The Brits call it the "silly season." In Germany the media call it the Sommerloch, literally "the summer hole."
What they are referring to is the fact that when politicians and businesspeople close up shop and go away for the major European summer holidays, the number of serious news stories tends to diminish -- meaning desperate hacks need to find something else to fill the hole. That could be concocted scandals, minor celebrity gossip or spurious health scares. But the average German journalist's best friend during the Sommerloch is undoubtedly the offbeat animal story.
SPIEGEL ONLINE presents a selection of stories from Germany's news agencies which might not have made the cut in fall, winter or spring.
Party Pigs Live Life In The Fast Lane
A group of young wild boar decided to meet regularly on a certain strip of highway near the city of Böblingen in southwestern Germany. The boar had been having such a good time on Autobahn 81, as the route is known, that they starting coming back day after day. But local police were concerned that the partying porkers could distract drivers and cause car accidents.
Life in the fast lane doesn't come without its disadvantages. And in this case, those disadvantages included a bunch of hunters, tasked by the police to slay the porkers next time they turned up on the motorway.
As part of Sunday's operation, the fast lane was closed and a police helicopter hovered overhead to observe the boar party from above. But not a single swine made an appearance. Meanwhile a traffic jam 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) long had developed. The pig hunt was called off after 15 minutes.
A Very Clean Cat With Eight Lives
In Hanover, two kind toddlers wanted to help their mother with the housework. So they turned the washing machine, which was already full of clothes, onto the hottest cycle, which washes at a temperature of 90 degrees Celsius (194 degrees Fahrenheit).
The kids, however, didn't realize that their cat Zoro was napping in the washing machine's drum. Luckily the children's mother spotted the cat trapped in the laundry. She turned off the machine -- fortunately the water had only heated to 30 degrees and the cat had only done one or two spins in the machine -- and called the local fire service. They extracted the wet pet and took it to the veterinary clinic, where Zoro made a full recovery.
The Fox With A Footwear Fetish
First it was gumboots. Then it was sneakers. Finally it moved on to ladies shoes, some dark blue pumps to be exact.
No shoe was safe from the cunning fox from Foehren in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The animal had been collecting shoes for weeks, stealing more than 200 pairs during nightly forays into gardens, terraces and entranceways. And for almost a year, locals had been mystified by the disappearance of single shoes, sometimes even pairs.
The fox's lair, filled with 120 shoes was discovered by a forest ranger in June.
Violent Cow Attacks Increase In Summer
Alarm in the Austrian state of Carinthia: Tame cows are suddenly turning into unpredictable beasts. At least that's the impression one might get from such alarming headlines as: "North Rhine-Westphalian Woman Run Over By Several Cows while Hiking."
Apparently the 52-year-old woman's dog had made the grazing cows, who were with their calves, nervous. So they staged a mass exit in the direction of the dog. Unfortunately the female hiker couldn't get out of the way and was trampled by one of the cows. She was airlifted to hospital and treated for a broken finger and several broken ribs.
And then there was the younger woman from the district of Emsland in the German state of Lower Saxony, who was forced to stop her car on a country road because of five free-roaming cows who had escaped their field. The 20-year-old left her vehicle to shoo the cows out of the way.
At which stage, one of the boisterous bovines came toward the car, clambered on the vehicle's roof and down the other side, wrecking the car in the process. The cows were re-captured later.
Baby Squirrel in Peril
Drama in Karlsruhe, and for once it was nothing to do with the Lisbon Treaty or the German Constitutional Court which is based there.
The headline from July 6 read: "Orphaned Baby Squirrel Falls From Tree." Yes, it seems that while US President Barack Obama was in Moscow and Germany's Krümmel atomic reactor was having difficulties, a thirsty young squirrel fell out of a tree right into the midst of a group of playing children.
There was a happy ending to the story: The children fed the ailing rodent with cookies then took it to a veterinarian clinic by taxi.
Rabbit Abduction Ends in Tragedy
"Flying Rabbit Hits Car" -- the headline suggested a truly sensational story. Had German rabbits started to grow wings? Had the rabbit been the subject of some sort of cruel experiment? No, it was even worse -- as the news story that appeared at the beginning of June recounted.
A buzzard was flying over a field when it spotted what looked like a tasty treat: a hapless rabbit. But rather than chowing down immediately, the buzzard decided to give the rabbit one last treat: a quick scenic flight.
However, the trip ended badly for both animals. The rabbit was too heavy and the overburdened buzzard collided with a passing car. Local police say the car was damaged and the bird was killed. They did not, however, report on the state of the rabbit's health.
Sneaky Snakes Go Undercover
A rash of snake incidents in July kept German ophidiophobics off the streets and checking their cutlery drawers.
It all started with a tiger python in the Uckermark region. Looking for a hiding place, the meter-long slitherer hid in the engine bay of a small car. There it was discovered by the car's driver who received nothing worse than a fright. The police caught the snake and took it to a nearby zoo for its own safety.
A few days later, a royal python caused a stir in Stuhr in Lower Saxony. Passers-by alerted the local police to the fact that the meter-long reptile, common to west and central Africa, was lying around in the town square. The snake, starved and dehydrated, was taken into care. The police could not confirm where it came from.
Meanwhile in the city of Minden in North Rhine-Westphalia, police warned of an escaped three-meter-long Brazilian rat snake. It was at large in the inner city and rats and mice were in serious danger. However cats, dogs and guinea pigs were not at risk, police said.
As it turned out, it was all a false alarm. Finding the snake missing, the owner had called the police. That was on Wednesday. The following Monday, the owner found the snake -- it had been living in the cutlery drawer.
Hedgehog Rescue Service
Police and the fire service in North Rhine-Westphalia are genuine hedgehog lovers, it seems.
A patrolman noticed one of the prickly creatures apparently swimming in a pond in the city of Recklinghausen. Or was he drowning? The policeman couldn't tell. The fire service was called and they launched an inflatable dinghy. The hedgehog was rescued and left, wet but otherwise unharmed, in a nearby park.
The next hedgehog incident came only a day later near Düsseldorf. A passer-by noticed a struggling hedgehog trapped in a metal fence. The well-fed creature had been trying to wiggle through the barrier and had become wedged halfway through.
The police, inevitably, were called. They cut a hole in the fence and the hedgehog was able to continue on its merry way.