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Berlin’s Curious 1920s Polar Bear Craze

When you think of polar bears, you think of Canada, Greenland, or other Arctic locales. But then we must remember Knut, the polar bear born at the Berlin Zoo in 2006 that became an internet sensation. It wasn't the first time that Germany went wild for polar bears.

As the story goes, some time in the early 1920s, two (actual) polar bears arrived at the Berlin Zoo and became the talk of the town. Families came from all over the country to see the bears and to get their pictures taken with the zoo’s mascots (a couple of guys in costumes who stood outside the gates to welcome tourists). The trend took off from there and gave rise to a nationwide phenomenon which lasted until the 1970s, spanning a whole period from pre-war to to post-war Germany. It’s safe to say that vacation photo albums of the era just weren’t complete without a snap with a fake polar bear.

French collector Jean-Marie Donat has procured thousands of pictures of these polar bear characters since 1980. They were published in a limited-edition book called TeddyBär, which is sold out, but you can see a sampling of the images that illustrate the odd German craze at Messy Nessy Chic.

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