Or a promise for the future?
During the Easter holidays I went back to the small town I was born in. It's located almost exactly in the middle of Germany, surrounded by the woods of the Harz Mountains. The densely forested mountains aren't only extremely old (about 300 million years), they also are home to a lush population of plants and animals and they could also be considered the mythological epicenter of Germany (some sources say even of Europe).
Almost every tiny town, river, cave, grove, pond or just some random rock formation (of which there're a lot) has its own myths and fairytales. Most of them even have dozens of them. There're old stories of dwarfs living under houses, giants sleeping in caves, ghosts haunting old mills, witches gathering on hills, nix inhabiting lakes — and these are only the "normal" ones. There's also a peculiar kind of werewolf that supposedly likes to jump on people's backs where it clings and bites onto them in order to be carried around (it has some traits of a small werewolf but is called an "Aufhocker" [Sit-On]
or to make things even more confusing it can also be called a "Bachkalb" [River-Calf]).
The real nature of the Harz is just as diverse as its folklore. Various kinds of deer, badgers and raccoons can be found, just as rare olms or endangered peregrine falcons and capercaillies.
So, when you're reading this you might get an idea of why I personally like mythology and animals so much — especially the stranger aspects of both. You might also notice the diverse possibilities there are if someone wants to use and interpret the nature and history of the Harz.
The day I got home I noticed a poster like this. It's part of the visual concept of the half-marathon "Harztor-Lauf" running through parts of the Harz Mountains and surrounding villages. The idea of it was conceived in 2013, while the first fun run was held in 2014. The organizers said it was received highly positively and the whole event was a huge success.
What appears to be the mascot of the marathon is a running lynx character (simply called "Laufluchs"
since it doesn't have a name yet), representing an abstract contestant. Making a lynx the mascot of the event isn't strange at first glance since lynxes used to inhabit the forests, just like wolves. What's the lion of the Tarangire National Park (Tanzania, Africa) or the panther of the Rocky Mountain National Park would be the lynx of the Harz National Park — just to get a point of comparison.
But there's a minor problem: 200 years ago the lynx was extensively hunted and rendered extinct in central Europe, just like the wolf. There's an old folktale referring to a now gone town once called "Netzkater" where the last German lynx was supposedly captured with a net and put on display in an restaurant of the same name ("Netzkater" literally means "net cat"
or "cat in net")
. The restaurant is now gone too and some sources say the Netzkater tale was just an invention of the former owner while the name actually refers to the "Katen" which isn't some dialect for "Katzen" (cats)
but for "Kate" (or "Kotte"), a simple cottage.
Now one could pose the question if the lynx mascot is trying to refer to the past by alluding to an animal that's no longer part of the fauna the marathon is held in. At least at first glance.
Since 1970 there're some initiatives that try bring back lynxes (e.g. Luchsprojekt Harz)
and there actually are some small lynx populations, mainly inhabiting the Alps region and areas near the Czech-German border. According to the Luchsprojekt Harz, between 2000 and 2006 24 lynxes were released into the wild of the Harz forests. Lynx sightings are claimed to now have become numerous enough to consider the lynx to be back ("A former denizen of the Harz has returned" —
There're similar initiatives concerning themselves with the reintroduction of the wolf that once had to face the very same fate. According to NABU, after some repopulation attempts starting in 2000, there're now 40 pairs of wolves living in Germany, most of them in the Eastern region. While actually meeting a wolf in the wild is extremely rare, there're many claims of wolf sightings that in most cases turn out to be confusions with regular dogs. The wolf, once one of the most important animals and mythological creatures of central Europe, might actually have become a real spook people fear and start imagining everywhere. The wolf is bad and preys on cattle. Wolves might even attack children.
These are just some of the fearful concerns that paint the wolf as some kind of beast that should not be part of the forests it once inhabited.
The lynx, despite of being the big wildcat of Germany, isn't nearly pressed down as much with such negative connotations. There's still an aura of mystery and curiosity surrounding this "exotic" animal — and maybe its perceived positive traits outweigh its wildness: fast and agile like a cat, strong and fearless like a lion, mysterious and noble like a puma. As a mascot a lynx seems to be very fitting, especially for a marathon down curly roads, over rivers and stones, surrounded by deep forests.
There can be mixed feelings though. In a way, picking an animal that was driven to extinction in a way that it now might be perceived as "foreign" to the uninformed viewer could almost be seen as some form of mockery, especially since the nature of the Harz is so rich and full of potential animal mascots to choose from: stag, hare, falcon, just to name a few. But on the other hand, taverns, hotels and town squares are virtually saturated with animal imagery consisting of the before mentioned examples. The lynx in this context might therefore be the more unique, one might even say fresh and modern choice.
And there's another aspect of modernity: The attempts of bringing back lynxes to the Harz seem to be successful and one day the big wildcat might be a regular part of the local fauna again (I word it this way, because I personally haven't seen any lynxes here in over 20 years). This would make the mascot a herald, an anticipant of new things to come. The organizers state that the return of the lynx and its qualities as a symbol for the Harz were important reasons for choosing this animal as a mascot (nnz-online).
Since this site is about art, I also want to touch on the visual representation of the lynx as a mascot.
First, one should know that the Harz region might be known for its whimsical arts and crafts work (cuckoo clocks [the world's biggest clock of this kind is 14.50 m tall and located in a small town in the Harz], wood carving, glass blowing etc.), but it's not really know for being the Mecca of art and design. Just as all the wood carvings, design is usually more hand-crafted than professionally engineered. The same also goes for most kinds of illustrations and character design, which are most of the time painterly, old-fashioned and lovingly whimsical.
Keeping this in mind, the design of the lynx mascot comes across quite modern, smooth and dynamic looking. One can easily see that it was done by someone who knows one thing or two about design, especially about silhouette and linework. Also the color palette is refreshingly simple and toned-down. Technically the design isn't perfect (especially in regards to the contrast of some lines), but it's much better than most of what one would expect. It wouldn't even be surprising if the design was created by a comic artist or hobbyist.
The general style actually gives an impression of something dynamic, even if the pose appears to be rather static despite of its moved silhouette (the reason for this is that the silhouette virtually creates a square with the hands/elbows and the feet almost having the same optical width), but I consider this a minor thing since the silhouette is still done very nicely. One can also recognize the basic idea of the organizers: having a marathon everyone can participate in — athletes, sports hobbyists, children, even people with their dogs. The general design is modern without being too edgy or too exaggerated, it's recognizable and easily usable in various contexts and it leaves enough room for later adaptations and evolutions.
I'd actually like to see the mascot being implemented and used in more versatile ways (like additional poses) or even be combined with its own corporate art style that fits on brochures, post cards and ads. At the moment, the mascot, the forgettable logo and the unobtrusive typographic design don't seem to have anything to do with each other. They appear as fragments, added one after the other dependent on necessity rather than on concept. And that's the part where one can easily see the hand-crafted nature of everything again: things are thrown together, work on their own (although in many cases barely) but not in combination and don't leave the viewer with some kind of impression.
So, overall I can say that the general idea and design of the lynx mascot is likeable and has a moved background that offers the potential to think and talk about it instead of just looking at a nice picture. The marathon creates a modern tradition, not by simply rehashing stale sports rituals from the past, but by taking traditional ideas, reinventing them and putting the spotlight on an animal that hasn't gotten all that much attention in the last 150 years or so.
HarztorlaufLaufluchs on Pictaramnnz-onlineLuchsprojekt HarzNABU