Old dogs, new tricks

Culture | A historical look at Charlie Brown, and telling the truth about Hitler's ugly attempt to appear charming

Issue: "Ken Starr: An honest cop," Nov. 13, 1999

You're almost 50 years old, Charlie Brown!
After almost 50 years producing the comic strip Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz has enough mementos for a museum. The cartoonist received approval last month to build a 17,000-square-foot museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., and plans to erect a two-story exhibit full of galleries showing the history of Charlie Brown, Linus, and Snoopy. Mr. Schulz started the strip in 1950 with a cast of kids who talk like adults. Each represented a different archetype, like Charlie Brown the Everyman loser, Linus the phobic philosopher, and Lucy the Fussbudget. In the 1960s, when the strip peaked, lines from it like "Happiness is a warm puppy" entered general circulation. Since Mr. Schulz espoused Christianity and often introduced biblical allusions, there was even a book called The Gospel According to Peanuts. Then something happened. Maybe cute lines became repetitive. (After all the years, could Charlie Brown kick Lucy's football, already?) Today, about 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries and run the strip-and Peanuts' demise would start a firestorm of protest from fans. The likes of Berke Breathed and Gary Larson turned off Bloom County and The Far Side, respectively, to prevent a long, slow decline. Some say Mr. Schulz should have done the same. But, in this cynical age, he doesn't have a clear successor. Hitler's resort
One of the weirdest propaganda stories of World War II concerns beautiful Berchtesgaden, Germany, once Adolf Hitler's pet stomping grounds. When the Third Reich came to town, its propagandists decided that the place's snowcapped peaks, sparkling streams, and tolling church bells could be used like a movie set to present a gorgeous picture of the Fatherland before the cameras. So the Nazis marched into the hilltop suburb of Obersalzberg, kicked out the locals, and started using the Alpine locale to make a monster look more humane. Photographers snapped shots of Der Führer surrounded by the charming scenery. Hitler himself liked the place enough to set up a mountaintop retreat. That house, nicknamed "Eagle's Nest," is now one of the few Third Reich buildings still standing in today's Germany. The people in charge of Berchtesgaden today are struggling to find a new use for the place. The U.S. military captured the area, and not until 1995 was it reopened to skiers and golfers. However, the place has become a shrine for a few unrepentant Nazis. One pilgrim is 68-year-old Reinhold Renz, who comes every spring from England to hike up to the Eagle's Nest and pay homage to Hitler. "Hitler was the best leader we ever had," Mr. Renz said during this year's trip. "Hitler was for Germany. He was so modest and unassuming." To help solve the problem, the state of Bavaria opened a permanent exhibit last month, documenting how Obersalzberg propaganda fueled crimes all over Europe. For example, pictures of children being led to their deaths are juxtaposed with staged shots of Hitler laughing with children. Berchtesgaden lives as a reminder of the power of hype and a monument to the fact that evil doesn't always come in ugly packages.

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