The Chicago Cubs have been a remedy for happiness in actor/producer Ann Hagemann’s family since 1945.
That’s when her father began supporting the team as a young boy who wanted to momentarily forget that his family was poor, his father was dying of tuberculosis and, as World War II raged overseas, he lived in a country that did not appreciate his German heritage, especially near the farm where he grew up in downstate Illinois.
The plan was hatched by his German grandmother, his oma, who gathered all the kids together and said, “You will play baseball. You love the Cubs. You listen to them on the radio. You will forget.”
The story forms an essential narrative in Real Prayers Are Said In German, Hagemann’s first feature film, in which she portrays her own great grandmother, that will begin shooting in August.
The motivation to write the script came by viral demand.
“In October of 2015, I wrote a Facebook post and I said, ‘I really hope the Cubs will win because it helped my dad through a really tough time in his life,’” Hagemann recalls. “I received messages from all over the world, all these posts from people saying, ‘I want to know more about the story.’”
Hagemann was similarly intrigued.
“I went to my father and I said, ‘Dad, you need to tell me what really happened in 1945,’” she remembers. “And he began crying and told me everything that happened during World War II growing up here as a German American.”
Hagemann turned his memories into a collection of short stories that she titled, Real Prayers Are Said In German.
“It comes from my grandfather,” she explains. “He would say, ‘you will learn your prayers in English when you start school, but the best way for you to honor your heritage is to do them in German in the house.’”
The stories recount the challenges that her father faced from 1943 to 1945. His own father was in a sanitarium dying of tuberculosis and his mother was left to raise three children on her own. It also describes his efforts to combat those troubles by rooting for the Cubs.
“He and his friends, playing like they were the Cubs in the sandlot, helped him through this horrific time,” Hagamenn says. “They were a mantra of hope for him and his sisters.”
Hagemann and director Ryan Mieczyslaw Juszkiewicz shot a fifteen-minute short based on the stories last year. It combines Illinois farmland with pick-up baseball games to create a Field of Dreams meets Stand By Me kind of effect. The proof of concept raised enough funds for them to start on the feature later this year, but there’s always room for more.
Hagemann will host a screening and fundraising event from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow at Dank Haus, the German American Cultural Center in Lincoln Square (4740 N. Western Ave.) She says that the occasion will be “a whole big family event.”
“We’re going to show the short film and have a silent auction with Cubs tickets and other items and Dinkl’s bakery is supplying German pretzels and cookies,” she says. “We’re going to have German music and story-share, where people can tell a story about their heritage or the Cubs.”
The Cubs went all the way to the series in 1945, but lost to the Detroit Tigers. Hagemann says that her father took it like a true fan.
“He was like everybody else,” she says. “‘We’ll get’m next year.’”