The launch of the World Youth Day festival is still days away but the merchandising has already hit the streets. And from the choices on view, shopaholic pilgrims will have no problem sating their appetites.
Been there, bought the t-shirt: pope fans are flocking to get tour items
The estimated 800,000 pilgrims flocking to Cologne and the surrounding areas for the World Youth Day celebrations may be there to save souls but it's unlikely that they will be saving any money. The merchandising bandwagon is in full swing a week in advance of the main event and items are flying off the shelves.
"We've already had to restock on key chains," said volunteer Christine Meyer above the din of a frantic crowd clamoring for goodies at the info point opposite Cologne's main station. "They selling very well and so are the wristbands." As if to emphasise the point, a group of Japanese girls snap up a handful of the popular rubber bands, one of each color.
The fashion conscious Catholic could run up a hefty bill if he or she were to stock up on all the available official World Youth Day products available. The apparently desirable key chains retail at a reasonable 3.60 euros ($4.47) while the wristbands go for 1.20 euros a pop.
Extensive shopping list could break the bank
Things start to add up, however, when wanting to complement your various hanging items with festival attire. Imagine the sun breaks out from behind the clouds while taking part in the open air mass. A rather fetching official baseball cap or sunhat would be needed to keep off those powerful rays. Each will cost the UV aware pilgrim 8.50 euros.
The unexpected heat may require a change of clothes. Luckily there's a choice of either a current or former Pope t-shirt (12.90 euros). And just to make sure you won't be late for a papal pot roast down by the Rhine with your friends, you'll need a World Youth Day watch which can be purchased for 11.99 euros.
Amazingly still able to converse under the weight of her extensive collection of memorabilia, Corina Ribiero from Brazil said that money was no question in relation to the bigger picture and the memories she hopes she will take back with her to Sao Paulo.
"My experiences here will be worth more than anything," she said. "Many of the things I have bought are for my family but also for me. They will remind me of the beautiful time I had in Germany."
Pope sideline doing a roaring trade
If the official range of products is not enough to get the international congregation parting with its money, there also seems to be a profitable sideline in pope merchandise running in tandem with the officially sponsored items.
The arrival of Benedict XVI on August 18 has been anticipated ever since he was named as successor to the late John Paul II. And with the former Cardinal Ratzinger a native of the host country, every souvenir stand, book store and tourist shop in the area has been stocking up on official and not-so-official papal treats.
For those not willing to shell out for the event sponsored t-shirt, there are plenty of cheaper alternatives featuring the beaming visage of the Holy Father. For example, a rock festival-esque black number sporting a saluting Ratzi could be yours for 9.95 euros, denim waistcoat not included.
World Youth Day meets free enterprise
Not all outlets selling merchandise, however, could be called reputable.
"He is our pope and we want to commemorate his return," said one street vendor who did not wish to be named. When asked if he felt any pangs of guilt offering bootleg merchandise to pilgrims, the man added: "Any Christian will tell you that one of God's greatest gifts was the gift of free will. They can choose if they want to buy my t-shirts or someone else's."
There is certainly no dearth in possible alternatives. Radiating out from the Cologne cathedral there are numerous stores displaying posters, postcards, candles, lollipops and all manner of reading material all featuring the star of the show.
Many items, despite the fact that the pope won't be in Cologne for a week, already feature the Holy Father in various poses around the city.
Just in case it proves difficult getting a snapshot of Benedict XVI while he's in Cologne, there is a wide range of postcards already on sale that has the pope relaxing by the Rhine, receiving adulation in front of the cathedral and enjoying a break from blessing the faithful.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, it certainly seems that religon sells and that World Youth Day -- and the first visit to Germany of the new pope -- is big business.