For three years in the 18th century England fought Spain. Spanish coast guards had sliced off the ear of a sea captain. It was put into a jar and held up in the British parliament; that was the start of what became known as the “War of Jenkins’ Ear”.
Now we have a similarly sensitive case. Zoodirektor Bernhard Blaszkiewitz stuck his finger in the monkey cage and had it bitten off by the chimpanzee Pedro.
It could be that Pedro thought it was still asparagus season and confused Blaszkiewitz with Beelitz. Or it could be that he was getting ready for that annual festival of good taste, Gay Night at the Zoo. Or – and one would have to be naïve to rule out this possibility – it could be that 28-year-old Pedro is in the pay of Neumünster Zoo. The conspiracy theory among us zoo-watchers is that Neumünster is plotting to have more and more limbs of Blaszkiewitz bitten off by animals bribed with bananas and peanuts until there is not enough of the Zoodirektor left to defend Knut. One could call it the Armin Meiwes strategy.
The battle for Knut is the most interesting spectacle in Berlin. Unlike the European elections, the story has passion, money, thwarted love and now, thanks to Saint Bernhard’s poor finger, pain. Those who follow court cases will know that Neumünster Zoo is arguing that Lars, father of Knut, was loaned to Berlin. The deal was that Neumünster would receive the first born cub, then the third-born, then the fifth-born. Berlin could keep the rest; the number twos, the fours and the sixes. Since no female in her right mind (note: Knut’s mother was an Ossi) would sleep with Lars, an ursine psychopath, the deal looked like a good one for the Neumünsteraner. Now it wants cash, or Knut.
But, of course, there would have been no Knut if Blaszkiewitz (who had ten fingers at the time) had not decided to save his life and allowed Thomas Dörflein to become a foster-father. Above all, Knut would not have become an international cash machine if the Berlin boulevard press had not made a hero out of him. Vulnerable, rejected by his mother, eternally hungry and in desperate need of applause he was the four-legged version of a boulevard reporter. No wonder that the BZ took Knut to its heart. Imagine if Knut had been born in Neumünster – he would have made, perhaps, Page 14 of the local newspaper in between the Golden Wedding Anniversary of Herr and Frau Klopstock, and an advertisement for double glazed windows. Certainly no-one would have come up with the idea of re-inventing Neumünster as Knut-City.
And this is the point: the Berlin boulevard press has a transformational power that is not seen in any other German city. We may think that BZ is in the hysteria-business but that is to misunderstand the paper: when it makes Blaszkiewitz’s finger the top story for two days in a row, it is staying true to its tradition of making a spectacle out of the capital. In 1906, when the murderer Rudolf Hennig was eluding police for weeks at a time, BZ am Mittag produced day-by-day, minute-by-minute accounts of the police hunt. It was brilliant at train crashes, suicides and daylight robberies. A city as heavy, as concentrated on power, as Berlin needs sensation and a sense of theatre.
The boulevard understood quickly that the Zoo was an integral part of city life, from impotent pandas to depressed hippos. What we need now is for the boulevard to turn its gaze on the political bestiarium. The election turnout shows that politicians have become virtually invisible. Berlusconi has his girls, Brown has his expenses scandal, but German politicians are determined to stay in hiding, emerging only to appear in talk-shows. In this they resemble the gnus who sleep all day and show themselves to the public only at feeding time. Bild is now in Berlin, BZ sowieso: Why aren’t they digging up scandal and sensation about our leaders? Where are the mistresses, the drunken indiscretions? Thanks to the boulevard Blaszkiewitz and the Zoo are permanently in our consciousness. Now is the time to do the same for the Bundestag. If necessary – stick a few of them in the monkey cage. Perhaps they will lose their Vorzeigefinger. And we will lose our Politikverdrossenheit.