So Berlin’s lioness on the loose turned out to be a wild boar. It only took us 30 hours to transition from acute Gefahrenlage (imminent danger) to finger-pointing at the costly operation.
Two hundred officers with machine guns and thermal-imaging cameras, accompanied by vets and dogs, had combed through the south-western parts of the capital and Brandenburg, supported by helicopters and an armoured all-terrain vehicle. Amidst the excitement, reporters, with or without east Africa experience, advised against wearing light colours (easily spotted by predators), while anxious pet owners kept their sausage dogs inside.
The suburban safari was sparked by a blurred video snippet showing a big furry something behind equally big bushes combined with claims of a roaming Großkatze (big cat) in the neighbourhood. However, news of a lion’s roar sounding through the trees was eventually debunked and attributed to teenagers with Bluetooth speakers (and, allegedly, booze).
So, alas, more and more experts cast doubt on the fuzzy image and a professional tracker found no traces of a lion. “All tips have not been confirmed,” the squad leader said, calling off the search and leaving me a little melancholic.
The lion frenzy had lasted for only two days!
I miss the days of silly season – our Sommerloch (summer hole) or Saure-Gurken-Zeit (pickled gherkin time) – when news took a proper holiday and non-news would entertain us for weeks.
Take the forklift-truck driver who took his 1.5-metre-long pet, Sammy, a spectacled caiman, out for a stroll around a quarry pond in 1994. The animal broke free from its dog-leash and threw itself into the lake. This then was closed for swimmers, while police, fire brigades and media were on high croc-alert. A diver found a hypothermic Sammy, who spent his final years in a local zoo, while his owner was quoted saying: “In retrospect I have to admit it was a stupid idea.”
A few summers on, Kuno, the Killer-Wels (killer catfish), made world news. The huge fish from Mönchengladbach (again, near Düsseldorf) was accused of dragging a dachshund puppy into the water and devouring it. Packs of anglers went on a catfish-quest, in vain. Years later a 1.5-metre-long catfish was found dead (of natural causes) – and today, the stuffed Kuno can be admired in a local museum.
The same goes for stuffed Bruno, formerly known as der Problembär. In the summer of 2006 he illegally immigrated from Austria to the Bavarian forests. The New York Times wrote: “Mr Bruno is having a picnic, but he’s no teddy bear”. He got too close to villages and was shot.
That same year’s silly season saw romance, too: Petra, a black swan from a Westphalian lake, fell madly in love with a swan-shaped white pedalo, 10 times her size. The relationship lasted for a year and a half, when Petra found a more lively boyfriend.
I could reminisce about the cow called Yvonne doing a bunk at the abattoir.; snapping turtle Lotti from Bavaria; and a monocled cobra in the Ruhr region, chasing 30 residents out of their block of flats for a week. But it wasn’t just animals: for 16 years Angela Merkel went to the same Italian hotel that offered the same perfect paparazzi angle. You could also be sure that a backbencher, usually a Green, would come up with a ban of sorts that would enrage all non-Green voters (currently 87% of us).
This year, a proposed ban on commercials for sugary and greasy products on children’s programmes could hit Nutella and Gouda, but still the story is not really gaining traction. Because nowadays the news cycle isn’t running idle any more, and it hasn’t for years.
Our Sommerloch is sadly filled with relevant yet cheerless news. Covid, long Covid, Mad Vlad, inflation, migration, an energy crisis and AfD soaring.
That’s why I was so grateful for the Berlin lioness. I had already dreamed up a Tiger King-like Netflix series. And I haven’t given up hope. Difficult as proving that there never was a lion might be, the police report that “all tips have not been confirmed” honestly doesn’t prove anything. Nor do expert sketches comparing a lion’s alleged back bone to that of a boar.
When I read that the hind leg on the video snippet was “too fat” to be that of a lion I couldn’t help wondering whether body shaming is OK now for animals. And if the same experts speak of an “unusually blonde boar” on the video, who’s to say it couldn’t be an unusually obese lioness? After all, woods in Berlin and Brandenburg are brimming with tasty treats for big cats. Happy hunting!