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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 February 2007, 18:35 GMT
N Korea hungry for German bunnies
By Steve Rosenberg
BBC News, Eberswalde, eastern Germany

Take a tour of Karl Szmolinsky's garden, and you will soon see something rather odd going on in this, the most mysterious of backyards.

Karl Szmolinsky
Karl Szmolinsky: Entrepreneur with a comradely touch

For a start, what other garden do you know of that has thousands of stale bread rolls in sacks gracing the flowerbeds?

Edge on past the sprawling potato patch and the sheds full of brightly coloured tweety birds, and you will find yourself face-to-face with 20 giant cages.

The 67-year-old pensioner opens one of the cage doors to reveal what looks at first glance to be a dog. It is certainly big enough. But a dog with floppy ears and whiskers?!

No, this is a monster bunny, a King Kong of the Rabbit World, weighing in at 10kg (22 pounds), with ears that look as tall as the Reichstag.

Growing demand

Karl has been Germany's top rabbit breeder for years; but now his fame has spread 11,340 km (7,000 miles) east.

"Last October I got a call from the North Korean embassy," Karl says.

Robert the rabbit
Robert: A pedigree with a hearty appetite

"They told me they wanted to come to see my rabbits. They wanted to buy them, so they could breed big bunnies back home to feed their population.

"When the officials turned up on my doorstep, their eyes popped out of their sockets at the sight of my rabbits. I'm so proud that my bunnies will help feed the North Korean people."

One of the rabbits called Robert devours a cabbage leaf and starts snacking on my microphone.

Karl has already sold his first batch of bunnies to Pyongyang. The North Koreans are counting on these giants to ease the nation's hunger.

Monster appetite

Trouble is, to breed them big, you need plenty of food in the first place.

Karl and Robert
I'm so proud that my bunnies will help feed the North Korean people
Karl Szmolinsky

I convince Karl to reveal the secret of his success. He leads me deep underground into his basement to an Aladdin's cave full of kitchens and storerooms.

This is the nerve centre of the breeding operation, where Karl slaves over a hot stove from morning till night preparing food for 20 rabbits, each with a monster appetite.

"I treat my rabbits to a special menu," explains Karl. "I feed them different meals three times a day, food like potatoes, bio-parsley, shredded grain and plenty of water. As the Germans say, treat them well, and they'll grow swell!"

The food Karl adds to their food is designed to boost the rabbits' appetite and make them grow even bigger.

Long tradition

As I watch Karl mixing up his latest concoction, his eyes sparkling like a mad professor, I cannot help feeling there is something rather unsavoury about the whole process.

Robert the bunny and a microphone
When the lettuce is gone a microphone looks like a nice snack

After all, bunnies are supposed to be cuddly pets, aren't they? Not made into rabbit pie? That, says Karl, is hypocritical.

"Some people say it is wrong to kill rabbits. That is rubbish. In East Germany lots of people bred rabbits for the meat, as well as for the fur to make hats and gloves."

You can tell that Karl is nostalgic for the communist past and life in the GDR, when rabbit-breeding was encouraged to help citizens supplement their income.

Perhaps that is why Karl is so proud that today his bunnies, like Robert, are bound for North Korea - to help one of the last bastions of communism in the world.

A breeder shows off his giant rabbits

Country profile: North Korea
03 Jan 07 |  Country profiles
Food crisis looms in North Korea
24 Oct 06 |  Asia-Pacific

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