Young, German & In Love with W.
Lucio Fontana's Mary

Titanic Sinkings 1: The Theft of the World Cup

Days ago, the new issue of Titanic (German) arrived in my inbox. I will devour it, but carefully - each slim volume is to be treasured. Titanic - the Final Satire Magazine, is the real thing. Raunchy, caustic, epochally politically incorrect, it's easily the funniest publication in Germany. The editors, led by the wiry Martin Sonneborn, are renowned as much for the magazine as for the elaborate pranks they stage, which take a jackhammer to the most vulnerable points in the German psyche. This post inaugurates a new feature: as the blog continues, I will be selecting choice bits from the German satire magazine Titanic and translating them.  Let's call them "Titanic Sinkings."

There is no other place to start but with a crowning moment of Titanic history: Titanic's sabotage of Germany's bid for the 2006 World Cup.

Germany was a finalist, and on 6 July 2000, the final decision was to be made in Zürich, Switzerland. According to an account published later in Titanic ("How Titanic brought the World Championship to Germany: Diary of a Successful Bribery"), the editors, after careful consideration "and a few beers," decided action was needed on July 5, the night before the vote. They sped back to the office, phoned the hotel where the International Football Federation (FIFA) was meeting, and told the flustered receptionist they had "extremely urgent messages" for several members of the committee. The fax messages, signed TDES (the initials of the magazine and its motto in German) and with a phone number underneath, asked the committee members to vote for Germany the next day, and offered them [in English]: "A fine basket with specialties from the black forest, including some really good sausages and ham and - hold on to your seat - a wonderful KuKu clock! And a beer mug, too! Do we leave you any choice?"

Apparently not! The next day, the FIFA committee voted 12-11 to send the Cup to Germany rather than South Africa. The vote was all the more controversial because one member, who had received a Titanic fax, had abstained.  He was actually supposed to have voted for the loser, South Africa, but abstained out of disgust at all the pressure that had been placed on him. England's Channel 4 got a copy of the German bribe letters and phoned the number, pretending to be a FIFA committee staffer and promising to keep the conversation secret. The Titanic editors calmly assured the "staffer" that they had indeed sent the letters, and that TDES was a "committee for bringing the World Cup to Germany." The reporters, incredulous, suggested "obviously it could be interpreted as a form of corruption - as a form of bribery or inducement!" Whereupon Titanic answered, well, it really depends what the committee members wanted in return when they called us: money, or perhaps a Mercedes... To Channel 4's question of whether any committee members really did call, Titanic coyly provided no answer. Finally, Channel 4 sprung the trap: "I am a journalist and I have taken note of the conversation we have had!" Titanic screamed with mock horror: "Oh my God! A journalist! No, no, for God's sake no!"

In the next days, worldwide headlines screamed: "Rotten Stench of Foul Play"; "Did a Hoax cost SA the cup?" "Germans in World Cup Bung Scandal." Titanic editor Martin Sonneborn gives a few interviews; to Reuters he says "I did it for my country!"; asked by the BBC whether the faxes could be interpreted as bribe offers, Sonneborn answers, "Sure, if you're hungry." The diary entry for 10:05 PM on July 6, 2000, reads: "The telephones in the Titanic editing room are ringing without pause. The editors go for a couple beers in Günthersburg Park." Eventually it becomes clear the whole thing was an elaborate prank. The German football federation, incensed, declares it went beyond the bounds of satire, to which Titanic responds that it'll determine where those bounds are, not the "amateurs at the football federation." Britain is the sole exception to the worldwide wave of outrage: "apparently all of Great Britain is in stitches over the bribe fax, especially over the offer of a cuckoo-clock."

Bild, Germany's only mass tabloid, interprets the whole affair as a "nasty trick" against Germany's bid leader, beloved icon Franz Beckenbauer. Bild publishes Titanic's phone number, and invites every German prole to give Titanic a piece of his mind. Titanic records every conversation and message, and prints them in the next issue [I've tried to translate the sloppy grammar, lovingly transcribed by the Titanic editors]:

Caller #1

Caller: They should stop you! It's disgraceful, the way you've toyed with peoples' honor. I'm totally against it!

Titanic: If you want to stop us, go buy all the copies from the kiosk!

Caller: I won't do that! I'll burn them!

Titanic: Buy them all up and then burn them.

Caller: Yes, exactly! Goodbye!

Caller #2

[After insulting Titanic a good long time]: How could you do something like that? You should be punished like a bandit!

Titanic: What are you thinking of?

Caller: That's what I'm thinking of! You should be punished like a criminal, like a murderer!

Titanic: So, prison?

Caller: No, much worse!

Titanic: Chop an arm off?

Caller: Much much worse!

Titanic: Chop an arm and a leg off?

Caller: Leg off? Hell, y'all belong on the chair!

Titanic: On the electric chair?

Caller: Yeah, exactly!

Titanic: But we don't have the electric chair in this country!

Caller: That's a disgrace! Yeah, a disgrace! If y'all were in America, they'd put ya right on the chair!