Dhe heaven does not leave its donkeys, wrote Heinrich Heine. When the German Museum Almanac printed the poem “Horse and Donkey” in 1857, the year after the author’s death, there was still no Red List of endangered animal species. It was to be feared that donkey breeds had long since stood on it. They are hardly ever used as farm animals. Between the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century, for example, the number of gray Provencal donkeys with a black dorsal stripe on their backs used to herd sheep declined from 13,000 to just 330.
But in Heine’s poem it is the horse alone that feels threatened. It does not immediately see the existence of its species as endangered; frightened by the sight of a train roaring past, it fears that technological progress will make it superfluous and it will be a useless eater of people’s payroll. The more confident donkey, on the other hand, said he was always needed, if only to carry the flour from the miller to the baker. The transport of deep-frozen dough pieces, which today make up 50 percent of Austria’s baked goods, is different; Heine did not become famous as a science fiction author.
The donkey is more the DIY personality. This is also reflected in the film Shrek, whose pea-green protagonist calls a donkey his friend. Donkey is already gleeful at the prospect of a sleepover with his ogre. He hops onto Shrek’s living room chair, spins around on the seat like he’s a dog in a crate, and imagines they’ll be man-talking late into the night and he’ll be making waffles in the morning.
In truth, donkeys rarely spin in circles like dogs before perching, not even to trample flat on the thistles they failed to eat before fatigue overcame them (as with dogs, donkeys’ yawning is a stress-relieving response) . If someone else tramples over their thistles, they don’t find it funny. “Could you ask your friend to organize his gymnastics exercises somewhere else?”, Donkey Eeyore asks the eponymous stuffed animal in AA Milne’s classic children’s book “Pooh the Bear”: “They don’t get any better from sitting on them (… ). That robs them of all their freshness.”
Eeyore is sarcastic and depressed. The book encourages doing good to those caught in sarcasm and depression. Even if that doesn’t change the fact that Eeyore, in which biting humor and depression struggle with feelings of superiority and self-pity, does not judge kindly about little Christopher Robin’s other stuffed animals that have come to life: “And then I said to myself: The others will sorry again standing there in the cold. They have no brains, none of them, just gray fluff accidentally blown in their heads (…)”. It turns out he’s right about these misanthropic accusations: While Eeyore wants to build a house to protect him from the cold and snow, they dismantle another one they come across in the forest, not knowing it was his, built by himself.
Modesty, deceleration, peacefulness
The donkey, no matter how clever it may be, is a porter of burdens. Nobody asks him if he likes it. Instead, they call him stubborn when he stands rooted to the spot on the narrow path between thorn bushes and doesn’t want to go any further. Until you see the snake trying to cross the path. Master Long Ears, as La Fontaine calls him, is an underestimated beauty, especially the cocoa bean-colored large Poitou donkeys. Until you have stood between them on a pasture, you do not know about their enchanting effect. This is what it must feel like to meet a unicorn. Only then do you understand the metamorphosis of Bottoms in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and why Titania loves kissing the donkey so much.
Does the donkey do anything with it? The servants ride on it, the pregnant Mary rides to safety, Jesus rides into Jerusalem. Riding a donkey is an expression of modesty, deceleration and peacefulness. Donkeys are people-oriented, friendly, gentle, long-suffering animals. It therefore seems only natural that one of them should also be allowed to watch over Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem. Church father Augustine assumed that the ox and donkey were cast as one depicting the Jews and the other the Gentiles, both expecting redemption through the Son of God.
A so-called reel – a fifteen-second video – by the Jewish comedian Joan Rivers, which cares little about ox and donkey, is currently doing the rounds on social media. She eventually got tired of giving up the Christian decorations and bought a Christmas tree, decorated it, and placed the nativity figures under it, Rivers said. Next to Jesus is his nanny – “we’re Jewish, there’s the nanny”. According to Rivers, Maria, who was wearing some kind of blue “schmatte” – a worn old piece of clothing – dressed in a Chanel suit and Manolo Blahnik pumps and slung a Hermès bag over her arm: “You are the Mother of God ! look it!”