The city of Berlin officially honored its famed deceased polar bear, Knut, with a bronze statue on Wednesday. Knut's died suddenly in March 2011 after collapsing in his enclosure's pool and drowning. Pathology experts believe he had a seizure caused by encephalitis. Whatever the cause, his untimely death came as a shock to the city. Over his four short years, the ursine superstar had been the equivalent of a ATM machine for the Berlin Zoo, with millions of visitors coming to see "Cute Knut".
Knut made his first public appearance at the Berlin Zoo on March 2007. As the first polar bear born at the zoo in more than three decades, Knut became an instant celebrity. That summer more than 15,000 people came out every day to witness Knut's antics. During the first months of his life, Knut's cuddly charisma earned him an even more devoted fan club worldwide as he graced magazine covers and entertained adoring fans.
A Death in the Public Eye
In September 2008 his devoted keeper Thomas Dörflein, who raised Knut after his mother rejected him, died after having a heart attack. Zoo keepers eventually moved him to a bigger enclosure with three older female polar bears, but Knut's days were numbered. In the end, he died as he lived -- in the public eye.
Since then Berlin has struggled with preserving his memory. The media darling's hide is currently being prepared in the form of taxidermy for display in the city's Natural History Museum. The bear is expected to be shown as part of the museum's permanent collection by the end of 2013.
The zoo chose the design for the life size bronze statue in January among more than 40 submitted plans. Nuremberg artist Josef Tabachnyk designed the dedication titled "Knut the Dreamer." It shows Knut sprawled across two ice floes with a twinkle in his eye.
On Wednesday, Berlin Zoo director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz told the assembled crowd, "Knut's popularity even surpassed that of the famous Knautschke," a beloved hippopotamus who became famous during the 1950s for having survived the war and is also memorialized in the form of a statue at the zoo.
"We had visitors from all over the world, from Israel to New Zealand, from Canada to Australia and China," he said.