“It sounds crazy to many,” said trained retail saleswoman Ulrike Böhmler, admitting that she has always had a certain affection for stuffed animals.
She still has her first stuffed bear, a gift from her grandmother worn ragged by 35 years of cuddling. For some people, such plush toys remain a sentimental object for an entire lifetime, she says.
This kind of love inspired the mother of two to start her own business three years ago when she suddenly found herself unemployed.
“Back then I said in jest that I would offer teddy bear tours if I couldn't find anything,” she said, explaining that a friend in Munich had put her up to the idea.
But the joke turned into reality and she founded “Teddy-In,” which now offers trips for toys to Hamburg, Munich, Barcelona, Rome and even Romania where the animals can follow Dracula's fictional footsteps.
Customers book via email or letter, then ship their stuffed animal to Böhmler, who says it can be “comical” when some boxes arrive with air holes punched into cartons for the inanimate toys. She then guides the toy on its holiday tour, taking photographs along the way.
When they return the animals are sent back to their owners refreshed and with a set of vacation photos to share.
Böhmler's toy travel agency is just one of several such businesses that have cropped up in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Venice and Prague.
“For many it's a very original gift idea,” said Karsten Morschett from Teddy Tour Berlin. “Lots of people can no longer take trips on their own due to health problems and send their teddy on holiday instead.”