While many Germans have been keeping personal treats to an absolute minimum, their cats and dogs are being pampered like never before as the market for luxury pet products and foods continues to expand.
What would your dog choose to buy at the store?
The global pet products sector is worth around 41.5 billion euros ($57 billion) annually. In 2009, when most industries contracted, the market for pet food and accessories grew by an impressive three percent.
The craze for kitting out lap dogs with diamond-encrusted collars and ermine winter jackets was once confined to Hollywood but now it seems even Germans are jumping on board this glitzy – and expensive – bandwagon to give their pets the best money can buy.
Koko von Knebel is a chain of stores specializing in luxury products for dogs. It currently has seven branches around Germany including two in Berlin. One is in the capital city's opulent KaDeWe department store. Its other Berlin branch is situated near the city's designer shopping mile, the KuDamm, and sits neatly alongside the Gucci and Prada flagship stores.
"We really have everyone shopping here," says store manager, Andrea Klosinski, "Everyone from pensioners to celebrities to the really wealthy."
Koko von Knebel, where "Every dog is a star!"
The store is white and spacious and boasts everything that Cuddles and Mr Fluffy could possibly need - from traditional squeaky toys costing three euros ($4) to sumptuous carry cases and bejeweled collars priced around 900 euros ($1200).
While Andrea Klosinski says that luxury may be difficult to define, she is sure why the products here are proving so popular: "If you have a beautifully decorated bedroom you wouldn't spoil it by putting an awful bed in there. It has to fit."
One person who isn't in the least interested in dressing his dog up to match the curtains is 34-year-old Philip Jablkov. He lives in Berlin with his wife and two young sons. Their dog Sunshine, one of around 110,000 dogs currently living in the city, has been with the family for 12 years.
"I think it's ridiculous because it's nothing for the dog it's something for the owner," he said, "It's better to take the dog out for the whole day and play with it instead of buying it a collar with Swarovski crystals. That's not important for the dog."
Some pet owners spare no expense on their dog's styling and accessories
While real fur beds and mini leather jackets may be the expensive cherries on top of Germany's pet product market, the real meat and gravy of this industry lies in pet food.
With a mere four companies accounting for 80 percent of the market, pet food is a lucrative and highly competitive area. Many manufacturers therefore resort to hard-sell tactics such as flashy packaging to catch the eye of owners and artificial scents designed to appeal to Fido's sensitive nose.
Biscuits or baby food?
But sometimes even the most expensive pet foods aren't quite good enough for man's best friend.
More and more dog-owners, it seems, are feeding Bongo and Trixy nothing but choice cuts of meat from the butcher – or are even jars of baby food.
"We see this trend also and what we try to make clear is that whatever you do, it is important to fulfill the nutrient requirements," says pet food expert Juergen Zentek from Berlin's Free University. "Baby food is for babies, not for dogs."
Philip Jablkov says Sunshine faces no such nutritional problems. He buys a 15kg (33lb) sack of dry food from a Swedish company for around 30 euros ($41), which lasts for approximately two months.
Nothing but the best: luxury dog products can now be bought in Berlin's KaDeWe
"In Sweden they have the highest standards for food for animals so they’re not allowed to have antibiotics and so on in their food that they’re selling," he says.
"I've been feeding Sunshine with this food for 12 years now and she's never been sick," he adds. "This is a good, mid-range pet food."
While increasing numbers of Germans using their beloved dogs as trendy fashion accessories and status symbols, does Philip Jablkov have plans to jump on this bandwagon anytime soon?
"Definitely not!" he exclaims. "They're all mad. It's really sick to get your dog a diamond collar. No dog needs that!"
Author: Gavin Blackburn
Editor: Sam Edmonds