Woe to the Wayward Adventurer: The Story of the American Exchange Student Trapped in a Giant German Vagina

The story broke on Friday evening, in a stiff-lipped German regional newspaper, the Schwäbisches Tagblatt:

"Tübingen. The emergency call reached the fire department on Friday around 1:45, and was somewhat curious: 'A person is stuck in a vulva of stone.'"

The person in question was an unnamed American exchange student in Germany, and the vulva in question was a sculpture of a giant vagina made of Italian marble. Images circulating online of the incident show a young man in glasses, a graphic t-shirt, and fitted jeans sprawled on the ground, humiliated before the temple of the avant-garde.

(Click for a larger version of the fiasco.)

After the student got himself trapped in the stone sculpture in the university city of Tübingen on Friday afternoon, it took nearly two dozen firemen to pull him to safety. The adventurer was uninjured.

This, two centuries after Byron, is the modern-day Grand Tour.

It is also the perfect media storm. All the ingredients are here: a hapless American abroad, controversial and sex-positive artwork and, finally, their fusion into a photographable and clickable mess.

Since Friday, European and American sites have had a field day. Even Russia Today has weighed in. Below, some of the very worst, and oh, the very best, headlines and ledes on an American abroad.

The Sun, a London tabloid, hits the ground running:

"Bet he feels a right... Student trapped in sex organ statue"

From Germany's Bild, the nation's most popular daily, a more considered analysis:

"In all likelihood the American student hoped only to visit the picturesque town of Tübingen. Ultimately, this would become perhaps the most agonizing excursion of his life. Namely, he became trapped in a stone vagina and had to be freed by the fire department."

Russia Today, gleeful:

"It's a boy! US exchange student rescued from giant stone vagina in Germany"

The Guardian, telling it like it is:

"US student is rescued from giant vagina sculpture in Germany"

ArtNet gives agency to the work:

"32-Ton Marble Vagina Traps US Exchange Student"

But perhaps the greatest contribution comes from the sculptor himself, Peruvian artist Fernando de la Jara, who created the statue before its installation in Tübingen more than a decade ago. Excerpts from the personal statement on de la Jara's website become, in retrospect, premonitions:

"Exaltation of the damsel, gate to garden of delights illuminated...there is something there," de la Jara writes, "like an unravished promise of spring."



There Are as Many Refugees in the World as Justin Bieber Twitter Followers

For the first time since the end of World War II, the total number of refugees in the world has risen above 50 million, according to figures released Friday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The sharp increase in the total number of refugees was in large part the result of the ongoing Syrian civil war, which has forced 2.5 million to flee the country and resulted in 6.5 million internally displaced people. In total, there were some 51.2 million refugees in the world at the end of 2013, an increase of more than six million on the previous year.  

On its own, the figure 51.2 million can be somewhat difficult to conceptualize, a figure so large that it's difficult to imagine the human toll of conflict. To understand the scale of the current crisis, consider the fact there are more refugees in the world than there are people in South Korea. (Click the graphic for a larger version.)

"We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in a statement. "Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue."

Most refugees hail from the world's worst war zones. Together, Afghans, Syrians, and Somalis make up more than half of the total number of refugees in the world. And with violence continuing in Syria, and perhaps only worsening, the total number of refugees in the world is unlikely to decrease in the near future.