Knut the Birthday Boy

Knut with cake

Knut stole German hearts from the moment he stepped out into his enclosure at the Berlin Zoo. But the baby polar bear has fans all over the world. Many of them travelled to Berlin this week to help him celebrate his first birthday.

“I arrived in Berlin yesterday and went straight to the zoo,” said Jasmin Sambrano, who came all the way from Caracas, Venezuela just to help Knut blow out the candle. “Seeing him for the first time was like a meditative experience because there weren’t many people here and everyone was so quiet. When I saw him, I just started crying.”

Sambrano was just one of hundreds of Knut fans who made the pilgrimage to his enclosure on Wednesday for the birthday do. The bear himself was on his best behavior, wandering as close as he could to his guests and displaying all of his cutest poses and moves. When his birthday cake was brought out — a divine mixture of veggies, fruits, a whole fish and ice cream — Knut picked delicately at the greens, licked the wooden “candle” and then upended the whole thing to get to the ice cream at the bottom. A group of young children sang “Happy Birthday” from a nearby jungle gym.

“He is a bit on the chunky side, but that isn’t such a big deal,” Zoo Director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz said during his birthday oration, explaining why his young charge didn’t get his favorite food, butter croissants, for his meal. “I wish for Knut that he lives 30 or 40 years and that he reproduces. But given his looks, I don’t think that will be much of a problem.”

If, that is, his future dates don’t mind a polar bear who is often more gray than he is white. Knut on Wednesday elected to forego a birthday bath and was filthy from the shoulders up, a product of playing in the Berlin mud. But then, a star of his stature hardly needs to worry about his looks. Knut was born to Tosca, a former circus performer, last winter, but was rejected by his mother. His twin brother died four days later, but Knut was hand-reared by zookeeper Thomas Dörflein. Indeed, it was Dörflein’s romps with the little white fluff ball once he was old enough to play outside that helped Knut rocket to stardom around the world.

Knut then and now

The media circus has died down now that the Berlin bear weighs well over 100 kilos (220 pounds) and is no longer as cute as he once was, but the satellite trucks and television crews from Japan, Canada, Spain and elsewhere were on hand Wednesday for the big event.

Just how long the bear’s fans will be coming to Berlin to see Knut remains a topic of great speculation in the German capital. For now, the pre-pubescent polar bear is uninterested in girls, but the search is already on for a mate. Given the limited space for polar bears in Berlin, Knut will likely be the one to follow his future true love elsewhere. And the competition is stiff. Indeed, the zoo director of Neumünster even sent along a birthday letter and a basketball for Knut to remind zoo administrators in Berlin that they’re interested.

Take the Knut Quiz!

More at Der Spiegel


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