It was so beautiful out in the country, it was summer. The cornfields swayed in the wind. All around the fields and meadows were large forests and in the middle of the forests were deep lakes.
In the middle of the sunshine was an old castle with deep canals all around it. From the wall grew large velcro leaves so tall that small children could stand straight under the largest ones. Here lay a duck incubating her eggs. She was supposed to lie on the eggs until the chicks came out, but now she was tired after lying for so long without visitors. The other ducks liked swimming around in the canals more than running up and chatting with her.
Finally, one egg after another cracked: Beep! beep! said it. All the yolks had come alive and were sticking their heads out.
- Quack! quack! said she, and so they quacked all they could and looked in every direction under the green leaves, and the mother let them look as much as they liked, for green is good for the eyes.
- How big the world is! said all the cubs because they now had much more room to maneuver than when they were inside the egg.
- Do you think this is the whole world? said the mother. It stretches far on the other side of the garden, right into the priest's property, but I have never been there.
- Are you all here? And then she got up. No, I don't have them all! The biggest egg is still there. How long will this last? Now I'm really tired! And then she lay down again.
- Well, how's it going? said an old duck, who came to visit.
It takes so long with the one egg! said the duck, who was brooding. It doesn't want to go through it. But look at all the others, they are the most beautiful ducklings I have ever seen.
- Let me see that egg that won't break! said the old duck. You will see that it is a turkey egg! In that way, I was also cheated once.
- Can I see the egg! Yes, it's a turkey egg! Leave it alone and teach the other children to swim!
- I still want to stay a little longer on it, said the brooding duck. If I've been lying for that long, I can lie for the rest of the time.
- You are welcome! said the old duck, and off she went.
Finally the big egg cracked. Beep! beep! said the kid, falling out. He was so big and ugly. The duck looked at him.
- That was a terribly big duckling there! she said. None of the others look like that. It's never a baby turkey! Well, we'll figure that out soon. In the water he shall, if I have to kick him out.
The next day the weather was beautiful. The sun shone on all the green burdocks. The mother duck with her whole family went down to the canal.
Splash! She ran into the water. Quack! quack! she said, and one duckling after another plunged into the water after her. The water went over their heads but they quickly got back up and floated so beautifully. The legs went off by themselves. Everyone was out, the ugly, gray kid was swimming along.
- No, it's not a turkey! she said. Just look how beautifully he uses his legs and how straight he stands! It's my own kid. In fact, he is still quite handsome, when you really look at him. Quack! Quack! now come along, and I will take you out into the world and introduce you to the duck farm.
Then they entered the duck yard. There was a terrible commotion in there because there were two families fighting over an eel head.
- Look, that's how the world works! said the mother duck, licking her beak. Be sure to watch yourselves and your necks for that old duck over there! She is the most distinguished of all here. She is of Spanish blood that's why she is so fat.
- Watch out! Not messing with the legs! A well-behaved duckling puts its legs far apart, like father and mother. Look, you now and say quack!
And they did, but the other ducks around looked at them and said out loud: Look! Now we will get that companion too! Just as if there weren't enough of us already! And wow, what does that one kid look like! We can't stand him. - And immediately a duck flew forward and bit him on the neck.
- Let him be! said the mother. He doesn't hurt anyone!
- Yes, but he is too big and unusual, said the duck, which had bitten him, and therefore he must be pecked.
- Mother has beautiful children, said the old duck. All are beautiful, so when on that one. It has not succeeded. I wish she could redo it.
- It doesn't work, your grace! said the mother duck. He is not handsome, but he is a heartily good creature, and swims as beautifully as any of the others, yea, even a little better. He's been in the egg too long. Therefore, he has not been given the right form. And then she picked him by the neck and treated him well
- The other kids are cute, said the old duck. Now feel at home here and if you find an eel head, you can give it to me.
The poor duckling, who was the last to hatch and was so ugly, was bitten, pushed and mocked by both ducks and hens. He's too big, they all said, and the turkey cock, who was born with spurs and therefore thought he was emperor, puffed up like a full-sail ship, went right at him, and then he clucked and turned all red in the head. The poor duckling didn't know how to stand or walk. He was so sorry for being so ugly and a laughingstock to the whole duck farm.
That's how it went the first day and then it got worse and worse. The poor duckling was chased by them all. Even his siblings were mean to him and they kept saying: If the cat still wanted to take you, you nasty spectacle! And the mother said: If only you were far from here! The ducks bit him, the chickens pecked at him, and the maid who was supposed to feed the animals kicked him with her foot.
Then he ran and flew over the fence. The little birds in the bushes flew into the air in terror. It's because I'm so ugly, thought the duckling, closing his eyes, but still running forward. Then he came out to the big bog, where the ducks lived. Here he lay all night, he was so tired and sad.
In the morning the ducks flew up and they looked at the new companion. What kind of one are you? they asked, and the duckling turned in all directions and saluted as best he could.
- You are deeply ugly! said the ducks, but it might do the same to us, as long as you don't marry into our family.
- The poor thing! he certainly didn't think of getting married, only he was allowed to lie in the reeds and drink a little water.
He waited several hours before he looked around and then he hurried away from the marsh as fast as he could. He ran across fields and meadows and there was such a wind that he had difficulty moving forward.
Towards evening he came to a poor little peasant's cottage. It was so miserable that it didn't know which side it was going to fall on so it stayed standing. The wind whizzed around the duckling to such an extent that he had to sit on his tail to hold on and it got worse and worse. Now he noticed that one of the door's hinges had come loose and the door hung so crooked that he could sneak into the room through the gap, and he did.
Here lived an old woman with her cat and her hen. The cat, which she called Kisserulten, could arch his back and purr, he even sparkled, but then you had to stroke his hair. The hen had very small, short legs and was therefore called Chicken Short Legs. She gave birth nicely and the old woman cared for her like her own child.
In the morning, the strange duckling was quickly noticed and the cat began to purr and the hen to cluck.
- What! said the old woman, looking around. But she couldn't see very well and so she thought the duckling was a fat duck that had gotten lost. It was a rare catch! she said. Now I can get duck eggs, as long as it's not a male duck. We have to try that.
And so the duckling was accepted for testing for three weeks, but there were no eggs. The cat was the master of the house, and the hen was the wife, and they always said: We and the world! They thought they made up half of it and that was the very best part.
The duckling thought that you could also have a different opinion, but the hen could not stand that.
-Can you lay eggs? she asked.
- Well, then keep your mouth shut!
And the cat said: Can you push back, purr and sparkle?
- Yes, then you shouldn't have any opinion, when sensible people speak!
And the duckling sat in his corner and was in a bad mood. Suddenly he thought of the fresh air and the sunshine And felt like floating on the water. Finally, he couldn't help but tell the hen.
- What's wrong with you? she asked. You have nothing to do, that's why you get those whims. Lay eggs or spin, and it's over!
- But it is so wonderful to float on the water! said the duckling. So lovely to get it over your head and dive down to the bottom.
- Yes, it's just a great pleasure! said the hen. You must have gone crazy! Ask the smartest cat I know if he likes to float or dive. I don't want to talk about me. Ask our Lordship herself, the old lady. There is no one in the world wiser than her. Do you think she wants to float and get water over her head?
- You don't understand me, said the duckling.
- Yes, if we don't understand you, then who would understand you? You don't think you can be wiser than the cat and the old woman, not to mention me? Now just make sure you lay eggs and learn to purr or sparkle!
- I think I want to go out into the wide world, said the duckling.
- Yes, you do! said the hen.
And so the duckling went. He floated on the water, he dived, but of all the animals he was looked over the shoulder for his ugliness.
Now autumn came, the leaves in the forest turned yellow and brown and up in the air it looked cold. The clouds hung heavy. Yes, you could really freeze, when you thought about it. The poor duckling really didn't have a good time.
One evening when the sun was setting, a whole flock of big beautiful birds came out of the bushes. The duckling had never seen any so beautiful, they were absolutely shining white, with long, flexible necks. It was swans. They uttered a strange sound, spread their magnificent, long wings, and flew away from the cold regions to warmer lands and open lakes. They climbed so high, so high and the ugly little duckling became so strangely at ease. He turned around in the water and stretched his neck high into the air after them, and uttered a scream so loud and wonderful that he himself was frightened. He could not forget the beautiful birds, the happy birds and when he could no longer see them, he dived right down to the bottom and when he came up again, he was beside himself. He did not know what the birds were called or where they flew, but still he liked them as he had never liked anyone before. He was not jealous of them. He would have been happy, if only the ducks wanted him among them, the poor ugly animal!
And the winter got so cold, so cold. The duckling must swim around in the water to prevent it from freezing. But with each night the hole in which he swam became smaller and smaller. It froze so hard that it cracked the ice crust. The duckling must constantly move its legs, so that the water would not freeze. Finally he became exhausted, lay very still and froze in the ice.
Early in the morning a farmer came. He got to see him, went out and broke the ice with his clog, and then carried the duckling home to his wife. There he was recalled to life.
The children wanted to play with him, but the duckling thought that they wanted to hurt him and, in terror, ran into the milk dish, so that the milk splashed onto the floor. The old woman screamed and clapped her hands in the air, then he flew into the trough where the butter was and then down into the flour barrel and up again. Oh, what he looked like! The old woman screamed and hit him with the tongs and the children ran over each other to catch the duckling and they laughed and screamed. Luckily the door was open. He went out among the bushes in the newly fallen snow - and there he lay as if asleep.
During the severe winter he had to endure want and misery. He was lying in the marsh among the reeds, when the sun again began to shine warmly, the larks sang - it was a lovely spring.
Then he raised even his wings, they whizzed stronger than before and carried him strongly forward and before he knew it, he was in a large garden, where the apple trees were in bloom and the lilacs bloomed and hung down towards the canal. It was so beautiful here! And out of the dense bushes right in front of him came three beautiful, white swans. They inflated their feathers and floated so easily on the water. The duckling recognized the magnificent animals and was seized with a strange melancholy.
- I want to fly up to them, the royal birds, but they would stab me to death, because I, who am so ugly, dare to approach them. But it does the same! Better to be killed by them than to be pinched by the ducks, pecked by the hens, kicked by the maid who looks after the hen house and toil badly in the winter. He flew into the water and swam towards the magnificent swans. They saw him and shot towards him with inflated feathers.
- Just kill me! said the poor animal, bending his head down to the water's edge and awaiting death. But what did he see in the clear water? He saw his own image beneath him, but he was no longer a clumsy, black-grey bird, ugly and naughty, but was himself a swan.
It doesn't matter to be born in the duck farm, if you just lay in a swan's egg.
- And the great swans swam around him and stroked him with their beaks.
Out into the garden came some small children. They threw bread and grain into the water. The smallest cried: There is a new one! And the other children also cheered: Yes, there is a new one! And they clapped their hands and danced around, ran after father and mother and then bread was thrown into the water and they all said: The new one is the most beautiful!
So young and so cute! And the old swans bowed to him.
Then he felt completely shy and stuck his head behind his wings. He didn't know how it was. He was all too happy, but not at all proud, for a good heart is never proud. He thought of how he had been persecuted and mocked and now heard everyone say that he was the most beautiful of all beautiful birds. And the lilacs bent their branches right down to him in the water, and the sun shone so warm and so good. Then his feathers puffed up, his supple neck rose, and from his heart he exulted:
- I didn't dream of so much happiness when I was the ugly duckling!