The famous Swiss columnist Max Küng (Das Magazin, Die Zeit and Lufthansa exclusive) recently reported on his own personal encounter with our little monkey. And on discovering a remarkable predecessor of Montgomery Collins! When he isn’t writing, Küng is primarily out and about on his new racing bike, looking at works of art or using his new deep fat fryer. He lives in Zurich with the artist Zille Leutenegger and their two children Oscar and Vinzenz. His first novel is due to be published by rororo in March.
Max Küng is one of our monkey’s oldest friends and has accompanied it from the very beginning.
Rain that falls from the heavens: Had I been a plant, snail or worm at that precise moment in time, I’d have rejoiced with utter delight. But I was a man without an umbrella, striding along a broad avenue in Munich. Without an umbrella because I believe that a real man should never carry an umbrella around with him because, well, what’s a bit of rain? However, once it begins to fall, the wind picks up and the rain assumes a more horizontal angle and engages in attack – then it becomes tedious.
The rain became even heavier and soon my shoes would have been soaked through, so I headed for the nearest doorway to seek shelter until the worst had passed. The door led into a museum. I stood at the door for a while, looking out, but things didn’t appear to be improving and I couldn’t see any people hurrying along the pavements – only cars on the roads with their windscreen wipers set to full speed as clouds of spray enveloped the wheels. So I hung up my wet coat in the cloakroom, paid the entrance fee and entered the museum.
I have an ambivalent relationship with museums because their sheer size is often out of proportion with the exhibits they house, especially where art galleries are concerned. On the other hand, I’ve seen a great deal of interesting things in museums. I walked briskly through the vast halls, spending only a few seconds contemplating the van Goghs, Cézannes, Klimts and Rodins. I already knew many of these paintings and sculptures from postcards, books and museum shops. I’d grown tired of them. Even the most spectacular eventually becomes banal as a result of constant repetition.
And then it struck me, this picture in hall number 14: a large picture full of monkeys. Maybe a dozen of them, scrambling about over the painting. One monkey looks mischievously at the observer as the others appear to contemplate a work of art set in a golden frame. I wasn’t prepared for a picture like this, and I had no idea who could have created it. I’d never seen a picture like it. So I read the sign: Gabriel von Max. That was the artist’s name. I’d never heard of him. And the picture was entitled “Monkeys as Judges of Art”. I simply had to find out more about this von Max chap. I sat on a bench in the hall and my smartphone soon informed me that von Max was born in Prague in 1840 and died in Munich in 1915. He was not only an artist but also a Darwinist and a collector. His collection of scientific artefacts comprised over 60,000 objects and he owned the largest skull collection of his day. He was also a spiritist and was interested in somnambulism and hypnotism. The reason for the unusual subject of this picture was that he reared a large troop of monkeys on his estate by Lake Starnberg for the purpose of studying them. His favourite was a black capuchin monkey called Paly.
I contemplated the composition with the unusual subject a while longer. I spent more time looking at this picture than I did looking at all the other works in the museum put together – I hadn’t been moved by a painting like this for a long time. I didn’t yet know why, but that wasn’t important right then. When I left, I returned to the outside world with a feeling of well-being.
It had stopped raining, and the afternoon that once was had now transformed into evening. Although I had to ask the way twice and got lost three times, it was barely a 20-minute walk to Schumann’s Bar am Hofgarten, where I initially thought that, after visiting the Pinakothek museum, you ought logically to order a Piña Colada. But suddenly, behind the barkeeper dressed immaculately in white, the label on one of the long row of bottles caught my eye. I knew it well, this label. A monkey with its tail curled up was looking at me, holding a branch of some plant that was unfamiliar to me. Its expression conveyed a certain gravity that suggests that monkeys are more than just funny animals. In the bottle was gin. Monkey 47 from the Black Forest – my favourite gin. Monkey 47 embodies all that I long to be: hard and clear, strong and devastating. I asked the barman to mix me a Dry Martini, and as the generously filled glass stood on the bar and the gin’s spicy aroma hit me, I quietly murmured: “Here’s to Gabriel von Max.” I was most satisfied with my day. I’d learned something: There’s still a great deal to be discovered – particularly when you least expect it. Like so many other things, we have the rain to thank for that.