Charlie Hebdo in bid to find German funny bone
There are no prizes for guessing whose face features on the poster for the first German edition of Charlie Hebdo which will appear on newsstands in Berlin and Vienna on Thursday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel will be pictured in a moment of quiet contemplation reading the satirical weekly on the toilet.
“Charlie Hebdo, the newspaper that relaxes,” the legend reads.
The irreverent French phenomenon, which was the victim of a bloody jihadist attack in January 2015, hopes to continue its renaissance with a German version of its provocative mix of no-holds-barred cartoons and biting satirical columns.
Germans bought 70,000 copies of Charlie Hebdo’s “survivors’ edition”, which appeared one week after last year’s massacre in the magazine’s Paris offices, and its already sells 1,000 copies a week of its French edition there.
Its editor the cartoonist Riss — who was shot in the shoulder during the attack — has been working on a German-language version for six months.
He has also drawn the poster for the first issue with Merkel resplendent in pink reading a Charlie Hebdo which wonders whether she would be able to govern both Germany and France at the same time.
The cover she is holding on her throne is one originally drawn by the weekly’s murdered former editor, Charb, who was gunned down in the attack in which 12 people died.
“I always thought that we would be able to export Charlie Hebdo,” Riss told AFP.
“There is a real curiosity in Germany about what we are doing, which is not the case for instance in Britain, Spain or Portugal,” he added.
– Freedom to attack religion –
Its 200,000-copy launch in Germany is certainly ambitious — almost the same number as are printed in France every week.
“Unfortunately lots of people outside France discovered Charlie Hebdo because of the attacks when it is supposed to be a magazine that makes you laugh,” Riss said.
And the cartoonist said he was wary of the weekly’s 46-year history being reduced to the attacks.
“It is true that an important aspect of our editorial identity is our attachment to the freedom to criticise religion, but Charlie Hebdo in not just that,” he insisted.
“If we succeed in developing a readership abroad, we are also making allies,” said Riss, whose real name is Laurent Sourisseau.
“Those allies will help us get our message out and be understood,” he added.
Despite its many fans and supporters, Charlie Hebdo has never had a shortage of enemies.
It first became a target of Islamist extremists after publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Most Muslims consider portraying the prophet in images to be blasphemous. But it also regularly outrages Christians, drawing criticism from the Vatican, as well as from the French political establishment.
– ‘Tactless’ –
Nor did its humour go down well in Italy after the town of Amatrice was devastated by an earthquake in August. Its “macabre and tactless” pasta-themed cartoons on the quake, including one portraying victims crushed under layers of lasagna, prompted the town to sue.
Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano was even more forthright in his fury, telling the cartoonists where they “could stick their pencils”.
Charlie Hebdo is keeping under wraps which German sacred cows it will take to the slaughter.
Its 16-page German version is mostly a translation of the French edition but with some content written specifically for a German audience.
Riss said he hoped it would inspire young German cartoonists to dare to start drawing for it.
But such are the security concerns that the edition’s young female editor — who heads a 12-person team — is working under a pseudonym, Minka Schneider.
“Our biggest challenge isn’t German humour,” she said, “it is that the cartoon culture (from which Charlie Hebdo comes) doesn’t really have an equivalent here.”
Germany already has two major satirical monthlies, Titanic and Eulenspiegel, but their humour is different to Charlie Hebdo’s, she said.
Riss is realistic about the German edition’s long-term prospects. “It’s a test, an experiment” but he argued that the magazine’s brand of humour was “universal”, with part of its website already available in English.
Nevertheless, he admitted that often foreigners didn’t how to take the magazine’s often vicious edge.
“Charlie Hebdo is kind of an extra terrestrial… its humour is a little cynical, disillusioned. There is a pessimism in our drawings but we try to laugh about it,” he said.