Berlin street traders ‘sold hats made of dog fur’

Berliners were outraged this week after it emerged that some tourist souvenir stands are selling hats made of dog fur. The Local headed to sightseeing hotspots to investigate.

Berlin street traders 'sold hats made of dog fur'
All of Muhammed Sarwar's rabbit fur hats were confiscated, he tells The Local. Photo: Hannah Butler

Anyone who has walked through Berlin's Alexanderplatz on a clear afternoon will be familiar with the odd combination of souvenirs on offer.

A communist style cap, anyone? How about a gas mask? Or perhaps a fluffy fur hat with ear flaps to keep out Berlin's chilly autumn air?

On Monday morning, a BZ reporter visited Alexanderplatz and came away with two fur hats.

The vendor claimed it was dog fur – and analysis from Tim Giesecke, consultant at the Berlin Association of Peltmongers, suggested this was true.

The import, export and sale of dog fur is banned in the EU – and on Tuesday, police confronted the vendor and seized his goods.

Accused of violating Germany's ban on dog fur trading, he will face a fine if found guilty.

Authorities have to 'inspect' furs

Alexanderplatz is usually alive with souvenir hat stands – but when The Local travelled to the popular tourist spot on Wednesday, not a single one was in sight.

A short walk away came a disgruntled explanation.

Muhammed Sarwar sells fur hats from a stand near Berlin Cathedral.

His stall usually boasts an array of rabbit fur hats, popular with tourists – but today, it's only artificial fur on offer.

This week, authorities confiscated much of Sarwar's stock.

“They said they had to inspect the furs, and asked me where I'd imported them from,” he said. “I didn't have any evidence of that because I bought the fur here in Germany.”

Sarwar begged officials not to take away his stock away.

“I said “please, please, they're not new goods, they're made from old fur,”” he remembered.

“I hope they'll give them back to me soon, because this is how I make my living.”

Showing The Local has street trading licence, he pointed out the words “Pelzmütze” (fur hats).

“See, I'm allowed to sell fur hats here,” he explained. “I paid for this licence.”

Artificial fur hats like these are all Sarwar has left to sell, he says. Photo: Hannah Butler

'It's theft, what they've done'

Many hat sellers have had their goods confiscated this week, Sarwar said – which explains why Alexanderplatz was so empty on this grey Wednesday afternoon.

Sarwar wasn't sure whether the street vendor in question was selling dog fur.

“He was a newcomer from Pakistan,” he told The Local – adding that the man could have falsely claimed it was dog fur without understanding the legal consequences.

Sarwar doesn't import any fur from abroad, he said.

Instead, he buys coats from Berlin flea markets and sends these to colleagues to be made into hats.

“It's painful for me to have all my goods confiscated, ” he said. “Everything I was selling when they confiscated my stock was made from coats we bought at flea markets.”

“It's actually theft, what they've done.”

Tourists still come to Sarwar and ask for real fur hats, he says – including dog fur. Photo: Hannah Butler

Peta: no reason to buy these products

According to animal protection organisation Peta, dog fur trading is a big issue in Berlin.

“Temporary traders rarely appear in the same place for long enough that their illegal activity can be stopped,” Edmund Haferbeck, head of Peta Germany's academic and legal department, told The Local.

Dog and cat fur imported from China is often cheaper than artificial fur, he explained – and with no animal protection laws in China, “conditions there are gruesome.”

Numerous investigations in China have shown the torturous ways these furs are obtained, he said.

“There's no sensible reason to buy these animal cruelty products,” Haferbech told The Local. “Especially in European countries where fur clothing isn't necessary for warmth.”

'Fur doesn't belong in the fashion scene'

The German Animal Protection Association also slammed the practice.

“Fur production is always extremely distressing and painful for the animal,”  spokesperson Lea Schmitz told The Local.

Even though most dogs don't live in cramped cages, as is often the case in industrial fur production, the killing methods are just as cruel, she said – adding: “the animals are sometimes skinned alive.” 

It's not just the trade in dog and cat fur the Association wants to end.

“Only through a total boycott of fur products can we make sure that no animals die under agonising conditions,” Schmitz explained.

“Anyone who buys these products supports the brutal practice of fur trading.”

Because it's often difficult to tell whether a product is made of real or artificial fur, the Association recommends that people avoid fur products altogether, Schmitz said.

“This is the only way for consumers to show the fashion industry that fur isn't socially acceptable, and doesn't belong in the fashion scene.”

By Hannah Butler

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Germany to be ‘first country’ to end shredding of male chicks

Germany is set to be the first country to ban mass shredding of male chicks in the poultry industry, the government said Wednesday after approving a draft law on the controversial practice.

Germany to be 'first country' to end shredding of male chicks
Photo: DPA

The measure passed by the cabinet envisages a ban on mass chick killing from 2022 in “a significant step forward for animal welfare,” Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner said in a statement.

In many poultry businesses, male chicks are separated from females soon after hatching and shredded or gassed as they do not produce eggs and generate less meat.

Tens of millions of males are culled in Germany every year.

Animal welfare activists have long campaigned to end the practice but farmers have complained there is no practical, affordable and cruelty-free alternative.

But methods to determine the sex of chicks before they hatch are available to farmers, according to the government.

'First in the world'

One technique, developed by a German firm, involves using a laser to make a tiny hole to extract liquid from a fertilised egg, before testing it for the presence of a female hormone.

“We have invested millions of euros in alternatives, bringing animal welfare and economic efficiency together on German soil,” Klöckner said.

READ ALSO: Germany and France push EU to end shredding of male chicks

Saying Germany would be “the first in the world” to proceed in this way, Klöckner stated it wants to “set the pace and be a role model for other countries”.

From 2024, the draft law will also require poultry farmers to use methods that work at an earlier stage in the incubation process, preventing pain for the unhatched embryos.

The European advocacy group Foodwatch criticised the move, saying it did not go far enough in an industry that also causes suffering for animals in other ways.

“If only the cruel practice of killing chicks in Germany is ended, this will change absolutely nothing about the unbearable suffering of laying hens,” said Martin Rücker, executive director of Foodwatch.

'Partial solution'

The German Poultry Association said the plans were only a “partial solution to the problem”, claiming they would also lead to “immense competitive disadvantages” for German poultry farmers.

The association said it welcomed the phasing out of chick culling but saw “serious shortcomings” in the draft law, including that it would not apply anywhere else in Europe.

The legislation must next be approved by the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.

Germany and France committed in January 2020 to work together to end the practice of chick shredding by the end of 2021.

French Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume has also committed to outlawing the practice in France from the end of 2021.

Switzerland banned the shredding of live chicks last year, but still allows them to be gassed.

In June 2019, a German court ruled that the slaughter could continue until a method was found to determine the sex of an embryo in the egg.

An EU directive from 2009 authorises shredding as long as it causes “immediate” death for chicks less than 72 hours old.