by David A. Williams
COPENHAGEN, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- As Europe crosses over into a new year, many European families have chosen to visit zoos as a way to celebrate new year -- with giant pandas.
In the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark, Chinese giant panda couple Xing Er and Mao Sun have become a veritable cultural phenomenon in the country since they moved to the panda house at the zoo in April 2019.
The pandas, on loan from China under a 15-year Sino-Danish Panda International Research Cooperation Project, have seen their significance expand beyond the scientific and diplomatic realms. They have become so beloved by the Danish public that the zoo is now estimating panda star power will draw an additional 400,000 visitors annually.
During the current seasonal celebrations, the enthusiasm for the pandas has only increased unabated. The ramp running around the edges of the panda enclosure is a sea of the enraptured faces of Danish children brought up on the tales of H.C. Andersen finally meeting a living fairy tale embodied in the fascinating black and white combination that is a panda. And the word many children use is "cute".
"I think pandas are so cute, beautiful and cuddly," said ten-year-old Alberta Riisnae, who, with her grandmother, was braving the bitter cold to catch the sight of pandas.
"Mao Sun and Xing Er seemed to have fit in very well. We will take very good care of them here. I think, culturally, it's very good to have them here in Denmark. Huge thanks to China for giving us the honor," Jorgen Horwitz, chairman of the Board of Copenhagen Zoo, told Xinhua.
Home to five giant pandas, Pairi Daiza zoo in Belgium attracted many visitors during the holiday season.
According to the zoo's spokesperson Claire Gilissen, a lot of people come to the zoo as they are "very interested in the lovely pandas."
In neighboring Germany, the packed panda house at Berlin Zoo was gripped with seasonal joy and brimmed with affectionate laughter, on the cusp of the New Year, as giant panda Jiao Qing, once again, simply ate bamboo in a panda's naturalistic, sit-back-and-relax style.
Home to giant pandas Jiao Qing and Meng Meng, Berlin Zoo has had a lucky year in 2019: Meng Meng gave birth to a sprightly pair of panda cubs, the first-ever panda cubs born in Germany.
The addition of pandas has turned the Berlin Zoo into an attraction not only to Germans but citizens from nearby countries.
Twelve-year-old Natalie from UK joked that she loved pandas because they seemed "inactive and lazy, fluffy and cute." "Pandas have six fingernails," she exclaimed in discovery.
Some 680 km south of Berlin, Vienna's Schoenbrunn Zoo, the oldest existing zoo in the world and still one of Europe's best, likes to boast that the most popular residents in the zoo are the giant pandas.
It is easy to find a spot to watch hundreds of other animals at the zoo but the panda's observation room is constantly packed. People scramble to get a seat in front of the glass window to watch the pandas close-up.
"This is the third time we have come here, and my kids can't wait to see the pandas," said Maximilian, a father who took his family to visit the zoo during the last weekend before New Year's Day.
"Like my kids I love pandas. Of course, they are cute, but most importantly they are chill and peaceful creatures. They make me want to slow down my busy life, as I did today. I feel great," said Maximilian.
(Xinhua correspondents Tian Ying, Zhao Feifei, Zhao Yuchao also contributed to the story.)