Writers and artists from the “Titanic” and “Charlie Hebdo” satire magazines came together at the “ultimate intercultural good will satire massacre”, where French and German satirists sharpened their quills for a conversation on satire and security, and the French sense of humour.
In January 2015, the Western world held its breath as armed Islamists stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The ensuing blood bath catapulted the name of the once relatively unknown French satire magazine into the headlines, and “Je suis Charlie” was on everyone’s lips as a wave of solidarity poured in.
Today the magazine also publishes a German edition. As part of the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair, the Titanic, a German satire magazine, invited editors and one caricaturist from Charlie Hebdo Deutschland – the magazine’s German edition – to take part in a public reading in Frankfurt. While the conversation focused primarily on the attack, the satirists also answered other questions of public interest:
“Only a dead satirist is a good satirist,” or why “Charlie Hebdo” is so well-known in Germany
“Germans ultimately fell in love with the magazine because of the murder of eleven staff members by Islamists angry about caricatures they felt were insulting to Mohammed,” Titanic Editor-in-Chief Tim Wolff quipped. “In what is a dubious badge of honour for satirists here in Germany, a twist on the old Tucholsky maxim: ‘only a dead satirist is a good satirist’.”
The first German edition of Charlie Hebdo with caricatures created by a German-speaking team of graphic artists came out in December 2016. But it strives not to be too German: all the articles are translations from the French, and the German editorial team shares office space with its big brother in Paris.
How is the German edition linked to the attack in Paris?
The solidarity expressed by Germans in the aftermath of the attack provided the impetus for a German edition. The “Je suis Charlie” movement was so strong in Germany that editors saw it as an opportunity to expand the magazine’s readership, Charlie Hebdo Deutschland cartoonist Teresa Habild explained. This sense of solidarity translated into real sales as well: before the attack, only around 1,000 copies were sold in Germany each week, while the “Survivor’s Issue” sold over 70,000.
But are we really safe here at this sold-out event?
As safe as houses it would seem. Police officers patrolled the street in front of the venue, and every member of the audience underwent a through security check. “We sold out just two hours after we talked to the Frankfurt police about the event,” moderator and former Titanic Editor-in-Chief Oliver Maria Schmitt recounted. “So we suspect that the entire audience is composed of Frankfurt police officers and staff. Take note, Frankfurt police officers have an excellent sense of humour.”
How did the attack on their French counterparts affect the “Titanic” editorial team?
Since the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Titanic editors have known exactly how it feels to be under police protection. A team of police officers safeguarded the editorial staff for over a year, with two officers armed with machine guns stationed right outside the front entrance at the beginning. “There was a dentist in our building who asked if maybe the protection detail could lose the machine guns, since going to the dentist is scary enough on its own,” Oliver Maria Schmitt recalled.
Did it raise the “Titanic”’s profile?
It attracted enormous attention, at least in the early days, which was a real learning experience for Tim Wolff: “I had never been that kind of situation before. I gave hundreds of interviews in which I subtly tried to pass on two messages using an old coward’s trick: First, the police are a pretty ok bunch of guys (please protect us). Second, Muslims have a great sense of humour, really they do (please don’t kill us).” His Tweet, “If you shoot at a satirist, you only make our work more relevant”, dominated second place on the Twitter charts for a while.
Did being in the spotlight change anything?
“At the very least, the dialogue created a more thoughtful relationship to satire,” Tim Wolff said. He identified the fundamental problem as a clash of very different cultures brought about by our globalized society. “All the furore around the Mohammed caricatures was based on miscommunication. The Danish and French caricaturists drew Mohammed like they would a head of state or a minister, using the traditional art of caricature they had been taught. Then there was a Muslim community who learned that the Profit is untouchable and that any drawing of him was defamation, regardless of context. This was a culture clash that could only end badly.” Which is not to say that Muslim societies do not understand satire: “This is a problem of the global, this head-on collision between different communities.”
Do the German and French satirists work together?
Oliver Maria Schmitt summed up the long and at times difficult history between the two nations succinctly: “We’ve worked hard on our relationship as arch-enemies for centuries now.” But as to cooperation between the magazines: “The attack aroused our sympathy, of course, but otherwise we really don’t exchange ideas much,” he explained. “By nature, satire markets reference the country they are in. Charlie Hebdo has introduced another competitor to the already tough satire market – though we welcome them as a good sparring partner.”
What typifies the French sense of humour?
Oliver Maria Schmitt and Teresa Habild analysed the Charlie Hebdo cover: “A few genitals combined with religious criticism – always a winning combination.” Former Titanic Editor-in-Chief Hans Zippert had a slightly different take: “The French can illustrate the most complicated political phenomenon with a drawing of two people having anal sex, while Germans always rely on a cow with the word “Europe” written on it.”
Charlie Hebdo’s humour is pretty off-colour and extreme, even for France, as Teresa Habild explained. “We tackled that in one issue. One page featured just chopped-off heads. This is one of the editorial team’s specialities, and they enjoy playing around with it.” In this, they are clearly following in the footsteps of the French Revolution, something Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s disembodied heads would surely have something to say about …
Every October, Frankfurt welcomes the most important event for books, literature and publishing in the world – the Frankfurt Book Fair. Each year, one country is asked to present its culture and literature in a special pavilion, and France is the honoured guest at the 2017 fair. The entire city holds various readings and events in connection to the fair, including the satire reading organized by the Titanic editorial office.