Some might say this is a dog-eat-dog world. It definitely is sometimes (or, unfortunately, more often than not) in the Ellenbogengesellschaft of the Federal Republic of Germany where many people schauen nur nach deinem eigenen Arsch (only look after themselves, or literally, only care about their own … behind). It is easy, especially in these times of Verstädterung (urbanization), to become a victim of Vereinzelung–to not fit into a (new) environment, to lack personal relationships. The reasons are manifold. Some people have a tendency to be an Einzelgänger (lone wolf). At other times, it is personal Schicksale (fates) that force one into such a situation: becoming arbeitslos (unemployed), for example, has a certain stigma, makes people self-conscious, they lack money for activities which they had had before, which can lead to not participating in social contacts as much anymore, und so weiter (etc.). The death of a spouse, especially at an older age, is another situation. Add to this the decline of traditional social networks: being part of a local-bound Großfamilie (extended family) in a small village makes it easier to become aufgefangen–to have people who are there for you in times of need to pick you up and help you out–than living hundreds of kilometers away from your Kernfamilie (nucleus family) in a Mehrparteienhaus (multidwelling unit) where no one really knows anybody else who’s living there. Who, then, is often der beste Freund des Menschen (man’s best friend)?
Ah, Germans and their dogs. Surely in the mind of many, the name “Blondi” pops up. No, not Debbie “Blondie” Harry, but Adolf H.’s favorite Deutscher Schäferhund (German Shepherd), perhaps the quintessential and stereotypical German dog breed, a breed so dangerous that it had to be renamed “Alsatian” in English-speaking countries during World War One (are you still eating liberty cabbage? Or liberty fries?). The Schäferhund conjures up images of almost rabid dogs patrolling barbed-wire fences, being held on a leash either by a Sergeant Schultz type or a fierce-looking SS guy. The Schäferhund, almost as evil as Pickelhauben (spiked helmets) and Stahlhelme (German-style steel helmets). To the Nazi-era Germans of yore (as well as many of their prede- and suc-cessors), the Schäferhund symbolized pure-bred Germanness, loyality, agility, intelligence, and that certain aggressiveness needed to … contain criminals? Guard homes/property/prisoners/borders (against communists/capitalists/Republikflüchtlinge (“desertes from the German Democractic Republic”)/refugees? In any case, from the Kaiser era to the Nazi era, from the days of the intra-German border to today’s G20 protests, Fußball games, and Polizeikontrollen (police stop-and-search), the Schäferhund has held a dear place in the hearts of Germans (or their Exekutivgewalt, the executive). Although most Schäferhunde today are not “German” but Belgian Shepherds (Malinois), but anyways …
The German Shepherd is also typical for the German fascination with perfection. It is a dog breed, a Hunderasse (there it is, the bad “R” word, but in this case it is still politically correct to use it–or is it?), and dog breeds need lots of thought, trial and error, vision, and so on and so forth to reach the ideal. Although this “ideal” often comes with certain Nebenwirkungen (side effects) or even abominations. The German Sherperd, for examle, is known for its tendency to develop hip dysplasia–I mean, what do you expect from a dog that is bred to look like there’s an invisible 100 kilogram weighing down on his hind legs? Even in Germany, not everything is perfect (as if it ever was anywhere).
Der Deutsche Schäferhund is not the only breed to carry deutsch in its name. There is also the Deutsche Dogge (Great Dane–another example for an English-world name change) or the Deutsch-Drahthaar (German Wirehaired Pointer: complicated name, beautiful breed [I am quite partial in this regard], but kind of unknown among many people–although it is one of the most common [hunting] dog breeds in the Land of Deutsh). What they all have in common, except for the Deutsch and their “German” origin, is that their breed descriptions could also be read as the advertisement for would-be-SS members: “He has an attentive and energetic look. His movements are forceful, loping, fluent, and harmonic.” (Translation of the description of the German Wirehaired Pointer).
While many Germans love their dog races, I mean breeds, and are willing to pay accordingly for a pup from a kennel (from “experts” for “experts”), many prospective Hundebesitzer (dog owners) opt for a Hund from the shelter. Although German animal shelters are full of dogs (and cats and bunnies and hamsters and so on), many get a Straßenhund (stray dog) from their Urlaubsreise (vacation), preferably Bundesland number 17, Mallorca (or Spain in general). Or they import stray dogs from Romania or the Balkans. It seems there’s a whole industry (if that’s the correct term–at least it’s a kind of Bewegung, a movement) devoted to saving dogs from the conditions in these countries. Sure, these conditions are horrible (and could be likened to how Germans dealt with Untermenschen some 70 years ago–but then, Adolf himself was also more a friend of dogs than of humans), but for some Germans their rescue missions seem to have taken on the form of a crusade. Which makes me wonder why they don’t kehren vor der eigenen Haustür (look after conditions right in front of them) …
And cleaning up after your doggie-dog is a must-must, at least officially as regulated by German political Gemeinden (municipalities). Hundekacke (dog poop) is more often than not the Zankapfel, the (wait for the pun) bone of contention between Hundehalter (dog owners) and Hundehasser (dog haters). I mean, no one wants to step into a warm pile of dog shit (at least I hope so). Unfortunately, in rather urban areas, it is kind of hard to find a “natural” place for canine nature’s relief, so the Hundekottüte (a “doggy bag” for doggy’s crap) is a helpful device, one that is often even provided via public dispensers. But in the same way that dogs leave their manifold marks, much to the chagrin of a good number of proud garden owners whose flowers and Jägerzäune (those criss-cross spiked wooden fences you often find in Germany) are rotting away because of our best friends’ aggressive urine, they also like to gib Laut (make noise)–read/hear: bark. Officially, dogs can bark for half an hour a day (am Stück–in one piece–or accumulated?) or so, but I have yet to see the bitch (Hündin) or Rüde (male dog) that looks at their watch and says, “okay, enough barking for day” (not even cats are that intelligent). This way or another, it is zuviel, just too much for the Hundehasser, and it seemingly “forces” them to turn to more dire means–as for example, putting glass shards or razorblades or even poison in sausages and leaving that “bait” in much-dog-frequented areas. At least post shared by some of my facebook friends tell me so (“Warning! Hundeköder (dog bait) found in this-and-that locale!”, followed by exasperated comments that in tone are similar if not equal to that of dog haters).
But to come full circle (when you Gassi gehen, take the dog for a walk, you also have to return home at some point), dogs play a highly important role for the lonely. For some, it seems, a dog (or dogs) are an Ersatzkind, substituting for the child they never had. But this is an extreme. More often than not, a dog is a person’s companion, their best friend. A dog is loyal (which, as most of us humans can attest to, people are often not) and it is there for you, licking your face when you wake up in the morning, wagging its tail when you come home, appreciating Streicheln (being petted), and getting their Fresserli (dog food) and Leckerli (dog treats). A dog might not be as “clever” as a cat, but then cats only care for humans because they can’t open cat food cans themselves. And a dog an also be an icebreaker: those who own a dog know that meeting other dog owners on the way often turns into a nice little chat. And sometimes it is a nice little chat that is needed in a dog-eat-dog world.