I first came to the annual pug meetup and race last year, when it was, quite honestly, the best day I think I've ever had in my three years living in Berlin. We got back to the city so drunk on sunshine, keg beers and pug-cuteness that we ended up crawling around my flat doing pug imitations. A few weeks ago, I was checking out the Berlin pug community's distinctly Geocities-style website, and went to add the date of this year's event to my calendar: I'd already added it weeks before. Anticipation was high.
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We spot our first pug getting onto the train into one of Berlin's southernmost suburbs, Lichtenrade. By the time we get off, we are surrounded by the squished up canine faces, huffing from their inbred respiratory problems. Reaching the front of the line to get into the enclosure, which boasts a barbecue, pug-themed stalls and the racetrack, we're asked how many tickets we need, and how many pugs we have. "No pugs," we say. "Poor you!" she exclaims, stamping our wrists (of course, the stamp has a pug on it).
It's hard to say just why pugs are the absolute, internet-approved epitome of cute. Here in this enclosure, surrounded by more than 150 pugs, leaping over each other, jumping in and out of mini paddling pools and snuffling dog-friendly ice cream, I still don't know. Even choosing which one is cuter than another is a Sisyphean task—as soon as you think you've found one ("It's so tiny! Look how it cocks its head!"), another one waddles by ("Jesus Christ, look at those neck rolls!").
Maybe it's because they are desperate in the way that only dogs can be, their huge tongues sticking out, drooling idiotically, so dependent on human affection. A soundtrack of insufficient lung capacity fills the day's proceedings: A huffing, pig-like snorting that forces an insane smile into those wrinkly face crevices. Occasionally, a couple of pugs will get into a kerfuffle, setting off some kind of pug alarm that causes all dogs in the vicinity to join in: Instant pug moshpit. Do I need to tell you that this is pretty much the height of adorable?
Unsurprisingly, the quality of pug memorabilia on the owners is stellar. "Notorious P.U.G.," "Pug thug," "Sex, pugs and rock and roll," proclaim T-shirts and bags throughout the crowd, and almost everyone has something with a pug motif. There's a stall selling Katharina Teutsch's book about the cultural history of the mops (German for "pug"), as well as one with pugged-out knick knacks: novelty pug shaped salt-and-pepper shakers and tote bags with Versace-style pugs printed on them.
The preference for English "pug" over the German "mops" emblazoned across T-shirt chests might be because its plural—möpse—is a fucking gross word for boobs. "To be honest, if I had two pugs yapping away on my chest instead of boobs, I wouldn't even complain," my friend muses, as we wander through the pugfest.
As it reaches the hottest point in the day, it's time to race. The owners of a sleek, cream and black puppy named Lola get themselves to the starting line, and while one holds the dog's collar, the other paces halfway down the track, calling out encouragement and rattling a packet of dog treats as enticement.
"Doping with sausages is allowed," clarifies Tom Zupan, event organizer and commentator, over the loudspeaker, but his tone has the stern derision of an aged kung fu master: If you can only get your pug to do what you say by bribing it with food, your pug owner skills are clearly inadequate.
The race winner gets a gold painted pug ornament, but there's also a prize for the slowest pug—awarded to those who stop to flirt with another pug halfway down, or get distracted by the smell of a spectator's bratwurst.
This year's winner, beating the 74 other competitors, was Loui, who has travelled here from the nearby city Magdeburg. His owners, Anna and Daniel, knew he was quick from watching him run around in the park, but they didn't know how quick: He finished in 6.502 seconds. With only one letter's difference—but a world apart in racing terms— pug called Louis was the slowest with a record of one minute and 17 seconds. Maybe his sausage doping wasn't up to scratch.
Although the race is the main event, many of the dogs are just here to meet and hang out with other pugs and their pug-obsessed owners. Charlie's owner, Mico, tells us the race would be too hard for him. Mico's here because of his girlfriend, who also came last year. Our photographer asks him to pick up the dog, "Isn't that a bit G-A-Y?" he asks us. "No, I think it's a bit C-U-T-E!" she replies. He agrees to pose, and it is.
2014's pug meetup was the most popular yet, and this one reached similar levels with 165 pugs and over 800 people attending, Zupan tells me, clearly proud of the turnout. But will there be another one next year? "Yes, if my wife lets me!"