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Sat, Nov 19, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Teddy bear manufacturers go classical in tough market


It's official. The trend in teddy bears this year is strictly classical, as manufacturers from across Germany confirmed at this year's "Teddy Baerlinale" in Berlin.

The German teddy bear industry stretches back generations, and manufacturers take their furry creations very seriously.

Susanne Ludwig, co-founder of Balu-Baeren in Braunschweig, was among the dozens of bear makers from across Germany displaying their wares in Berlin.

Ludwig talked solemnly about the recent spate of terror attacks worldwide, saying they had increased people's "feelings of insecurity and fear."

"No teddy bear or soft toy can change such things, but they can help transmit a sense of security, comfort and warmth in dark moments," she said without a trace of pathos.

Baerenstark is probably Berlin's largest teddy bear shop, just off the central Friedrichstrasse. Renate Ernst, the store manager, says the return by bear makers to classical designs points to a difficult time for the market.

"You still find bears of zany, odd-ball appearance, produced by teddy artists. But with the market tougher, there is now less experimentation," she said.

The 1980s saw a boom in teddy bear sales in Germany, but with unemployment at 11 percent, people have less money to fork out on branded bears, she said.

Steiff, Hermann Teddy Bear, Grisley Spielwaren GmbH and Clemens are among the heavyweights in Germany's teddy bear manufacturing.

Their products, made with the finest mohair, are found in shops and department stores nationwide, alongside the creations of countless independent teddy designers.

With the domestic market in the doldrums, most are now looking to overseas markets to shore up their sales.

The US, Canada, UK, France, Belgium, Japan, Australia and New Zealand have all become importers of German teddies in recent decades.

German manufacturers are hoping for a boost on the home front next year when a film about Margarete Steiff (1847-1909), the founder of the famous Giengen toymaking company, will be shown on prime-time television.

The talented German actress Heike Makatsch plays the role of the doughty Steiff, who faced discrimination for most of her life as a polio sufferer and displayed enormous willpower, courage and skill, in building up the family empire.

Horst Wieder, organizer of the annual Teddy Baerlinale, admits the German market for teddy bears has shown signs of fatigue.

"It's not that Germany is without rich people, but rather it's a case of the middle and lower ends of society having less money to spend on items of pleasure," he said.

The Nazi rise to power sounded the death knell for several famous names in the industry, including the Bing Spielwarenfabrik toy factory in Nuremberg, which specialized in metal toys.

In 1907 Bing employed 6,000 people and was hailed the world's largest manufacturer of toys. The artist-inventor Kunz Weidlich played an enormous part in that success, after he began designing traditional, fully jointed bears for the firm.

Their Clockwork bears moved their heads from side to side, while others walked, skied or skated along when their mechanisms were wound up.

Such inventiveness helped the firm to flourish in the years after World War I, but when Hitler came to power it was clear the company's days were numbered. The Bing family were Jewish.

In the early 1930s the factory's contents had to be auctioned off. Today surviving Bing bears are regarded as collectors items, and fetch huge prices at auctions in London, Munich and New York.

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