The Media’s ‘Silly Season’ is Upon us – What the Germans call the Sommerloch

This originally appeared in MunichNOW, which you can find here:

The Media’s ‘Silly Season’ is Upon us – What the Germans call the Sommerloch

We have entered what the Germans call the Sommerloch, which is yet another example of a German word for a situation that we did not even know was needed. Directly translated, this is the ‘summer hole‘, but for some it is more colloquially referred to as the media’s ‘silly season‘.

To fully understand this phenomenon, one first has to understand that many Europeans are on holiday for the entire month of August. Small shops are closed and getting a craftsman to do even the smallest job is inconceivable. Politicians are far away from their constituents, and as a result, there is little traditional news to report . Because these newsmakers are absent, journalists are left to write about topics that would not normally make it into the news.

Several years ago, a lot of both real and virtual ink was spilled to describe Yvonne the wild cow which had miraculously escaped from a slaughterhouse in Upper Bavaria. A few years previously, there was an octopus who could accurately predict World Cup game winners.

One of the most recent examples of such stories we read only last week on the German news site Focus Online. We were alerted to the plans that some Swiss had to annex regions of Southern Germany; culturally and philosophically, the southerners are far more aligned with the Swiss than with Northern Germany, after all.

These feel-good stories would perhaps otherwise be mentioned in the local section of a regional paper, but for a few weeks in the summer they receive unexpected national and even international exposure. Whether this is proper news is debatable at best – and certainly laughable.

In English, we might say that we are having a slow news day. In this case, we have an entire season of it. In Germany, we are right in the middle of the Sommerloch.

the wild cow that kept on giving

the waning of the old year

What happened this last year? Big things, right?

Revolutions? Yeah, we had a few of those. The Greeks have agreed to start paying their taxes in 2011. Oh, wait. Did I speak to soon? I suppose I might’ve.

I guess you could chalk it up to human nature, but the divisions within Europe have begun to rear their ugly heads. To save the common currency (and many experts would say the whole idea of Europe), Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have had more time one on one than those two dudes in Waiting for Godot.

There were evildoers roosted and their bodies thrown overboard. I happened to be in the Land of the Free for that, and the celebrations were more than a little surreal.

There were some serious things that happened this last year. Every time there’s a Neo-Nazi march in Germany and a few hundred people show up scowling and complaining about foreigners, there are ten times as many who show up in the form of an anti-fascist march to show their displeasure. Plenty more to say about this topic, but I’ll save that for the new year and beyond.

See, here’s the thing: I read a lot of news and blogs and I find myself asking what I have to say that’s somehow different. I throw ideas up on twitter, and wait to see what gets traction. What I have to say that people seem to want to hear more about.

As much as I try to talk about serious things, such as the impending death of press freedom in Hungary and other equally important issues, the things I find myself talking the most about are the downright whimsical. By far the most fun I had with a bit of non-news was the story of Yvonne the wild cow.

If you don’t know me on twitter, you might have missed this story. I’m not sure how to convey the full excitement of it in retrospect. I’ll try to encapsulate it briefly.

An Austrian cow was sold and sent to Germany to be slaughtered. Somehow the cow, who was called Yvonne, didn’t like her new surroundings or maybe she got wind of what was to come. Whatever it was, she somehow escaped her confines.

Apparently this is rather unheard of. The stereotype of the cow following the herd and not making trouble is rather accurate. A runaway cow is something they weren’t prepared for. And once Yvonne got used to the taste of freedom, she became quite good at avoiding being caught.

She lived on her own in the wild for quite a number of weeks. Because the media didn’t have much else to talk about, except the entire European currency and banking industry melting down, the cow who refused to go quietly became a cause célèbre.

To be fair, no-one was treating this as real news. Well, no-one but me. For some reason, people on twitter were turning to me for the latest news on Yvonne. I couldn’t take this responsibility lightly. There were a few whimsical weeks of spectacle and intrigue.

Once again, if this is the first you’ve heard of this, I’ll go ahead and tell you how it was resolved. They did eventually locate the bovine who’d gotten a taste of life on the run, and because of the outsized attention, an organisation which cares for older animals volunteered to take care of her for the rest of her days.

At least that’s what they’ve told us. For a while, there was a webcam pointed at her that you could monitor to make sure she was doing well. I should go check that out just to be sure.

What similar sort of story might be given to us in this youthful and baby-faced year of 2012? Well, if I knew that, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun finding out.

a non wild cow