There’s more to Luxembourg’s famous red lion than most people know.
By Wise Expat Sage
Dear Wise Expat Sage,
What’s the story behind that weird red lion that’s on Luxembourg’s “other” flag?
A little bit of reverence, Freddy, goes a long way. The red lion is not weird. It’s a sacred symbol of this land and its people, based on a real and very sad story.
Long ago in the Middle Ages, the royal family was given a rather unusual gift, a lion cub they named Hermann. Being the beloved pet of the royal family, Hermann got to freely roam around Luxembourg City, eating whatever and whomever he wanted as long as it wasn’t somebody important. As he grew into an adult, this open-ended buffet led Hermann to become a little chubby.
Because Hermann was so well known, he got a lot of attention from the public and his portrait was all over the place. Seeing himself everywhere was torture for poor Hermann, who had become very self-conscious about his weight.
One day, Hermann was taking a walk with his friends Isabelle and Roy, a giraffe and zebra, respectively. (Exotic, imported animals were as common back then as bank employees are today.) The three of them passed a portrait of the lion that was hanging in a shop window.
“Oh my, am I really that heavy?” Hermann asked reflexively.
“Stout is the word I’d use,” said Isabelle. “You’ve got thick legs, which is good.”
“She means you’re fat,” said Roy with a chuckle. When Roy saw how deeply his words had stung Hermann, he tried to take them back, but it was too late. Hermann was devastated and ran away.
After a furious binge-eating session near the Alzette later that day – during which he devoured a baker, the baker’s wife, and several dozen croissants – Hermann looked at his reflection in the river and had an epiphany. Maybe he was a little overweight, but he could change.
He turned into a health freak, and for weeks he ate nothing but celery sticks and cakes made from kale and lentils. He started working out, too, at a medieval version of Factory 4 called Factory 1. This went on for months.
Then one day, Hermann paid Isabelle and Roy a surprise visit. He was so skinny that they barely recognized him. He was like, “hey guys, how do I look now?” They were like, “uh, yeah, Hermann, great. Really healthy.”
Sadly, Hermann didn’t pick up on their sarcasm. He continued his stupid diet and fitness regime. Also, he started going to a tanning salon every day. His skin turned bright red. Privately, people joked that Hermann resembled a stick with a mane, but Hermann was happy with his new body.
Everyone eventually got so worried about Hermann that they decided to stage an intervention. They invited him over for a BBQ and when he showed up with a Tupperware dish full of carrot sticks, they held him down and said they were going to make him eat proper lion food. Roy forced Hermann’s mouth open, and Isabelle took a piece of meat from the grill and shoved it in.
Big mistake. They’d forgotten that the meat was burning hot. Hermann screamed and jumped up. His tongue was smoking, so he ran around in circles making noises like a fire engine, just like in a cartoon. In the excitement, the meat went down the wrong way and Hermann choked. Sadly, no one was able to perform the Heimlich maneuver because it hadn’t been invented.
Everyone in Grand Duchy was devastated, even if the Grand Duchy as we know it didn’t really exist back then. The duke or prince or whoever made a decree that Hermann would become the official symbol of the royal family. They hired a famous artist who presented them with a design of a strong golden lion baring its fangs, but everyone was like no, we need to show Hermann how he wanted to be, and how he looked in his last moments: red, emaciated, and choking on a hot piece of BBQ pork.
Hope that helps!
Wes is a wise expat sage who has lived in Luxembourg for precisely eight months longer than you.
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