Dr. Hans Riegel and his 'Gold Bear

Dr. Hans Riegel and his ‘Gold Bear

I’d never had a Gummi Bear until I lived in Germany in the early 80’s.  I’d see the packaged confection on store shelves everywhere, to include the military exchange and commissary.  I passed them by for quite some time and really, I probably would never have cared much about these fruity, gelatin bear-shaped candies until one day I picked up a bag.  What prompted me?  Utter desperation.

I had a three-year old that was just a breath away from a full-blown meltdown.  I’d worn him out–and myself too– with all the errands of the day.  I was in the military exchange in Stuttgart, Germany trying to juggle purse, items for purchase, and flailing limbs of one very cranky little boy as I struggled to get him out of the shopping cart during checkout.   I saw stacks of Haribo’s Gummi Bear packages on the shelf next to the cashier.  Those colorful little bears peeking through the packaging would save the moment and become a staple, some years later, for my long marathon training runs.   As my son’s wails reached a new pitch I did what any desperate mother would do.  I caved to a sugar bribe.   “Wait” I said to the cashier as the last item was rung up.   I grabbed a fistful of Haribo packages and nearly threw them at the cashier in my rush to get out of the store before my child’s crankiness developed into an all-out tantrum.  “These too please.”

I do believe the cashier understood completely.

I handed a package to my crying son and immediately he was quiet as he inspected the package of little bears.  Ah….there we go. Bliss.

Thanks to Haribo, I managed to get out of the store and into the car with sanity intact.  After my little one was safely buckled I tore open the package still in his hands. Out tumbled red, green and gold-candied bears.  My son giggled through his tears of crankiness.   I rescued one bear that had fallen in his lap and popped it in my son’s mouth.  Just one bear was enough to make this kid smile.  “Are they good?” I asked as I wiped a remaining tear from his cheek.  He shook his little red-headed mop of curls to the affirmative.  I placed a couple more bears in his tiny hand before I settled myself in the front seat for the short drive home.  As I exited the parking lot I popped a single fruity gummi bear in my mouth.  Ooh…these are good, I thought.  “Yummy, Gummi’s,” I said to my son as I looked at him from my rear view mirror.  But he was already asleep, his head dropped to the side and one little hand cupped in a fist as if to snuggle his remaining Gummi Bear.

Don't these little bears make you want to smile?!

Don’t these little bears make you want to smile?!

Through the years Gummi Bears have found their way into my children’s Christmas stockings –It’s sort of our homage to our years in Germany.

Just last week I read that Haribo’s principal marketer, Dr. Hans Riegel, died at the ripe old age of 90. His father of the same name founded the company ninety-three years ago, in 1920.  It seems fitting that the junior Riegel, who earned his doctorate at Bonn University in 1951, wrote his thesis about sugar: “The development of the world sugar industry during and after the Second World War”.

The original bear candy was made of licorice.  It’s a good thing the recipe evolved since I am not a huge fan of licorice.  IMG_3277

Prior to World War II the Haribo company employed about 400.  Once the war started the company was forced to scale back considerably…it was tanks over candy economics!  The senior Riegel died during World War II so his wife Gertrude kept the operation of about 30 employees going until 1945.  Their sons, young Hans and Paul were POW’s and weren’t released until 1946.  Once back at home, Hans and Paul decided to restart the business and in less than five years Haribo employed 1,000 people.   Hans took on marketing and sales while Paul oversaw production.  Hans marketed the first “gold bear” sweet treats in the 1960’s and almost immediately gummi bears (which came in five colors and flavors) were a hit with Germans.  The brothers successfully continued to expand their market in the seventies and then in 1980 they crossed the ocean, opening a production facility, Haribo America in Baltimore Maryland.

I cannot explain my fondness for this simple sweet treat or why I even bothered to read up on its background following the news of this successful entrepreneur’s passing.   Maybe because it seems sad that a man who made so many children happy with this fruity candy never had children of his own.  Or, perhaps it’s because those little bears fueled my way through some very long runs while training for ultra-marathons or because my kids enjoyed them so when they were little.  In any event,  Dr. Hans Riegel is in Gummi Bear heaven now.  I paid my respects, to so speak and purchased a couple of bags just the other day, stashing one in my purse and another in my gym bag.

And in my head today….the Haribo jingle…Kids and grown-ups love it so…the happy world of Haribo!