Matrons that catch and thaw stories
"Build an ark", God commands the father of the family Noah in the Old Testament. Because the Lord has decided to destroy people because of their wickedness with a flood and only to spare Noah and his family. Noah builds the ark and takes a couple of all the animals on board. Then the masses of water break in over the wooden ship.
After the flood has destroyed all life outside the ark, God slowly lowers the water. Noah then chooses one of the animals on board to send it out as a scout.
It is a dove that he lets fly out through the only window on the ark. She returns on the first flight, unsuccessful. On the second, however, she brings an olive branch in her beak - and Noah draws hope.
Finally, from the third flight, the pigeon does not return. "She has found land", Noah cheers - and he lets people and animals off board to repopulate the earth. Since then, the dove has symbolized the reconciliation between God and man.
But it is not only found in the story of the Flood in the Book of Books. Another - rather unpleasant role for the dove - it has as a sacrificial animal in the temple. In the past, pigeons were considered cultically pure. The dove attains the highest symbolic meaning in the New Testament: as a symbol for the Holy Spirit.
Combative peace symbol
The fact that Pablo Picasso was inspired by Noah's story when he designed the poster for the Paris World Peace Congress in 1949 must be booked under the heading of legends.
In reality, the rise of the dove to a worldwide symbol of peace is said to have been a coincidence: the French writer Louis Aragon was looking for a motif for this first congress of the world peace movement and turned to his Spanish friend Pablo Picasso. He leafed through its graphics - and decided on the white dove, which became so famous as a result.
Picasso probably never had such big plans for this work. He had simply put on paper one of the two white doves that lived in a cage in his studio as a gift from the painter Henri Matisse.
The pigeon has been the flag animal of the peace movement ever since. And that although the animals are only partially worthy of this award. They often attack each other aggressively. It is estimated that a street pigeon is involved in 2000 fights per year.
The dove made its first major appearances long before Christian times as a symbol of love at the side of goddesses like Venus and Aphrodite. This is hardly surprising when you look at the courtship behavior of the pigeons: They turtle like people who are freshly in love. In addition, pigeons usually live monogamous for a lifetime - however, infidelities are not excluded.
Express flyer in the postal service
If you only think of the common city pigeon when it comes to pigeons, you are far from it: there are more than 300 different species. Around 500 million copies live almost all over the world.
The common history of pigeons and humans begins about 5000 years ago. At that time, the pigeon lived in rocks on the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. But then people started building houses and growing crops there. The rock pigeons, attracted by this grainy feast, searched from then on to be close to humans.
The Sumerians kept the pigeons as meat suppliers and decoys to catch birds of prey. The ancient Egyptians valued the pigeons primarily for their excrement, because pigeon droppings are well suited for fertilization. The Romans kept the animals in huge dovecotes to eat them as delicacies.
The quality of the birds as feathered messengers was soon recognized. Because pigeons are fast, they can reach up to 160 kilometers per hour. They also have excellent orientation and a strong drive to return to their homeland.
The Arabs were the first in the 9th century to come up with the idea of using this ability of the pigeons on a large scale. They set up a professional pigeon post by building large lofts in all cities that were to be connected to the postal network. During the crusades, the Arab armies could rely on a well-functioning communications system.
Stuffed war hero
A good 1000 years later, a carrier pigeon became very famous: It was October 4th, 1918, in the last days of the First World War. The American major Charles Whittlesey and about 500 of his men are trapped behind enemy lines near the French city of Verdun. 300 men die in one day.
The American artillery shoots the Germans - but no one knows exactly where Whittlesey and his remaining men are. So they are shot at by their own people. Major Whittlesey still has one last hope: the carrier pigeon "Cher ami", in German "Dear friend".
Thousands of such pigeons were used on all sides in the First World War, but none made such a splash as "Cher ami". Because the little pigeon is seriously injured on its flight on October 4th. One bullet hits her in the chest and another injures her leg. Nevertheless, "Cher ami" manages to get to the American camp - she flies 25 kilometers in just 25 minutes. The soldier who spots her finds Whittlesey's message on her leg:
"Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven's sake, stop it." ("Our own artillery has us under fire. For God's sake, stop that!")
194 soldiers were saved by "Cher ami". The carrier pigeon received the military order "Croix de Guerre" from the French. And when "Cher ami" succumbs to her injuries a year later, she is stuffed and can be admired to this day in the National Museum of American History in Washington.
Best friend, greatest enemy
Many people love the feathered animals. Some sprinkle them with food on squares and in parks. Others have dedicated themselves to the pigeon sport.
Opponents of pigeons, on the other hand, complain about the pigeon plague in the cities. The animals are insulted as "rats of the air" because people are annoyed by pigeon droppings and noise pollution. But whatever they do, whether they set up wire spikes or scatter rat poison - they cannot harm the pigeon populations in the long term.
Pigeons breed up to ten times a year. Usually one or two young hatch after 18 days. They learn to fly at four weeks and can reproduce after six months.
The pigeons live on the remains of our affluent society, build nests in the wire spikes and continue to multiply at breakneck speed. 5000 years of coexistence with humans have taught them to adapt optimally.
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