Born in Würzburg to a poor baker’s family, he was trained at a young age to become a tailor because he was never successful at school. However, he rebelled against his family and went to Hamburg where he began working on ships and travelled to South America a few times. During his teenage years he returned to Würzburg, where his mother encouraged him to become an architect. With his mother’s help, he mustered enough money to attend a school for architecture and art in Munich.
Once there, his instructors recognized his great talent for painting and illustration. By the beginning of the twentieth century he served as an apprentice for various painters in Munich and became known not only for his fairy-tale like paintings but also for realistic paintings of Würzburg. He won many prizes for his early work including the Rome Prize, which enabled him to travel to Italy to study the great Italian painters and improve his techniques and understanding of art. He returned to Germany in 1910 and spent a good deal of his time studying animals and nature. He had a special fondness for illustrating frogs, rabbits, and insects. This was one of the reasons Waldemar Bönsels asked him to contribute 60 illustrations to his famous children’s book, Die Biene Maja (Maja the Bee, 1912).
Bärmann was greatly disturbed by World War I, and his paintings such as The Revolution (1914) and Der Brand (The Fire, 1914) reflect his concern about the violence in Europe. At the same time, he began to turn to sketching and painting scenes that would illustrate his books for children. Bärmann had a wry sense of humor that can be seen in a series of fairy tales he created from 1914 until his death in 1924: Die Kröte Rockröck (The Frog Röckkröck, 1918), Der Riese Ohl und das Hannesle (The Giant Ohl and Tiny Tim, 1918), and Die Honriche (The Flower Angels, 1923). Bärmann was greatly infatuated if not obsessed by giants and large creatures, who were kind and misunderstood. His compassion for these gigantic people and animals is evident in his paintings and illustrations. In the case of The Giant Ohl, it is clear that the good-natured giant is a friend of humans who have prejudices against strangers, especially when they seem to be enormous dangerous aliens.
Bärmann was an unusual painter/storyteller. His texts and images reveal both his serious critique of social prejudice and also his jovial and optimistic perspective on how people might overcome aggressive behavior toward "freaks." Aside from his own work, Bärmann also produced illustrations for Eduard Mörike’s fairy tale Das Märchen vom sicherern Mann (The Fairy Tale about the Man with Confidence, 1907) and Gustav Meyrink’s Golem (1915).
Jack Zipes is professor emeritus of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota. He is also author of The Sorcerer's Apprentice: An Anthology of Magical Tales (Princeton University Press, 2017), Tales of Wonder (University of Minnesota Press, 2018) and Smack-Bam, or The Art of Governing Men (Princeton University Press, 2018).
Long before Roald Dahl's The BFG introduced readers to the Big Friendly Giant, Christian Bärmann wrote and illustratedthis charming literary fairy tale which shows that big and little people can live together in harmony.Translated by distinguished fairy tale scholar and storyteller, Jack Zipes, The Giant Ohl and Tiny Tim recounts the adventures of a friendly giant who desires to live among humans. Despite his good intensions, Ohl makes a poor first impression on the village until Tiny Tim realizes the giant is both good-natured and a hard worker in this beautifully illustrated story. (Jan Susina Prof. Illinois State University and author of The Place of Lewis Carroll in Children’s LiteratureJan Susina)
Forget David and Goliath and open the pages of Christian Bärmann's witty and wise stories about classic antagonists who overcome their differences to form partnerships. Sometimes we need the bright and shiny, upbeat fables designed to remind us that cooperation and friendship can be the best of happily-ever-afters (Maria Tatar professor at Harvard University and author of the Annotated Peter Pan and The Annotated African American Folktales with Henry Louis Gates)
[A] useful contribution to the growing body of overlooked literary fairy tales reappearing in print. For those interested in examining children's literature from a more global perspective, [this] literary fairy tale makes for [a] useful companion to the more frequently used stories from the English tradition. (Jan Susina Children's Literature Association Quarterly 2019-12-01)
This series of original features of the tale by Bärmann, an undeservedly forgotten German writer and artist of the post-WW I period, makes this publication a valuable source for the research of literary fairy tales as allies of the traditional folktales, and also rediscovers a gifted children's book illustrator. (Yelena P. Francis Journal of Folklore Research 2020-02-20)
If you're a fan of Roald Dahl's The BFG or Harry Potter's friend Hagrid, you should check out The Giant Ohl. (Lily Stejskal Fairy Tale News Blog 2020-03-26)