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Some put Chancellor Angela Merkel on a pedestal, but French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo placed her on a toilet seat in seeking to conquer Germany with its provocative brand of humour.
The magazine hit German newsstands Thursday — its first foreign-language edition, an innovation undertaken nearly two years after its staff was almost wiped out in a deadly jihadist attack in Paris.
Known for its biting cartoons and commentaries, the no-holds-barred publication launched in Germany with a poster showing Merkel sitting on a porcelain throne and reading the weekly, with the slogan: “Charlie Hebdo — it’s liberating”.
Cartoonist and publisher Laurent Sourisseau, better known by his artist’s name Riss, who was badly wounded in the January 2015 attack, believes there is a market.
“Humour is everywhere, even in Germany,” he told public broadcaster ARD.
“It’s an experiment for us to publish Charlie Hebdo in another language and try to find new fans for the magazine who can help defend it.”
Charlie Hebdo is now produced in a secret location, a legacy of the massacre at its former offices that claimed 12 lives, including some of France’s best-known cartoonists.
The German version will be edited from France by a 33-year-old from Berlin who on the advice of her colleagues uses a pseudonym, Minka Schneider.
Schneider, speaking to Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily, recalled that the “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) solidarity movement was especially strong in Germany, where the magazine sold 70,000 copies of its “survivors’ edition” one week after the shootings.
‘Subtle as a steamroller’
Despite its many loyal fans and supporters in France, Charlie Hebdo has never had a shortage of enemies.
It became a target of Islamist extremists after publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, seen as an act of blasphemy by many Muslims, but has also delighted in outraging the Vatican and the French political establishment.
It angered many with a cartoon of Syrian refugee boy Aylan Kurdi, who was photographed dead on a Turkish beach in 2015, by imagining he would have grown up to join the “arse-gropers” who committed mass sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany last New Year’s Eve.
Charlie Hebdo’s German version, with an initial 16-page edition and print run of 200,000, will consist mainly of articles and cartoons translated from the French, but its editors plan to create German content.
The first German edition features a sober four-page graphic travel reportage by Riss, which portrays people he met and their reflections on their national identity, Germany’s refugee influx and other social issues.
The cover asserts that auto giant Volkswagen, hit by its emissions cheating scandal, “stands behind Merkel”, showing the chancellor lying atop a hydraulic ramp, with a mechanic commenting that “with a new exhaust, she’ll be good to go another four years”.
German media mainly greeted warmly the launch of Charlie Hebdo, which will compete with homegrown monthlies Titanic and Eulenspiegel, the local counterparts to Britain’s Private Eye and US site The Onion.
The Frankfurter Rundschau daily judged that, although the proudly tactless Charlie Hebdo regularly takes a running leap across the boundaries of good taste, its appearance on the German media scene is to be welcomed.
Charlie Hebdo features humour “as subtle as a steamroller” and its “impudence, especially when dealing with the religions, is legendary,” the newspaper said.
“The magazine is pure impertinence. From December 1, German readers will be subjected to it. What can we say? Quite simply: Welcome, Charlie Hebdo.”