Berlin's Cub Creates Sales Frenzy

The Associated Press
Friday, April 6, 2007; 3:58 PM

BERLIN -- Thousands of people line up at the Berlin Zoo each day to see Knut the polar bear cub, and his button-eyed face has become inescapable for many others who live far from the capital.

Knutmania is in full swing in Germany, where the fluffy baby bear has become the latest merchandising sensation, inspiring Knut T-shirts, mugs, postcards, DVDs, keychains, candy and stuffed teddy bears that cost up to $40.

Knut shares the cover of the current issue of Vanity Fair with no less than Leonardo DiCaprio, with photos by Annie Leibovitz. He has the cover of the German edition all to himself.

Born at the zoo on Dec. 5, Knut _ who was rejected by his mother and hand-raised by zookeepers _ rose to fame last month thanks to television and newspaper pictures. Since then, he has become virtually omnipresent. So potent is his appeal that zoo attendance has roughly doubled since his debut, officials said.

He even helped the zoo's stock to more than double_ albeit temporarily.

"Obviously, his innocent, babylike looks are an important reason," said Peter Walschburger, a psychologist at the Free University in Berlin, adding that Knut's white fur and soft, round features made people want to protect him.

Some 15,000 people visit the baby bear each day.

The merchandising frenzy now includes a special collection by German toy maker Steiff GmbH. Since January, the company has been selling 800 Knut bears a day, said sales director Gerald Uhlich. The stuffed animals come in three sizes and cost between about $27 and $40.

Haribo, the German candy company that makes gummi bears, has created a white, marshmallow-like Knut candy that will hit grocery stores across Germany and Austria next week.

Steiff has a licensing deal with the zoo and will invest part of its profit in projects there. Haribo also will contribute part of its proceeds to the zoo.

"Our Knut candies have raspberry flavor and are sold in boxes of 150 pieces or over the counter for 5 cents each," Marco Alster, a Haribo spokesman, said Thursday.

The Knut marketing phenomenon has had a dramatic impact on the Berlin Zoo's ownership shares, a legacy of its founding as a stock corporation in 1871. The shares, which had hovered around $2,680 in recent years, shot up as high as $6,400 this week.

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