Monday, August 4, 2008

High Jumping Turtle Rat Crab

Called "Hochspringendeschildkroeterattekrabbe" in typical one-giant-word German fashion, the High Jumping Turtle Rat Crab is a native of the German island of Rugen, a popular tourist destination.

For centuries summer tourists to the island enjoyed playing with the Turtle Rat Crab on both beaches and at the bottom of the island's chalk cliffs. The incredibly friendly Turtle Rat Crab has a pleasant demeanor and loves to play. Beach-side vendors would sell gigantic rubber balls that dozens of children would band together to push toward Turtle Rat Crabs sunning themselves on the beach. As the ball rolled toward them, the Crabs would attempt to leap over it. Crabs that had fallen asleep or that were too slow were crushed into a Turtle Rat Crab shaped imprint in the soft island sand. Crabs that successfully jumped the rolling ball would make a high-pitched sound of panicked alarm that the children called the "Crab laugh." This summertime fun was a rite of passage for generations of children from all over Germany, and many credited it with teaching them teamwork and a playful and distinctively German spirit of unity.

Unfortunately, with the natural resources crisis at the end of World War 2, the desperate Nazis began harvesting Turtle Rat Crabs for their shells, which were turned into helmets for the army. By the end of the war, only 17 High Jumping Turtle Rat Crabs were left in the world. In the 1990's, the population was decimated again by an infestation of maritime leeches. The High Jumping Turtle Rat Crab was finally taken off the endangered species list in 2004, and now the kinder can once again hear the distinctive "Crab laugh".

The High Jumping Turtle Rat Crab is featured prominently in German music and literature. Gunter Grass's novel "The Rat" deals metaphorically with the World War 2 experience of the Rat Crab, Schubert's Quintet in C Major is subtitled "The Rat Crab", and in Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, the protagonist describes unrequited love as "a High Jumping Rat Crab leaping over a beach ball." A captured Rat Crab also features prominently in Schiller's play The Robbers, considered to be the first German melodrama. More recently, avante garde German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen created an entire symphony out of a 300 member chorus doing nothing but imitating the Turtle Rat Crab laugh in different pitches and tempos in his 1967 work, Turtle Laugh Choir.

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