Essay: In the United States, a president without a pooch would be as unthinkable as Thanksgiving without turkey. But in Germany, “first dogs” have been the exception since World War II. History may offer an explanation.
Everything passes, everything changes. When the final note of the ceremonial military band sounds the end of disgraced Christian Wulff's tenure as President of Germany, the corruption scandal will officially be history. The mood will lighten in Berlin, and in Großburgwedel -- the village northeast of Hanover where Wulff lives – things will return to their characteristic quiet, the way they were before the German media was chock full of details about the many perks Wulff accepted from his wealthy friends.
The political class will concentrate on saving the euro. Journalists will have a field day with veteran soccer coach Otto Rehhagel, who has been nominated by Chancellor Angela Merkel's party as a delegate at the special March 18 parliamentary meeting to choose the country's next president. And celebrity hairdresser Udo Walz, famous for "re-looking" Angela Merkel, will sound off on TV about Joachim Gauck's haircut.
Indeed, many believe that the 72-year-old Gauck, a politician, Protestant minister and former East German civil rights activist, will be Germany's next president.
But now for the really important question: will Gauck keep a dog at Schloss Bellevue, the presidential residence in Berlin? If we pause to consider it, German political leaders don't tend to keep pets. Why not?
Dogs, a measuring stick for civilizations
In the United States, every president owns a dog. He leads it on a leash, or carries it, when he climbs into the presidential helicopter. He plays with it in front of the cameras. An American president without a dog would be as unthinkable as Thanksgiving without turkey.
The only German president to have had a dog was Johannes Rau, who was in office from 1999 to 2004. Of Scooter, his mixed breed Schnauzer, Rau once said: "As a dog he's a catastrophe, but as a human being he's irreplaceable." Rau, it's worth pointing out, was unusual for plenty of other reasons than just his public declarations of love for dogs.
Dogs are not only man's best friend. They are also a measuring stick for civilizations. Societies where pets are frowned upon usually have a problem – for example, wherever cats are eaten and dogs raised for slaughter, human rights tend to be an afterthought as well.
In cultures such as ancient Egypt's, people believed humans and animals were created together. Animals were thus figures of respect and treated accordingly. For the Jews, the seventh day of rest also applied to animals. In some European countries, there are "retirement farms' for animals nobody wants anymore -- and anybody who abandons their dog on the autobahn will receive a more severe punishment than if they'd been caught driving without a license.
The long shadow of "Blondi"
But that still leaves the question of why German presidents don't have dogs. That answer is that "first dogs' awaken unpleasant associations. In a country where some people still start to hyperventilate when they hear the word "autobahn" (because of the association with Hitler, who began ambitious construction projects soon after the Nazis came to power in 1933), any presidential dog, be it a Jack Russell or a Great Dane, would stir up memories of Hitler's German shepherd, Blondi.
There was something particularly disturbing about how Hitler could be so attached to the dog, while at the same time author such horrendous atrocities against human beings. Like her owner, in other words, Blondi casts her own long shadow over German history
But 67 years have passed since the dog was killed with her puppies just before Hitler committed suicide. It's high time we normalized our associations of dogs and political figures. German actor and writer Vicco von Bülow (1923-2011), who went by the name of Loriot, had a famous line: "Life without a dog is possible, but senseless." Only when this becomes commonplace – and German presidents have dogs -- will this lingering vestige of the Third Reich finally disappear.
Read the original story in German
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