Germany was bracing for panda mania as furry ambassadors arrive from China on Saturday, destined for a new life as stars of Berlin’s premier zoo.
The pair, named Meng Meng and Jiao Qing, will be jetting in on a special Lufthansa cargo plane, accompanied by two Chinese panda specialists, the Berlin Zoo’s chief vet and a tonne of bamboo.
Berlin’s mayor, China’s ambassador to Germany and a gaggle of journalists will greet the VIPs as LH8415 pulls to a stop on the tarmac of Schoenefeld airport.
After just over a week’s acclimatisation, they will be unveiled to the public by no less than Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping, most likely two days before the G20 summit of world leaders hosted by Germany.
Famed for its “panda diplomacy”, China has dispatched its national treasure to only about a dozen countries as a symbol of close relations.
Export giants Germany and China have nurtured increasingly close economic ties, and over the last year the have also taken on the leading role in championing free trade as Donald Trump shifts the US away from market liberalisation with his “America First” push.
“The Chinese see the pandas as Chinese brand ambassadors. China obviously has an image problem in Europe and giving pandas is a very smart and easy way to win hearts,” said Bernhard Bartsch from the Bertelsmann Foundation think tank in Berlin.
The “pandas will lend a very positive spin in German media to the visit by Xi Jinping in July,” he added.
– Bamboo snacks, absorbent mats –
The excitement over the two bears is evident in the run-up to their arrival, with the zoo publishing a daily updated blog about the pair.
“We are obviously nervous now because everything must go well,” Berlin Zoo director Andreas Knieriem told SWR radio on Friday.
“There’s a plane flying them in exclusively, and the flight route — Chengdu to Berlin — is not a usual route. But I think we are well prepared,” he said.
The 12 hour, 20 minute journey to Germany has been carefully prepared,…