Tim Wolff is cynical for a living. The editor in chief of Titanic, the Frankfurt-based satire magazine, is used to puzzled looks and people wondering if he's being serious.
“Ethical-moral questioning always seeps into our work,” said the 37-year old.
Since the terrorist attack on the Paris-based Charlie Hebdo magazine, public attention has turned to German satirical publications, including Titanic and Berlin's Eulenspiegel.
“Satire always belonged to German culture, but lately it has been disappearing more and more,” said Wolfram Winter, professor for media industry studies at Macromedia University in Munich. The attack on Charlie Hebdo has rekindled interest, he said.
The February issue of Titanic was published on Friday. The cover depicted a Paris street scene as a hidden-object illustration, featuring images of Angela Merkel, Gérard Depardieu, Jesus, François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni. One is missing, however.
“Where is Mohammed?” the headline asks.
“It is crazy that satirists are dying in Paris – and in Germany, the people are buying us out of sympathy.” Tim Wolff, Editor in chief, Titanic
In the days following the January 7 attack in Paris, journalists from all over Germany waited for Mr. Wolff in front of Titanic’s offices.
“They always asked the same four questions, and always in the same order,” said Mr. Wolff. "'Are you afraid? Are you really not afraid? Are you going to increase security measures? Are you going to publish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed?'"
Mr. Wolff answers “no” to each question – today as back then. Naturally, he was shaken up, the Titanic editor said, but he isn't afraid.
“You have to get a grip on your feelings and continue to do a professional job,” Mr. Wolff said.
The satirists at Eulenspiegel, which was founded in former East Germany, are even more stoic.
“We were immediately attempting to make jokes about everything,” said Mathias Wedel, the editor in chief. But aside from one cartoon expressing sorrow for the victims, the editors did not change anything in the February issue, which went to print shortly after the attack.
The editors at Titanic had more time to go over their next edition, and some of the content was changed. The editors reconsidered every joke and cartoon.
“As a rule, we don’t care about whether we will be misunderstood, and like to incorporate double meanings. But not this time,” said Mr. Wolff. The team, he added, had considered a Charlie-Hebdo remembrance issue,“but when this unbelievable wave of solidarity emerged, we decided otherwise."
It seemed absurd, he said, that people who previously hated and wanted to ban Titanic were now solidly supporting Charlie Hebdo and other satire magazines.
Titanic and Eulenspiegel have benefited. In addition to 25,000 copies for subscribers, Titanic’s January edition sold 60,000 magazines at newsstands and stores – about 15,000 more than usual. Mr. Wolff believes sales of the February issue will exceed those numbers.
On the Thursday after the attack, Titanic had more subscription orders than on any other single day in 35 years of business.
All the Mohammed jokes have already been made. They’re not funny anymore. Tim Wolff, editor in chief, Titanic
“It is crazy that satirists are dying in Paris – and in Germany, the people are buying us out of sympathy,” Mr. Wolff said.
Single-issue sales rose about 9 percent for Eulenspiegel, too. And sales of the February issue “are going a lot better than other issues,” said the editor, Mr. Wedel.
The rediscovered passion for satire is not based on some vague notion, said Wolfram Winter. “Paris was not a singular crime,” he said. “Many people understood the terrorist act as an attack on the basic values of democracy.”
While satire magazines are profiting from that perception, they are not necessarily using the attack as a topic. Eulenspiegel, for example, put a Pegida-demonstration on its most recent cover instead.
Titanic’s editor said the magazine won’t publish aggressive cartoons of Mohammed, mostly for artistic reasons. Depictions of Mohammed are boring, just variations of Osama Bin Laden and Ayatollah Khomeini, Mr. Wolff said.
“In comparison to Christianity, there is no iconography steeped in history in Islam,” he said. “Plus, all the Mohammed jokes have already been made. They’re not funny anymore.”
This remark comes from an editor with outrageous covers hanging all around his office: the pope in September, a topless chancellor in October, former Chancellor Kohl in December.
“We are no friends of religion,” Mr. Wolff said. “We question everything – especially those who stand behind the utter convictions of the truth. We react to living people, who publicly expose themselves.”
That makes the pope a better target, he said, than a long-ago prophet.
As a satirist, Mr. Wolff also wishes for the opposite – a sort of Islamic pope, for example, who is well known, alive and talkative.
“I would like Muslims in Germany to have a bit more influence, to become more known – and also talk some nonsense now and then,” Mr. Wolff said. “Only then would we have some real material.”
Benjamin Wagener is an editor at Handelsblatt. To contact him: [email protected].