Outside the financial pages, the main news story from Germany to feature in the British media this summer was that of Yvonne the cow. Yvonne escaped from a Bavarian farm in May and spent over three months defying increasingly ingenious attempts at capture. Finally, with a smart bovine eye for the end of the silly season*, she allowed herself to be recaptured on 1 September, and will now live out her days in an animal sanctuary.
A German story which hardly featured at all in the British press (here's an exception) was the death of "Loriot", the pen and stage name of Viktor von Bülow. You may be thinking "who?", but if you've spent any significant length of time in Germany you’ll probably be familiar with the pseudonym – or at least with Loriot's distinctive cartoon figures, often of plump, rather melancholy-looking, spud-nosed men.
But Loriot was not just a cartoonist, but also a writer, director and performer; he directed and starred in two successful films and made a series of TV shows which have become classics. He coined catchphrases which echo through the obituaries in the German media, and his characters such as Wum the dog (dogs were a constant in both his life and his cartoons) and the "Stone Louse" also remain household names. The latter, created for a spoof nature documentary, was later included as a joke entry in a standard German medical dictionary; its removal in 1994 led to an outcry and its hasty reinstatement.
Although he became a national treasure, Loriot first came to prominence with something of a scandal. A series of cartoons for Stern magazine in the early 1950s, "Auf den Hund gekommen" ("Gone to the Dogs"), showed a world where the roles of human owners and canine pets are reversed and were condemned by readers as "disgusting" and "a degradation". But Daniel Keel, who had recently founded the publishing firm of Diogenes in Zurich, had sufficient faith to publish the cartoons in book form. Loriot remained loyal to Keel and his firm for the rest of his life.
Auf den Hund gekommen is the only one of Loriot's works which I can find that has appeared in English (Dog's Best Friend, London, 1958; BL 012332.a.51). Perhaps British audiences were as shocked as German ones and wanted no more, or perhaps it’s just that humour doesn’t always travel well. Indeed, many Brits tend to think that humour is completely lacking from the German psyche, and would consider "Germany’s greatest comedian" (as Loriot was voted in 2007) a contradiction in terms. You can find some of his sketches on the Internet (some are even available with English subtitles) and make up your own mind.
Differences in humour aside, it's difficult for a non-German to fully appreciate or explain Loriot's significance; I feel a bit presumptuous to be writing about him at all. But I hope I'm right in saying that he was a man who would have seen the funny side of being less interesting to the British public than a runaway cow.
* And thanks to Yvonne I now know that the German word for Silly Season is Sommerloch – literally "summer hole".