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The Troubling Fate of the Karstadt Rabbits

When I’m at the Karstadt department store on Hermannplatz, I visit the rabbits.

The pet section has a surprising assortment of animals: snakes that constrict, fish that look like they have teeth, and birds that claw their cages with razor-sharp beaks. I feel less threatened by Flopsy, Cottontail and Peter.

But do they feel threatened by me?

I don’t have pets of my own, because I can’t take care of them properly. They would be left for long stretches all alone. Looking at my dead kitchen plants, and considering that I manage even to kill cacti, they would definitely starve. It’s much easier to visit the bunnies in Karstadt instead.

Well, until recently, because I am certain that if I am caught in the pet section again, I will be asked to leave.

Here is what happened:

I was visiting the rabbits, who are in low netted boxes, the males separated from the females. I then wonder to myself––as an sociological experiment, I like to tell myself–– whether Germans enjoy rabbit as much as the French. A man I assume works in the pet section passes me and I turn to him and ask in German, but with my strongest French accent:

Bonsoir monsieur. How many do I need for four people?’

‘I’m sorry, sir?’ Entschuldigung, bitte?

‘How many grams are needed for four people?’

The man stops and looks at me with an expression of real shock, and sputters, ‘You want to eat the rabbits?’

Mais oui! but of course, how many do I need? What is the price per kilogram?’

‘They are not for eating’, his face turns a scarlet velveteen, ‘They are pets!’

I put on my most outraged expression, ‘Pets? Impossible! In Germany, you have them as pets? In France, we have them with vin blanc and moutarde!’

After a while, I doubt I can keep it up much longer without either breaking down in tears or laughter. I turn around to spy the door, and then I realise, to my alarm, that I have an audience.

Two little girls who cannot be older than ten stare from the fluffy bunnies to me with a look of profound horror. It’s probably like that moment when, peering at the kids’ menu, they discover where the Wiener Schnitzel comes from. I feel, somehow, I’ve traumatised them by mistake, and that this moment will figure prominently in their adult conversations with psychotherapists. I regret the whole silly game.

I recoil, and, without another word, not even a salut!, I hop to the door faster than any of my furry friends might manage, and recall Thumper’s rule: ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all’.