Homage to a Zookeeper and Thomas Bernhard

By sheer coincidence today I was in Cologne Zoo at the very moment when the 43-year old woman keeper was killed by the tiger, which was approximately midday. In the morning I had noticed the tigers were off at a distance waiting for their food near the tiger-house. Three or four tigers lay in a row flat on their stomachs, looking impatient, their heads fixedly towards the grilles. One of them had a threatening way of jerking its head and tail about. They appeared to be a lively set of tigers, so I planned to return later for a better look. 

When the public was evacuated from the zoo I was in the canteen waiting in line to pay for my bratwurst and potato. There had been a commotion behind the counter. The man who was serving me became distracted. A zoo employee in uniform, apparently senior and known to the caterers, was spreading some news. As I reached the payment point the woman who had been working at the till unaccountably disappeared. She returned several minutes later looking flushed, as though she had been crying or vomiting. 

When the security man arrived and shouted very loudly everybody began moving outside straight away. I could not understand a word. Trying not to spill my tray of food, since I had not had time to find a seat, I followed the crowd. I stopped to ask a young zookeeper, in English “what is happening?” I thought I heard her say "there may be a terrorist outside". She was actually saying “a tiger may be outside”. 

The canteen is near a side entrance to the zoo, next to a fairground. I managed to find a quiet spot where I could balance the food tray on the the tailgate of a pickup truck. Then I heard the sound of the rifle shot. It was a single shot delivered decisively. And silence. A photographer arrived to take photos of the small crowd waiting to be allowed back in to the zoo.

I decided to walk right around the perimeter and back to the front entrance. I wanted still to see the elephants, the topi, and the seals. As I arrived I noticed a small group of journalists move respectfully towards a middle-aged white-haired man in a sleeveless kaki jacket as he emerged from the zoo to speak with them. I watched him shake hands with each journalist.

When the gates were opened again to the public everything seemed normal. But by then I had forgotten about the tiger-house and was thinking only of getting back to work. I did, nevertheless, look at the elephants and the topi. 

The World’s Opinion Page

Help support Project Syndicate’s mission

subscribe now

I learned this evening on the television news that the zookeeper died, and that the man I saw speaking to reporters was Theo Pagel, the zoo director. He himself had shot the tiger dead with one bullet through the skylight of the tiger-house. "Today", he told them, "is surely the most terrible day in my career".

Facts told without deliberation in a style of Germanic fiction.

http://prosyn.org/CBffW6l;
  1. Television sets showing a news report on Xi Jinping's speech Anthony Wallace/Getty Images

    Empowering China’s New Miracle Workers

    China’s success in the next five years will depend largely on how well the government manages the tensions underlying its complex agenda. In particular, China’s leaders will need to balance a muscular Communist Party, setting standards and protecting the public interest, with an empowered market, driving the economy into the future.

  2. United States Supreme Court Hisham Ibrahim/Getty Images

    The Sovereignty that Really Matters

    The preference of some countries to isolate themselves within their borders is anachronistic and self-defeating, but it would be a serious mistake for others, fearing contagion, to respond by imposing strict isolation. Even in states that have succumbed to reductionist discourses, much of the population has not.

  3.  The price of Euro and US dollars Daniel Leal Olivas/Getty Images

    Resurrecting Creditor Adjustment

    When the Bretton Woods Agreement was hashed out in 1944, it was agreed that countries with current-account deficits should be able to limit temporarily purchases of goods from countries running surpluses. In the ensuing 73 years, the so-called "scarce-currency clause" has been largely forgotten; but it may be time to bring it back.

  4. Leaders of the Russian Revolution in Red Square Keystone France/Getty Images

    Trump’s Republican Collaborators

    Republican leaders have a choice: they can either continue to collaborate with President Donald Trump, thereby courting disaster, or they can renounce him, finally putting their country’s democracy ahead of loyalty to their party tribe. They are hardly the first politicians to face such a decision.

  5. Angela Merkel, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron John Thys/Getty Images

    How Money Could Unblock the Brexit Talks

    With talks on the UK's withdrawal from the EU stalled, negotiators should shift to the temporary “transition” Prime Minister Theresa May officially requested last month. Above all, the negotiators should focus immediately on the British budget contributions that will be required to make an orderly transition possible.

  6. Ksenia Sobchak Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    Is Vladimir Putin Losing His Grip?

    In recent decades, as President Vladimir Putin has entrenched his authority, Russia has seemed to be moving backward socially and economically. But while the Kremlin knows that it must reverse this trajectory, genuine reform would be incompatible with the kleptocratic character of Putin’s regime.

  7. Right-wing parties hold conference Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

    Rage Against the Elites

    • With the advantage of hindsight, four recent books bring to bear diverse perspectives on the West’s current populist moment. 
    • Taken together, they help us to understand what that moment is and how it arrived, while reminding us that history is contingent, not inevitable


    Global Bookmark

    Distinguished thinkers review the world’s most important new books on politics, economics, and international affairs.

  8. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Bill Clark/Getty Images

    Don’t Bank on Bankruptcy for Banks

    As a part of their efforts to roll back the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, congressional Republicans have approved a measure that would have courts, rather than regulators, oversee megabank bankruptcies. It is now up to the Trump administration to decide if it wants to set the stage for a repeat of the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008.