My greatest ambition had long been to own a little dachshund called Ludwig. But my dream of a Wiener dog waddling around Sheffield University’s German department came crashing down when a colleague was shopped to Health and Safety for harbouring a miniature poodle on our corridor. I started collecting dachsie tat instead. A poster of a sausage dog with the slogan “I know a little German” hangs in my office. At home in the kitchen, I wear an apron emblazoned with David Hockney’s muses, Stanley and Boogie. Sadly, I couldn’t write this article with my impractically elongated, dachshund-shaped pen. Yet my stash has nothing on the collection of Seppi Küblbeck and Oliver Storz, a German couple who opened the world’s first and only museum in honour of the dachshund, just over a year ago.
Their Dackelmuseum has since become the pride of Passau, a quaint town in deepest Bavaria, southern Germany. Cruise ships on the Danube dock to see it; a rally of Viennese Harley Davidson riders recently made a detour. Local businesses are capitalising on its popularity: guests who book a “sausage-dog special”, or mini break, at the Hotel Residenz are greeted with a paw shake from Clara, the hotel’s resident dachsie. Not all Passauers are pleased, though. Egon Greipl, a curmudgeonly conservationist, complained last year that the attraction trivialised Passau. “Who wants to be born in a town of dachshunds?”, he protested.
Plenty of people in fact, from near and far. There is a German word, Wahlheimat, that means your chosen, adopted homeplace. It was clear from the charmed looks on the faces of visitors – a combination of earthy Volk and metropolitan types – that the quirky Dackelmuseum was their Wahlheimat. There’s a lot of German-ness squeezed into the sausage dog. Historically seen as a loyal creature yet also one with a mind of its own, it came to embody stereotypical ideals of especially southern German character. As Storz says with a smile, yet in all seriousness: “der Dachshund ist Kultur”. The identity politics of German Heimat, or “the home land,” can best be summed up with the images of beer, lederhosen, rolling hills – and a dachshund at your heels. But the reason the Dackelmuseum draws as many urbanites as it does is because this icon of cultural conservatism has also become, in some quarters, an icon of kitsch.
As I arranged my visit with Storz, he exclaimed: “We’ll brush the dogs specially!” I feared there would be stuffed dachsies on show, but the only examples of taxidermy were a badger and fox in a special exhibition on the dachshund and the hunt. Thankfully, no guns are displayed – a deliberate omission. “There are enough of those in the world already,” the curators tell me. Former florists, they have arranged their upbeat cabinets of curiosities according to theme and colour scheme. The result is visually striking. A case of dachshund toys and dachshund tupperware combines many different colours to psychedelic effect.
Storz and Küblbeck are more concerned with creating a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, than a master narrative. But they do sketch a history of sorts. Around 1700, a short, long dog used for hunting came to be called the dachshund from Dachs, the German for badger, and Hund for hound. The type was especially popular for flushing out animals from their burrows in the lower Alpine regions of German-speaking Europe, above all Bavaria. Towards the end of the 19th century, as clubs for dog breeds were established, the dachshund became a favourite pet. The museum has a collection of postcards from 1890 to 1930, celebrating the dog as part of regional, particularly Bavarian, culture. And a picture, too, of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who appeared in press photos with his dachshunds – the strong, warring leader with his plucky domestic companions. Indeed, just as British nobles were responsible for spaniels becoming fashionable in the shires, the German aristocracy was at the vanguard of the dachshund trend. Even as the royal Wittelsbach dynasty was forced to abdicate the Bavarian throne on the defeat of Imperial Germany in the first world war, it remained powerful in the dachsie dominion. The family developed the “tiger” dachshund, distinctive for its dappled coat, in 1918.
The dachshund surged in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, with the invention of the Wackel-Dackel (a toy dog with a nodding head) and Waldi, the colourful mascot of the 1972 Munich Olympics (below), both on display at the museum. Celebrities took over from royals as brand ambassadors, with famous owners including Andy Warhol, David Hasselhoff and Brigitte Bardot. The dachsie turned into a globe-trotting emblem of camp, a transformation which this museum celebrates in effervescent style. However, in pop culture the dachsie isn’t only a figure of fun. Propped up in one display cabinet is a DVD of “Wiener-Dog”, an American film made in 2016. A bleakly comic anthology of short stories, the film follows a disparate bunch of characters who are tied together by their bitterness, disillusionment – and their pet dachshunds. Quietly observing their badly behaved companions, the dogs wind up seeming more dignified than the humans.
In the final exhibit (below), dachshund figurines from around the world surround a globe. It seems Storz and Küblbeck want to tell a story about a dog which has captured the hearts of all, regardless of nation, colour or creed. This underplays how controversial the dog has been in the past, thanks to its close association with Germany. Absent from the museum are American propaganda posters from the two world wars. In one, a dachsie, dressed in a German soldier’s uniform, appears next to the slogan “I like dogs – but not this breed.” Some Americans rebranded it the “liberty dog”, but its popularity bombed during and after the wars nonetheless. Though this slightly saccharine display ignores this history, it suggests the curators are keen to gloss over the dog’s traditional association with the identity politics of the past. In Bavaria today, far-right politicians are weaponising the concept of Heimat once again.
Egon Greipl griped that the Dackelmuseum is dilettantish, and in part he is right. That’s why it is so delightful. Would Greipl’s alternative be like other, more sensible Bavarian museums, like the royal palace that exhibits Ludwig II’s stuffed steed? Their OTT vitrines notwithstanding, Küplbeck’s and Storz’s museum is more unconventional, artful, and subtly political. As custodians of Germany’s canine heritage, they are charming but not biddable. Rather like their beloved dachshunds.