic Lamp,” an Arabic television series. The Count was to direct whether Sinan would not like to come and work with him. Gungor came. The two men worked together in the studio on Kurfürstenstraße in Berlin for years. Every few months, the boss of the Iraqi broadcaster would turn up in Berlin, check on things and eye the pretty employees in the Berlin animation studio.

Kreuzberg: In 1986, Güngör moved to a clinker rear building in Berlin-Kreuzberg with the newly founded production company Rothkirch Cartoon-Film. Up to 20 employees drew, copied, photographed and animated images into films. Such films are made in teamwork. Sinan Güngör was chief draftsman and secret star of the troupe, at least since the little film about Otto the street dog.

The dog: An editor at WDR liked the little film about the street dog so much that he asked Elke Heidenreich if she would like to lend her voice to the dog. The author of her bestselling book about a black cat said it wasn’t really for her. Two days later she called: “This Otto is my incarnation! I’ll do that!”

The mouse: The little strip became a success, and when a new cartoonist for the mouse came out of the Show with the mouse needed, Sinan Güngör was asked if he could draw mice as well as dogs and polar bears. “That’s how the mouse came to Kreuzberg!” From then on, Güngör mainly drew mice, provided ideas for the small strips, occasionally wrote the storyboard and the texts himself. But the most famous character from Bergmannstrasse was Lars.

The bear: Lars not only touched the hearts of the children, but also those of the judges around the world. In 2003, the little polar bear was even nominated for an Emmy. Lars swept away prize after prize. “We never thought it would be such a success. But Lars didn’t have to do anything at all, he just had to stand there and watch, and people were already enthusiastic.” In twenty years, he says, more than a hundred cartoons have been made in the studios on Bergmannstrasse. “But the creative times in Kreuzberg are a thing of the past.” The artists of the 80s and 90s were pushed out by subsidized start-ups. Where craftsmanship and inventiveness once counted, computers now calculate and develop. “There are still a few lone fighters who somehow get by in small backyard apartments, but the big studios are all gone.”

The smile: And the cartoon characters have already forgotten how to walk. Their movements, once so supple, now seem jerky and unreal in the face of digital development. Güngör thinks that even the sense of humor is often missing. “And you can’t draw caricatures without humor.” But you can’t learn humor. Just as little as comfort. You can’t draw a character like Lars if you’re not comfortable yourself. “I’m comfortable,” says Sinan Güngör, raising his eyebrows. “Very comfortable even,” he says and smiles again.

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