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Fame's Dark Side

Toma TasovacApril 26, 2007

Knut, the polar bear, is the most famous living Berliner. He is no doubt up there with JFK and David Hasselhoff in the Berlin hall of fame. But fame -- as celebrities often like to point out -- comes at a high price.

Will he need a therapist when he grows up?Image: AP

Three events in Berlin's rich and tumultuous history have left particular marks on its stature as a cosmopolitan city in the twentieth century.

First, there was that famous Cold War-era speech in which youthful and dashing American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy almost broke his tongue calling himself a Berliner -- in German.

Die Berliner Mauer
Kennedy in Berlin -- still a legendImage: AP

Despite what some overzealous, self-proclaimed experts on German grammar wanted you to think for years, Kennedy's use of the indefinite article in "Ich bin ein Berliner" did not make him sound as a weirdo who thought he was a jelly doughnut. The truth of the matter is that in 1963, Berliners found Kennedy's American accent charming. They felt his statement was a powerful message of support for the city painfully lacerated by a wall.

Then, there was former Baywatch chief lifeguard David Hasselhof, who in 1989 -- the year in which the Berlin Wall finally fell -- said that he felt "a bit sad" that he didn't find his picture hanging on the walls of the Museum at Checkpoint Charlie. After all, the US actor said his song "Looking for Freedom" -- which was, indeed, a big hit in Germany and which he got to sing on top of the crumbling wall -- helped unite the country.

Everybody -- even the man who saved lives with curvaceous Pamela Anderson -- wants to be a Berliner.

New age

David Hasselhoff
David Hasselhoff practically brought the Berlin Wall downImage: AP

Now, there is Knut -- Berlin's cuddly sensation, the polar bear who was rejected by his mother, but adopted by an entire city. Unlike JFK and David Hasselhoff, Knut didn't want to become a Berliner. His idea of fun involves fish and freezing cold showers, not jelly doughnuts and screaming children.

But he had no saying in the whole matter and he is now the most famous living Berliner, an overnight celebrity, a symbol of the fight against global warming and the hairiest celebrity ever to make the cover of Vanity Fair.

A new website called YouKnut -- in reference to the popular internet video sharing site YouTube -- has been set up as a place for Kunt fans to share their stories, songs and video about their favorite Berliner. One user posted a poem called "Knut, oh Knut," while another used the site to announce he was looking for the nice girl he had met on the subway who wore the YouKnut badge.

And the cynics thought that there was no place for poetry or love in today's world?

The dark side of fame

Real celebrities always polarize. Think Paris Hilton.

Titelcover Vanity Fair mit Knut
Oh, Knut, what a guy!Image: Marco Siebertz

Another German website, ominously called kill-knut.com, is built on the knowledge that the public almost always has a love-hate relationship with objects of their desire. It invites its visitors to play online games involving their puffy white hero. One is called "Kill Knut," the other -- "Feed Knut." The choice is yours.

If you are a hormonally imbalanced teenager or a disturbed person with unresolved aggression issues, you will try to shoot as many polar bears as possible. If, on the other hand, you are an environmentally-conscious softie who eats organic food, wears sandals and hugs trees as a matter of principle, you can earn your game points by throwing fish at hyperactive polar bears. For each polar bear shot or fed, you get one point.

The game statistics shows that cyber-killers seem more determined than cyber-feeders. On April 26, the reigning top "Polar Bear Killer" had earned 39,400 points, whereas his "Feeder" counterpart had collected only 30,000.

If Knut grows up to be a bitter old polar bear, it should come as no surprise at all.