The Lion has Escaped (Der Löw’ ist Los!)

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On the 6th July this year, the lion Franz Wüstenkönig[P1]  from the Beasts of Prey department of the Berlin Zoological Gardens, decided that enough was enough. He broke out.

He did so by cleverly preventing the connection door between his cage and the neighbouring one from closing, with his tail, when the chief keeper Pfleiderer sent him from one to the other, to clean his cage. He waited until the cleaning was finished, and then, roaring his no. 3 roar, leaped upon the unsuspecting Pfleiderer, knocked him out of the way, and made his way to freedom through the open cage door.

The lion has escaped! The terrible news spread like wildfire in the aisles of our beloved zoological gardens. The excitement of the visitors was indescribable. A lot of people left their beer without paying, in the rush, and for a long time afterwards there were queues at the restaurants of the zoo, of honest Berliners trying to pay their bills. Children’s prams fell over and deposited their crying contents on the paths. Elderly ladies, who otherwise only shuffled along slowly, and with difficulty, could suddenly walk so that it was a pleasure to behold. The vice allee was abandoned, and only frightened waiters sat high up among the branches of the trees, with their black-tailed jackets hanging down like the tails of mythical exotic birds. The lion has escaped!

The alarmed people dived  out into the streets, and there as well, they cried deafeningly, “The lion has escaped! And he has taken his exclamation mark with him!“

The effect was terrible. Wüstenkönig was still busy slowly and thoughtfully eating the little sausages hanging in the empty park restaurant, and outside, entire streets were doing handstands. Normal people vaulted as well as they could over kerbs, gutters, dogs, babies, bags, and fat ladies who couldn’t carry on. The less well situated social strata quickly turned the situation to their advantage: they bought cheaply the flotsam and jetsam left behind by people running away and washed up to the kerb, and established a lively trade in it on the street corners. The upper classes, on the other hand, maintained their characteristic calm even here, once they were in their cars. They made sure, prudently and attentively, that nobody climbed onto the car. The cabbies immediately raised their prices eighteen-fold, for the first time in Berlin, without asking the chief of police for permission. There was a terrible noise. In the middle of it all, stiff and proud, stood a policeman, and performed exotic movements to direct the traffic. The traffic stopped to see how it was being directed, and was very proud. It was like in a baptized Jewish school.

The lion Wüstenkönig had finished the sausages in the meantime. He roared for the waiter, but none came. Involuntarily beating out a little tune with his tail, Wüstenkönig went outside. The majestic animal strode gracefully towards the Kurfürstendamm[P2]  exit.

Berlin was shaken up like an ant-hill, All the telephones shrilly rang at once, but they were all wrong connections. The only ones who hadn’t lost their heads were the telephone operators, who cold-bloodedly performed their duty as usual, so nobody got a connection. The reporters thronged in the offices of the major newspapers. „How are we going to get that in the evening edition?“ complained editor Ausgerechnet[1]. „Couldn’t this damn lion have escaped half an hour earlier?“

„Then we’ll produce an extra edition!“ said the publisher Mülvoß. The cry, „Extra edition! Extra edition!“ echoed through the corridors. And the typesetters rattled with their compositor’s tools, and the heavy rotation presses began to roll…

The Stock Exchange took the news of the lion’s escape relatively calmly. (Have you ever seen a news item which the Stock Exchange did not take calmly?) Mining shares firm, spirits slightly stronger, breweries weak, Jakob Goldschmidt [PJD3]  as always, on top, Herbert Guttmann assigned, Hides firm.

A subcommission of the committee of inquiry to investigate its own indispensability was meeting in the Imperial Ministry of Defence when the terrible news arrived. The breakfast, I’m sorry, the meeting, was immediately abandoned. Two General Staff officers, with their support staff, drew up a plan of campaign to tackle the lion, quick sharp, and requisitioned:

2 army corps,

1 press office,

24 extra-budgetary staff officer appointments,

1 canon,

1 armoured car.

The lion Wüstenkönig was now striding, still majestically, as his dear mother had taught him, down the Kurfürstenstraße to Lützowplatz. The streets and squares were abandoned. There was a big lion memorial. The lion sniffed at it bad-temperedly. Then he raised – there’s something there. What was that? Nothing. The lion gave his feelings free rein.

And then he left, and loped in long strides, along the Lützowstraße and through the Potsdamer Straße, and stormed up to a big department store.

He was a gourmand, the lion Franz Wüstenkönig. He fancied a nice, little, crunchy sales assistant for breakfast – such a fresh, young… Oh, dear God! The saliva dripped out of his jaws in loops of appetite, and hung in long threads in his beard… Purring, he lay down and waited.

The authorities had been working feverishly in the meantime. At top speed, as quickly as was possible at that speed, they had established an Imperial Lion Defence department, with a special section for Bavarian lions, and it only remained to be decided whether the department should occupy the entire town hall, or move into the Hotel Adlon.

The German Volks Party was ready, as always. After just half an hour, there were bright blue posters on every column and tree:

„Fellow Citizens!

The lion has escaped!

Whose fault is it?

The Jews!

Vote German Volks Party!“

Life in the city was turned completely upside down. Nobody dared leave their house. Lions were reported in every quarter of the city – sixty-two in total. Eight big dogs were shot. The minor error only being discovered when the dog tags were seen. At Königs, the cook, Babette dropped the tea service, with all the crockery, because the young gentleman of the house kissed her from behind. The virtuous girl collapsed, crying, „Oh, God! The lion!“

The Berlin theatre directors Bindelbands searched desperately for the lion. They wanted him to appear in Shaw’s Androcles. They drove from street to street: no lion. Fire engines rang all around: no lion. The lion had disappeared.

But no, the lion hadn’t disappeared at all. He had got tired of waiting, stood up, and was now strolling through the streets, he saw a cart full of cherries which he, shocked by the high price, knocked over, and then he walked on and on.

So, that was Berlin! This miserable heap of stone boxes and straight, slightly dirty, streets. That was the global village Berlin! The lion shook his head. The sparrows had told him all kinds of tales in his cage, and when in the evening, at feeding time, the cry, “Swoboda!” (freedom, in Russian, the Volapük[P4]  of the animals) went up from the beasts of prey house, in fact from the entire zoo, they all meant, as they had mostly never seen their natural homes, not Africa or Cordillera or India: the cry meant, Berlin! The crocodiles yearned to have just one go on the slide in the fairground. The vultures longed for a visit to the races at Ruhleben. The wild boar wanted to be able to roll around in the bar one time. Day for day. And this here was Berlin? That was it?

Wüstenkönig shook his head again.

And then they came for him. The fire brigade from one side, the alpine army marines from the other, cinema operators and people who had to attend every premiere. Journalists, ladies of the best society, and the Bindelbands… They all came. And a remarkable thing happened: the lion Franz Wüstenkönig, the lord of the jungle, the majesty of the animal world, etc. let himself be led off quietly, back to his cage, in the beasts of prey house in the Zoological Gardens.

And when the door was closed behind him, and the head keeper Pfleiderer had scolded him accusingly, and the whole crowd had disappeared, the disappointed lion lowered his tail, which he had carried gloriously raised the whole time, stretched himself out to his full length, and said, with warmth and conviction, “Never again!”


[1] A joke name, meaning something like ‚Why me?‘


 [P1]Desert King

 [P2]One of Berlin’s most fashionable streets

 [PJD3]Jewish banker

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