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30 May 2023

Berlin Zoo picks memorial to dead bear


Fans of Knut, the cuddly polar bear that captured hearts worldwide, will soon be able to visit a memorial at Berlin Zoo after the winning design for the shrine was unveiled on Friday.

The winner, chosen from 40 entries, was "Knut The Dreamer" by sculptor Josef Tabachnyk, showing the snowy-white bear reclining lazily on rocks in his pen at Berlin Zoo, said the head of the Friends of the Capital Zoos, Thomas Ziolko.

"Knut will live on in the hearts of several visitors, therefore we want to create something permanent for future generations with this memorial, to capture the unique nature of this animal celebrity," said Ziolko.

Knut, who died suddenly aged four from a suspected brain seizure last year, had shot to fame as a super-sweet cub after being abandoned by his mother and reared by hand.

When he died, devastated fans left flower bouquets, written tributes and photos of Knut at his former den at the zoo, while an online condolence book drew thousands of messages.

The first public appearance of "Cute Knut" attracted 100 camera crews from around the world and the cub generated millions of euros for Berlin Zoo in lucrative merchandising and extra entrance fees.

At the height of his fame, he even appeared on the cover of "Vanity Fair" magazine and on German postal stamps.

But once Knut grew into a strapping adolescent and then adult, animal welfare groups began to worry that he was displaying abnormal behaviour because of all the attention.

The memorial was expected to cost around 15,000 euros and will be financed by donations.

Germany's obsession with Knut was part of a long history of love affairs with celebrity animals.

A "psychic" octopus called Paul was cast into the global media spotlight during the 2010 soccer World Cup after correctly "predicting" the results of eight matches.

His place was taken by Heidi, a cross-eyed opossum who became an Internet sensation in Germany, winning three times more Facebook admirers than Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Heidi died in September.