The Monkey Cage (Affenkäfig)

TuchoGesternMorgen

The monkey (of the public): „It’s a good thing they’re all behind bars!“ The old Simplicissimus

In Berlins zoological garden, monkeys from Ayssinia are locked in a cage, in front of which the visitors make fools of themselves, every day, from nine in the morning until six in the evening. Hamadryas Hamadryas L. sits quietly in the cage and must think that human beings are a childish and somewhat stupid bunch. Because they are monkeys of the old world, they have calluses on their posteriors and pouches in their cheeks. You can’t see the cheek pouches, but the calluses are a flaming red colour. It is as though each monkey were sitting on an Edamer cheese. The monkeys live in a huge cage, which can be seen into well from three sides. If you stand at one side, you can see right through to the other side: bars, then monkeys, then bars again, and behind them the visitors.

There they stand: Daddy, Mummy, and the baby. Fresh, after a good night’s sleep, in their Sunday morning best, and with flared nostrils. They are slightly amused, with a mixture of curiosity, rational superiority, and a portion of well-meaning derision. Theatre matinee: the monkeys are to perform for them. Above all, a particular activity.

At first it’s all quiet in the monkey cage. The animals are sitting around in the high branches, on their own, in pairs, sometimes in threes. Up there is a married couple, two creatures absorbed in each other. Wrapped in each others’ arms, they each listen to the heartbeat of the other. Some are de-lousing each other. The self-satisfied expression in the faces of those being de-loused has a surprising similarity to soaped-up gentlemen at the barber’s. They are dignified, and approve entirely of the good work which is being done to them. The de-lousers search, quietly and surely, they comb the hair carefully back, feel, and sometimes put their quarry into their own mouths. One is squatting on the floor, prehistoric man at the fire, shovelling nutshells into himself with long arms. One slides up to the bars at the front and sits down in front of the visitors, with a self-satisfied expression. Now he’s in the theatre, he makes himself comfortable. So… Let the show begin!

It begins. Frau Dembitzer appears, absolutely convinced that the monkey has been waiting since seven o’clock in the morning for her to go, “Zi, zi, zi!” to him. The monkey looks at her with a sublime expression. Frau Dembitzer is infinitely superior. So is the monkey. Herr Dembitzer throws some crumbs at the monkey’s nose. He gathers them up, sniffs at them, and slowly puts them in his mouth. His hard, wrinkled peasant mouth moves. Then he looks around serenely. The Dembitzer child tries to annoy him with a stick. The monkey is suddenly six thousand years old.

There must be something happening over there. The expressions of the spectators are lecherous and full of anticipation. Their eyes have become small and shiny. The women dither between repulsion, horror and a feeling: nostra res agitur[1]. What is going on? The monkeys at the other side have begun to subject each other to a stimulating ocular inspection. The game they are playing is not mah-jongg. The spectators are indignant, amused, excited, and pleasantly entertained. A slight frisson of guilt makes its way through the crowd, everyone feels it. „Mummy! Says a child very loudly, „what is that red string that that monkey has?” Mummy doesn’t answer. Dear child, that red string is the common thread through the entire history of the world.

The monkeys have come to life. The scene is like a family day at the seaside. They move around, touching each other, bumping into each other, feeling their own and others’ limbs. Two little ones run away screaming, round and round. A bearded councillor discusses the problems of the day gravely with a lecturer. An abandoned female monkey watches the activities of her ex, attentively. A young monkey is speaking to his publisher. The publisher cuts his royalties in half, accompanied by vigorous arm and leg movements. Two majority social-democrats have become pragmatic and realistic; they look upon the young ones with disapproval. They will shortly arrive at a compromise. Two monkeys are discussing a secret known only to themselves.

The spectators are slightly disappointed because there is not much indecency. The monkeys, on the other hand, don’t seem to be disappointed by the spectators at all. They probably don’t expect any more from them. If we only had decent revue theatre instead of boring arenas full of ripped-off tricks: what a revue sketch that would be!

Apes from Gibraltar used to live in the huge cage. Big, dark, hairy fellows, bigger than men, with huge, old nigger[2] faces. A mother had a baby which she always held to her breast. A Black Madonna. They all perished. The climate probably didn’t agree with them. They are not the only ones who can’t stand this climate.

I wonder if the apes have a president? And a Reichswehr[3]? And senior district court councillors? Maybe they did have all of that in distant Gibraltar, and now they have perished because it was all taken away from them, because no self-respecting ape can live without them.

[1] It has to do with us

[2] It would not be appropriate to clean up the terminology for contemporary sensibilities

[3] Army

Author: Kurt Tucholsky

Published in:

TuchoGesternMorgen Tucho Between Yesterday and Tomorrow

TuchoReader Tucholsky Reader

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