• Germany's news in English

The fox nose

The Local · 30 Jun 2008, 11:44

Published: 30 Jun 2008 11:44 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Everybody in a school classroom has a role. There is the clown, the know-it-all, the leader and the bully. Dave Taylor was the magician. He had bottomless pockets out of which he could tug string, horse chestnuts, marbles, bubblegum, a penknife, even a broken crucifix. His most potent treasure was the stink bomb, a glass tube filled with a liquid which when shaken and scattered could make the whole back row of the school chapel choke and gasp for breath.

I thought of Dave (now a senior executive in an oil company) when I entered my garden in Berlin the other day and was almost overwhelmed by a hideous gaseous stench. It was, a knowledgeable friend told me, the urine trace of a fox. The great English poet Ted Hughes, a man of the country rather than the city, described how inspiration entered his brain: “With a sudden sharp hot stink of fox / it enters the dark hole of the head.”

Well, I don’t know about inspiration, but he certainly got that aroma right: the sharp hot stink. Ten or twenty years ago it would have been unthinkable for someone living in the centre of a busy European city to have a fox prowl around the lawn. Now whenever my terrier Mac behaves strangely I know that a wild animal has strayed on to our territory.

Slowly I am getting the impression that animals are filling the gap left by humans. There is the raccoon living in the underground garage of the Park Inn Hotel, which is located on Berlin’s grey and very un-park like Alexanderplatz. Of course, with a ridiculous name for a hotel like that they deserve to have a skunk in their laundry room. Experts say there are now 120 raccoon families in Berlin, most for some reason in Steglitz. Forest owls are now hunting mice in Frohnau, there are badgers in Siemensstadt, and the deer about to enter the mating season will again mess up traffic again on the Koenigsallee. Wild boar are plodding their way through plots of Berlin’s hobby gardeners, massacring legions of plastic gnomes, munching on German flags and sniffing at empty beer crates.

Berlin might have reversed its population decline - Sterbeüberschuss (death surplus) how I love that word! – for the first time since the war in 2007, but the the animal population has been growing for years. It’s a phenomenon that applies to much of the depopulated eastern part of Germany, not just Berlin.

The Prignitz region in Brandenburg, abandoned by humans, is beginning to look like a nature reserve. Wolves are repopulating old Soviet artillery ranges before moving closer to the towns. They are on the move across Europe and the reason is always the same: they sense a change in human behaviour. Why did Italian wolves move across the Alps to France? Because the mountainside sheep farmers in France were allowing their sheep to graze without protection as young men left the villages for better work in the cities.

Well, we don’t yet have wolves on the Ku’damm in Berlin. But we do have foxes. There are some 2,000 in town. Last year, I saw a solitary fox amble down the Schlüterstraße past Ovest (lamb chops €19), past a salon belonging to star stylist Udo Walz, past NU (sirloin steak €18.50), across the Kantstraße and past Good Friends (Peking duck €20 per person).

The post-modern Berlin fox simply has a nose for the rubbish-bins of the rich. Last week I saw another fox trotting down Stuttgarter Platz past the Hanky-Panky bar towards a fashionable Italian restaurant. If I were a property owner there I would raise the rents: there is no surer sign of a district becoming more prosperous than the presence of a fox.

If one implanted microchips in the city’s 2,000 foxes, you would soon establish Berlin social contours. There is no logic in a fox hanging around a poorer district like Neukölln unless it has a Döner kebab habit.

The wealthy in the city – those with the fullest and most rewarding rubbish-bins – are concentrated in ever more narrow strips. In other cities the well-off steadily colonise poorer neighbourhoods, “discover” them, make them fashionable; property prices rise, private spending too.

This is not really happening in Berlin. Neukölln and Wedding – with the exception of a couple of streets – are as impoverished as they were a decade ago. The wealthy in Berlin move – except when they go clubbing – in the same zones as if they were stockaded off from the rest of town. The foxes know this better than most.

Story continues below…

By the way, there is nothing to fear from a fox. Rabies has been wiped out, thanks to immunisation tablets secretly hidden in chicken-heads, or wrapped in fat, fish food and paraffin. As a result the foxes are probably healthier than we are.

My suggestion is this: instead of killing them and making them into amusing fur coats, we should train them to be pets for the rich and the famous; we could upgrade them from the dustbins of expensive trattorias and have them sit peacefully at the feet of their wealthy mistresses. They are already here; why not make them legal?

A pity, only, about the smell.

For more Roger Boyes, check out his website here.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
These are Germany's top ten universities
The new library of Freiburg University. Photo: Jörgens.mi / Wikimedia Commons

These are the best universities in all of Germany - at least according to one ranking.

Introducing Swabians - 'the Scots of Germany'
Photo: DPA

These Southern Germans have quite a reputation in the rest of the country.

Woman sues dentist over job rejection for headscarf
Photo: DPA

A dentist in Stuttgart is being taken to court by a woman whom he rejected for a job as his assistant on the basis that she wears a Muslim headscarf.

Isis suspect charged with scouting Berlin attack sites
Photo: DPA

German federal prosecutors said Thursday they had brought charges against a 19-year-old Syrian man accused of having scouted targets in Berlin for a potential attack by the Isis terror group.

Berlin Holocaust memorial could not be built now: creator
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin. Photo: DPA.

The architect of the Berlin Holocaust memorial has said that, if he tried to build the monument again today, it would not be possible due to rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Germany and the United States.

'Liberal' Germany stopping Europe's 'slide into barbarism'
Ian Kershaw. Photo: DPA

Europe is not slipping into the same dark tunnel of hate and nationalism that it did in the 1930s - mainly thanks to Germany - one of the continent's leading historians has said.

Eurowings strike to hit 40,000 passengers
Travelers impacted by the strike on Thursday wait at Cologne Bonn airport. Photo: DPA.

The day-long strike by a Eurowings cabin crew union is expected to impact some 40,000 passengers on Thursday as hundreds of flights have been cancelled.

Deutsche Bank reports surprise quarter billion profit
Photo: DPA

Troubled German lender Deutsche Bank reported Thursday a surprise €256-million profit in the third quarter, compared with a loss of more than six billion in the same period last year.

US 'warned Merkel' against Chinese takeover of tech firm
Aixtron HQ. Photo: DPA

The German government withdrew its approval for a Chinese firm to purchase Aixtron, which makes semiconductor equipment, after the US secret services raised security concerns, a German media report said Wednesday.

Long-vanished German car brand joins electric race
Photo: DPA

Cars bearing the stamp of once-defunct manufacturer Borgward will once again roll off an assembly line in north Germany from 2018, the firm said Wednesday.

10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd