Portnoy's Stammtisch

Making like the Easter bunny in Berlin

Making like the Easter bunny in Berlin
Photo: DPA
In the latest dispatch of Portnoy’s Stammtisch, The Local’s column about life in Germany, Portnoy explains why the German-invented Easter bunny is an appropriate symbol in a country where the birth rate is tanking and succesful families with children are scorned.

It turns out the Easter Bunny is a German invention, just like everyone’s favourite mythical beast – Santa Claus. After his birth sometime around the 17th century, the magical lagomorph was transported across the Atlantic on the backs of Germans who became the technology-deprived Pennsylvania Dutch. And, as with Santa, the American marketing machine then made him a celebrity. This isn’t according to any in-depth journalism or interviews with doctorates in holidays, I’m just going on what Google Answers and Wikipedia have to offer – and it sounds believable enough.

The story’s been the same for four centuries – a bunny sweeps through in the night, pumping out coloured eggs, Milka chocolates and (if you’re in North America) marshmallow chicks. His nocturnal emissions complete, the rabbit hooks up with the Tooth Fairy for a quick beer and a smoke before returning to wherever it is he came from (according to the myth, the Tooth Fairy makes a hasty retreat after a single beer since she has to work the next day).

The symbolism and timing of the holiday are hard to ignore. For Christians, Easter is about the resurrection of the second of their three gods. Jesus awoke in a cave awhile ago and then went out and granted everyone a three-or four-day weekend (depending on where you live). The Easter Bunny and eggs were added later but keep with the renewal theme of a time of year when trees blossom, seeds sprout and everyone’s eyes begin itching with hay fever. Easter Bunnies are perfect symbols because – as we know – they mate like rabbits and eggs, well, eggs are what egg-laying creatures get from mating like rabbits.

Really, it’s a fertility holiday.

Which is just what Germany needs right now. Despite all the celebration of Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen’s policies, this week we discovered they are all for naught – last year the country spawned just 675,000 new Germans, 1.1 percent fewer than in 2007. And that’s compared with the 844,000 who relocated to the afterlife. Funding our fat pensions is going to be tough if there are fewer Germans to shoulder the burden.

This drop in the birth rate makes me all the more surprised about becoming the latest Feindbild (the person everyone loves to hate) in Berlin. I have a job. I have a wife. I own my loft. And – and this is apparently the inexcusable part – I have two kids and live in Berlin’s trendy Prenzlauer Berg district. Apparently, just by having all these things, I am infringing on everyone else’s rights. I’m not sure how since I seem to be on the streets hours before anyone else and have to retreat to read stories and dole out baths before the rest of the city is even thinking about dinner. I (or my ilk) are such a reviled species that we even won a Feindbild poll held by weekly rag Zitty.

It’s gotten so bad that an ex recently railed on about these awful people (“They think their lives are fulfilled just because they have kids!”) over beers, not seeing any irony in the fact that she’d just shown interest in my offspring moments before. And last night, a friend attacked my wife at a favourite pizzeria, blaming the global financial crisis on the selfishness exhibited by everyone in Prenzlauer Berg – again embarrassing since we actually share a wall with him … in Prenzlauer Berg.

Since my life is pretty good at the moment, I can handle the criticism, but I’m planning on making the retiree with no kids a Feindbild at the retirement home we’ll share near Mauerpark in 30 years. And they can just forget about playing Easter Bunny for my grandkids. That’s a pleasure reserved only for parents – in Prenzlauer Berg or elsewhere.

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