2009 Visiting the Donaldists Of Cologne (Kölner Donaldisten)
(translated from original source: Mark Benecke et al.: ‘The Benecke Universe’ (Das Benecke-Universum)
Militzke, Leipzig, 2011, ISBN: 978-3861898450
Visiting the Donaldists Of Cologne (Kölner Donaldisten)
BY KRISTINA BAUMJOHANN
They’re not that nerdy at all. After the way that Mark had put me in the right frame of mind for the evening ("Tina, don’t be surprised - they’re all complete nerds", "They won’t hurt you"), I had been expecting grumpy, duck-like, non-Donaldist-denying, rather grouchy men. Instead I met some friendly, open and extremely individual people who all had one thing in common: the hapless talking drake from Duckburg.
The meet-up with the Donaldists of Cologne in the cult pub "Weißer Holunder" ("The White Elderflower") almost never happened. It turned out to be the oriental-looking taxi driver’s first day at work in Cologne – or his first day at work full stop. Mark explained where we were going in his well-known manner, i.e. getting on the nerves of the other person by talking as he would to "brainless three-year-olds" *. The taxi driver didn’t understand. He didn’t know the address. Mark suggested he could call his colleagues or the central office on his radio to ask for help. He didn’t touch the radio. Then we asked him to stop at the post box at Chlodwigplatz so we could post something. Chlodwigplatz? We never got there. Instead he drove to "his" post box, held up the busy traffic in a small side street by stopping right across the middle of the road. Mark jumped out of the car to the post box and, as I started to wonder whether the lorry behind us would rev up its engine and slam into the back of the car at full pelt, the taxi driver had lost his temper in true oriental style. After a short detour we arrived at the right address.
From outside, the "Weißer Holunder" pub looks pretty nondescript. So nondescript, in fact, that I can’t give you a description because I don’t remember what it looks like. What I do remember very clearly, however, is how smoke-filled it was inside. Within a very short space of time, I had acquired the lungs of a habitual chain smoker, sticky with grey fumes. My eyes and ears needed just a few seconds to get used to the atmosphere – and then there I was, transported back to the 1960s. The swing music, the pleasant flair of the place and its colourful customers took me on a trip back in time. At the bar elderly gentlemen stood with middle-aged women while office pen pushers played pool at the billiard table. Alternative young parents engaged in enthusiastic conversations about Cologne’s newest organic supermarket while their equally alternatively-named children tried to survive their first asthma attacks. After all, it’s never too early to introduce your child to the burdens of adulthood. Right next to them were the Donaldists of Cologne.
They were sat next to their window with their association pennant, Donaldists’ ring buoy and piles of Donald Duck comics. They were meeting to celebrate Donald’s 75th birthday on the 9th of June 2009. This is the day which the media chose as Donald’s birthday – the duck was actually born on Friday the 13th, which was reflected in his car’s number plate: 313 (13th March). It seems that even back then, the famous drake’s creators had noticed that many people feel inclined to give their cars a personal touch by including things like their initials or date of birth in their number plates. Often, there is a link between the way the car owner drives and the year of birth on their number plate (young people drive at breakneck speeds while old people would be faster if they got out and pushed their vehicles). But it becomes too much when young parents decorate their cars with stickers announcing that "Mikky" or "Laureen" is on board. They are taking individualisation a bit too far if you ask me. Does anybody really want to know what the passengers in vehicle are called, how old they are, whether they’re religious, live like proles, like heavy metal or where they go on holiday? It’s no wonder that some people feel more at home in the parallel universe of Duckburg than they do in this one.
Gradually, about ten more Donaldists trundled in to join the regulars who squeezed up to make room for them as they ate their "halve chicken", Bockwurst sausages and potato salad, chatting cheerfully about the drake’s adventures. I was happy to see that the members of the club are a colourful, mixed bunch. There was Rembert, the walking encyclopaedia of Donald’s antics, who distinguishes himself from the others with a beret and cord suit. Ulrich, whose wife seemed to enjoy herself very much during the last hour of the evening which she spent at the neighbouring table, brought their poodle whose hairstyle could rival Bob Marley’s. Then there was Uwe, the President of Hearts, who is not at all shy about living life as a Donaldist, and commented on a failed attempt to transport a wardrobe in a car with the words "to fail is donaldistic", and Peter, owner of the German investment corporation DEG (Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft), who had no qualms about towing the "Donaldist statue" from the Cologne ethnographic museum into the foyer of his company headquarters. This statue is actually of Quetzalcoatl, a "plumed serpent in the form of the wind god Ehecatl" from the 12th -13th century. Due to its duck-beak-like mouth, this "fertility god" was soon given the status of the Donaldist statue. Of course, here we must not fail to mention that the Cologne forensic biologist was present at the pub. Luckily, and astoundingly enough, the Cologne Donaldists regard him as a member just like any other, without being given any special status – no screaming teenage girls, no trembling housewives, no journalists who talk incessantly. Just peace. For everyone.
At the beginning of the evening, Mark dug a picture out of my handbag which shows Carl Barks, the cartoonist who drew Donald Duck, and Erika Fuchs, who translated the comics into German. He slid the picture into a narrow gap between two piles of Donald comics. It had barely been on the table for a second when the perfectionist of a forensic biologist felt the urge to adjust its position again, and before we knew it the first beer had been knocked over. Everyone hurried to spread beer mats over the pool of beer – a way of soaking up beer which was new to me. A little bit later, the fidgety forensic biologist managed to knock over another beer glass with the help of the picture. The glass was literally decapitated and broken in two. Maybe Erika Fuchs and Carl Barks were sending a sign from the parallel universe of Duckburg that we should raise a glass in honour of Donald on his birthday. This picture reminds me of a story. The picture of these two primordial-Donaldists had been on Mark’s desk for ages. Saskia and I were puzzled that a guy like Mark, who is not much of a family guy, had suddenly put up a photo of his grandparents. It was a nice thought, if a bit weird. We were happy about it. But then he said: "They aren’t my grandparents – it’s Carl Barks and Erika Fuchs." We should have known...
A reporter from the local tabloid newspaper and a young woman from the local radio station had both come to cover the occasion of Donald Duck’s birthday. The Donaldists gushed joyfully about details of Donald Duck’s life and all agreed that his birthday was the perfect occasion to belt out the anthem of D.O.N.A.L.D. (the German Organisation of Non-commercial Devotees of True Donaldism), which first appeared in the Barks comic "The Screaming Cowboy" and was composed by Donald himself. I sat listening with fascination in amongst the old friends as they stood up, solemnly laid their hands on their stomachs or hearts and began singing the anthem – the way Rembert held up a sausage proudly and solemnly while singing was just great:
"Oh bury me thar
With my battered guitar
It is screamin’ my heart out for you."
To finish with there was a quiet murmur of "clap, clap, clap, clap, clap" which was to be heard throughout the whole evening as an expression of agreement or goodwill.
That wasn’t the only rendition of the anthem that evening. When Uwe, the President of Hearts, arrived at the "Weißer Holunder", the remaining Donaldists felt so moved that they sang the anthem again in his honour. It was soon explained to me that Uwe had calculated the electric potential of Duckburg’s electricity supply and – what a surprise – it turned out to be 313 volts. On a TV about the size of a matchbox, a report about the Cologne Donaldists was being shown which had been recorded the day before by Tom, the former master of ceremonies. When it had finished they all put their hearts and souls into singing the anthem again. It was sung for a fourth and fifth time for a video recording made by the local tabloid newspaper.
Throughout the whole evening I kept noticing little curiosities around the "Weißer Holunder", for example the two stuffed owls sitting atop an old loudspeaker. One of the owls had nothing left but its head, which lay on the loudspeaker’s wooden frame, and the other owl was small but complete and was standing up on its tiny feet. The owls’ eyes were lit up. I felt like evil glowing eyes were watching me all evening. When I finally realised I could be sure that the owl’s head wasn’t going come to life, the feel-good factor of the "Weißer Holunder" went up a notch. I sat there with (autograph cards of) Conny Froboes, Peter Kraus, Lieselotte Pulver, Chris Howland, Rex Gildo, Gitta, Drafi Deutscher, Willi Millowitsch and Cardinal Frings. Thanks to the latter, I was able to broaden my almost non-existent knowledge of the history of Cologne - I learnt that there is an alternative German word for "petty theft" which gets its name from the Cardinal - "fringsen". This dates back to his famous New Year’s Eve sermon of 31 December 1946, when he explained to Cologne churchgoers that in times of hardship, everybody has the right to take what they need to survive. The residents of Cologne were d'accord, but nobody heard what he added at the end of his sermon: that you should give back what you take wrongfully in order not to forego God’s mercy. I also learnt that Cardinal Frings and the Cologne Donaldists have something in common – they’re ancient and they’re originally from Cologne. What more do you want?
There was also a metal advertising sign from the petrol station chain "Gasolin" hanging on the wall. On it, a Gasolin employee pointed his finger and warned: "Take your time – don’t take your life". This makes more sense when you know that these signs used to be hung on the back of lorries, but the "Weißer Holunder" could always cite the sign as a reason to be considered as a pub which fights to reduce the suicide rate and which would therefore have a monopoly.
It was refreshing to see that the Donaldists always knew how to relate their own lives to life in Duckburg. For example, when they were eating their "halve chicken" they started talking about mustard guns. If you’re not quite following, here’s a short explanation: "halve chicken" isn’t actually half a chicken – it’s a rye bread roll served with an extremely thick slab of Gouda which is eaten "on" mustard. There appeared to be two strategies for eating it: either you put the entire, thick slab of cheese (!) with all the mustard (!) on one (!) half of the rye bread roll or you use the hard rind cheese knife which comes with the dish to cut pieces of cheese (the question of whether you can butter your "halve chicken" with a hard rind cheese knife was also raised) and eat these with the roll. So that you can follow, I have to give you some more information: in the German translation of "The Custard Gun", Donald Duck goes on a moose hunt in the forest with a mustard gun [a custard gun in the original English] developed by Gyro Gearloose. It isn’t really any wonder that mustard guns are the first things that come to the Donaldists’ minds when they eat mustard, because they generally regard them as "unsportsmanlike". The question of whether there even is any mustard in Duckburg will have to remain unanswered unless the prospect of a mustard gun ban ever comes up in a heated discussion in connection with the debate about whether to ban paintballing.
One of the Donaldists turned out to be a freemason. That means he must live in three different worlds: the real world in addition to two fantasy worlds which are coherent with each other. The difference between the Donaldists and the freemasons is that the latter get promoted and can take part in certain rituals according to their rank, whereas with the Donaldists everyone is equal and although some have special positions such as president or master of ceremonies, these roles do not make them in any way superior to their fellow Donaldists.
I wonder why no women come to the club. As the Donaldists received me very warmly, the possibility that they are misogynistic isn’t plausible. It doesn’t seem to me that Donald Duck is aimed specifically at one sex or the other. Is being a nerd something which is generally more typical of men? Or are there secret girls’ clubs for horse magazine-lovers where women can be found who are just as mad? I’d take the male drake supporters over the female horse-lovers any day.
It has to be said that in general, unusual hobbies do tend to be more common among members of the Y chromosome-bearing-sex (men). Maybe some readers will know the German series "My husband, his hobby and me", which presents husbands with peculiar hobbies and their wives, who are usually at the end of their tethers. The men featured are the kind of people who spend their entire income on building a tank; model train enthusiasts who have turned their whole attic into a gigantic rail network and whose biggest dream is to stage a train accident, or "pilots" who own flight simulators and go on flights to New York, thus spending several hours at a time in the cockpit on "long-distance flights". In comparison with that, a passion for Donald Duck strikes me as likeable and problem-free, as long as they don’t start quacking or wearing prosthetic beaks.
Once a duck always a duck!
* Dear parents, I don’t have anything against your children! After years of experience with all different types of people, it has sometimes proven useful to imagine explaining something to a brainless three-year-old. This is the only way to avoid leaving out any important details.
- More about (the) Donald(ists) GERMAN TEXT
- Schwule EntenhausenerInnen (Radioshow) GERMAN LANGUAGE