The best April Fool’s Day pranks in Germany
Before you start reading this article, you might want to check if your shoelaces are tied. Why? Because today is April Fool’s Day, and you don’t want to leave yourself open to any potential pranks from your trickster friends.
Since you’re likely to get pranked a few times by other people today, we’ve decided to go easy on you and, instead of playing a trick of our own, present you with the history of April Fool’s Day in Germany and some of the best pranks played throughout the years.
The origin of April Fool’s Day in Germany
The origin of April Fool’s Day in Germany rather fittingly stems from a bunch of opportunistic entrepreneurs being made into complete fools. According to German legend, on April 1, 1530, a meeting was supposed to take place in the German city of Augsburg, where lawmakers had met to try to unify the state's coinage.
Ahead of the meeting, several people who had heard that it was taking place began to trade currencies speculatively, to try and make money from the decision. However, in the end, the meeting never took place and the law to unify the state’s coinage never passed, meaning that these people lost a lot of money and were mocked as idiots.
This incident is supposedly the inspiration behind April Fool’s Day in Germany. However, there is no evidence for this and the story has been discounted by historians as an origin myth. Across the world, there are many different theories as to why April 1 should be a designated day to play practical jokes and hoaxes, but the exact origins of the tradition are disputed.
The best April Fool’s Day jokes in German history
Even though Germans aren't particularly renowned for their sense of humour, they do like to partake in the silliness on April 1. This is known as "sending someone into April" or an "April joke" (Aprilscherz). Over the years, there have been some pretty good japes that have fooled their fair share of people. Here is a selection of our favourite April Fool’s Day jokes that have been played in Germany.
The first April Fool’s Day joke by a German newspaper
The first April Fool's joke printed in a German newspaper was on April 1, 1774. The article told people it was possible to breed multicoloured chickens. Among the silly tips given was the advice to paint the chicken coop the desired colour, meaning that any eggs laid would hatch into chicks matching the colour of the coop.
A few years later, another newspaper got in on the act. In 1789, a Berlin paper ran a story purporting that hailstones the size of pigeon eggs had fallen on the streets of Potsdam. Hundreds of citizens were supposedly duped by the story and headed into the town to catch a glimpse of the monstrous weather conditions, only to be disappointed.
The Brandenburg Gate photo
In 1919, a night worker at a local Berlin paper decided to play a prank on the residents of Berlin. They placed an advertisement in the paper, which announced that a camera was going to take a picture in front of the Brandenburg Gate on April 1, and that everyone who gathered in front of the monument would be included.
The announcement drew hundreds of people to the gate in the hopes of having their pictures taken. The news even reached America, where the Chicago Tribune reported on the incident: "Some people stood there for hours before they realised that this was the first day of April, known in Germany, as in the United States, as April Fools' Day." You can even read the Tribune’s article today if you search for it in their archives!
German police get a technological upgrade
On April Fool’s Day in 1923, German police were said to be debuting fancy new radio receivers. The radio receivers were comically large and were strapped to officers’ backs, while a lightbulb-adorned console was strapped to their front. The receivers were supposedly given to officers so that they could react quickly to crimes and riots, as well as keep them in touch with police headquarters. Needless to say, it was a bit of fun.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-13262 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
The triple- and quadruple-decker buses
Germany has long been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to transportation, so it is completely out of the realm of possibility that a triple-decker, or even quadruple-decker bus could be engineered in the federal republic? It certainly seemed believable to Germans in the 1920s.
In 1926, Echo Continental, the trade magazine of the automobile parts manufacturer Continental AG, reported on a new innovation in public transport: the triple-decker bus. The magazine even released a fake image of the bus.
Five years later, one Berlin newspaper decided to take the joke even further and published a photo of a quadruple-decker bus, claiming it to be the world’s first and only four-story bus. The prank was so convincing that several local bus officers received calls from interested residents, while several bus depots were broken into by people desperately trying to catch a glimpse of this automotive marvel. The newspaper itself was also inundated with messages from people asking questions like about fast the bus could travel or how it managed to manoeuvre under bridges and tram lines.
Humankind’s mastery of the skies
On April Fool’s Day 1934, the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung printed a photograph of a man flying through the use of a contraption that was powered by his breath. The photo was so convincing it caused major publications, including The Daily Mirror and The New York Times, to run genuine stories, explaining that a German pilot, named Erich Kocher, was able to fly by simply using the power of his lungs.
The original Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung article reported that the device worked by triggering a chemical reaction that extracted carbon dioxide from the pilot’s breath and used it to power a small motor. The American newspapers saw the picture and, without checking its authenticity or the original article, reported that the contraption strapped to Kocher’s chest simply allowed him to blow into a box, which would turn propellers and send him flying through the air.
Selling railway station names
Ever wanted to name your own railway station? Well, in 2001, Tagesspiegel reported that Berlin has decided to raise money by auctioning off the naming rights to railway stations around the city. The newspaper even reported that the city was looking to get around 5 million Deutsche Marks for each station and that the city was looking at retrospectively charging the descendants of Richard Wagner for the existing Richard-Wagner-Platz station.
On April Fool’s Day in 2004, the German software company Application Systems Heidelberg announced their new iShave product under the slogan, "Your iPod no longer just plays music, it helps you look great thanks to our new razor attachment!" The razor attachment supposedly clipped onto the top of an iPod, allowing people to shave their face, while listening to music, on the go.
In 2018, the German Alpine Club (DAV) announced that some of its alpine huts were overbooked, and some guests had to be relocated. To do this, the DAV announced it would be using “eco-helicopters” that guests could order on their smartphones to fly them to another hut. The association admitted that the “eco-helicopters” would cause damage to the environment, but guests would be taken from huts with showers to huts without showers, so the environmental impact would be balanced out.
Happy April Fool’s!
So, there you have it, some of the best April Fool’s Day pranks from Germany. After a few long, hard years, the world deserves a bit of laughter. So, what April Fool’s Day pranks do you have in mind this year? Let us know in the comments below!
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