The Case of the Phantom Turtle

November 20, 2013
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Where is it? Not since the sighting of the legendary Nessie in Scotland’s Loch Ness has the 24-hours-a-day news cycle been on so goofily hysterical a binge among European country folk in years. The ostensibly crime-free village of Irsee in Bavaria only has four policemen. They are “worked to the point of utter stress and exhaustion and desperate to break the case,” according to the small town’s beleaguered mayor, Andreas Lieb.

Snap!What is causing all this hysterical hue and cry? Does it actually exist or is it, as the German comedian Willy Glubb ponders, “a figment of the imagination of the collective imagination of the Bavarian Tourist Board?”

The story so far involves a giant alligator snapping turtle, which supposedly severed a young swimmer’s Achilles tendon while he was swimming in a local lake, der Oggenreider Weiher. This unnamed eight-year-old boy has been carefully shielded from the press while so-called ‘experts’ are being flown in from all over Germany to assess matters.

As the town is packed with journos and photographers, and local hotels and inns are filled up, villagers are renting out rooms for exorbitant fees and cashing in in every conceivable way. Even at night, the Bavarian town finds itself unable to settle down. Mayor Lieb, on a mission to relieve his exhausted police officers, was at the Oggenrieder Weiher Tuesday night when he tripped over four people equipped with high-powered flashlights and wearing protective clothing as they were busily working away in the darkness. Lieb promptly ordered the unwanted guests to leave.

The search for either or both an alligator snapping turtle and the eight-year-old boy’s missing Achilles tendon goes on nevertheless. Thus, locals and journos have been searching for the beast, which has been christened by a ravenous press as either ‘Lotti’ or ‘Angela.’ Whatever name wins it is will surely go down in history as the official mascot of the 2013 German silly season.

For those of you ignorant of German hyperbole, the fugitive snapping turtle has been preceded in the national imagination by the boat-loving Petra the swan, Heidi the cross-eyed opossum, Yvonne the cow and Bruno the ursine interloper. Lotti/Angela, however, is different. The aforementioned cute animals were all captured on the job, so to speak, by photographers or by folks who could produce video cameras as quick as you might say, “YouTube!” No sign of Lotti/Angela, though.

Meanwhile Irsee has fallen into crisis mode. The lake has been drained. All local grounds are fenced off. The lake’s fish population has been temporarily relocated to another local body of water. The village now owns a crisis committee, including the mayor, a representative from the local administrative office, the fire department chief, a policeman and a nature conservation expert. Eight representatives of Munich’s ‘Reptile Redistribution Agency were helicoptered in to spend the day in Irsee accompanied by a sniffer dog and its handler. Everybody is ready for something to happen. No luck yet, though.

As of last Wednesday, with the mystery snapping turtle on the news throughout Germany and Austria, five beaver traps were publicly installed and baited with fish in the hopes of attracting Lotti/Angela. Nobody has yet seen the poor hunted creature, yet there are indications that it definitely exists. According to Markus Baur of the aforementioned Reptile Redistribution Agency, the boy’s injuries are indeed consistent with the bite of an alligator snapping turtle. But then one wonders how the reptile, which is native to North America, ended up in silly old Bavaria in the first place.

The search goes on, but now people are arriving from all over Germany in their recreation vehicles and, gathering around the site, they make the hunt even more difficult. “There were even elderly men with walkers,” the frustrated mayor said. Things may never improve, however, because on one side of the site there is a stream running into the lake, while on the other there is access to other bodies of water. Lotti/Angela may already have split for good! Meanwhile, with the phantom turtle’s origin unknown, rewards are being offered by the media. Police are following up on a disguised voice phone tipoff from a man who claims to know who released the turtle into the lake. A warrior of sorts, Mayor Lieb carries on. Tired of press conferences, he has appointed his deputy, Bertram Sellner, to run interference. “We are ready!” Sellner said Wednesday. “We are lying in ambush!”

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