Postcard from... Berlin

 

Berlin likes to honour its animal legends. Knautschke was the name of the city's beloved hippopotamus – a brave creature born in Berlin's zoo at the height of the Second World War, he survived the trauma of the Allied air raids which killed his mother.

Despite rationing, he was kept alive with food donations from hungry Berliners during the closing stages of the conflict. Knautschke died in 1988 at the ripe old age of 46 and today a bronze statue of him stands at the entrance of the zoo's hippo house.

However, the Knautschke legend now looks set to be overtaken by the more famous but arguably less worthy phenomenon of Knut – the cuddly polar bear who managed to grace the front cover of Vanity Fair before he suffered a seizure and drowned in his zoo enclosure's pool in March last year. Knut, who was raised by his keeper after his mother rejected him, was attracting some 15,000 visitors a day until his death. The untimely death of his keeper from a sudden heart attack in 2008 only served to increase the bear's fame and earn the zoo millions.

Inevitably a bronze statue of Knut was unveiled at Berlin zoo last week. Entitled "Knut the dreamer" it depicts the famous bear sprawled across two ice floes. The zoo now acknowledges that Knut's popularity was greater than Knautschke's, not least because television and the internet won him an international audience. Those who didn't experience Knut in the flesh need not be entirely disappointed. A stuffed version of the bear is due to go on display at the city's natural history museum by the end of 2014.

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