The birthplace of gummy bears: Visiting Haribo's headquarters in Bonn, Germany

Strolling along Am Neutor, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was Bonn's classiest shopping strip. One shop sells the sort of glittery gowns  you might wear to the opera;  another, velvet jackets; another, silver and porcelain. But then you come to something that really doesn't fit. A big, gaudily-coloured high temple of jelly sweets. And, frankly, it's more magnificent than everything around it put together.

In Australia, there may be solid competition from the likes of the Natural Confectionary Co and Allen's Lollies, but the global gummy giant is Haribo. It's the king of cola bottles, the jelly snake juggernaut, an empire built on selling mixed bags of sugary treats to children and sweet-toothed adults. 

Now a prosperous, museum-packed city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Bonn is located on the rough borderline where hard-nosed northern Germany morphs into cosy, schmaltzy southern Germany. Here, in 1920, confectioner Hans Riegel set up a small operation that was little more than a kettle, roller, kitchen sink and sack of sugar. He called the company Haribo – melding together the first two letters his first name, surname and home city.

The future path was set in 1922, when he made his first "dancing bears" – fruit-flavoured gummy sweets that later became known as Gold Bears. The name  was changed in the 1960s when the firm realised that bears chained up and made to perform for circus-goers weren't necessarily a great concept around which to base a product. 

The success of Haribo, however, isn't about having one type of jelly sweet; it's about having lots. While Australians might be familiar with the brands Supermix and Starmix selection bags, the store in Bonn displays hundreds of different varieties – some of them limited editions.

For anyone partial to wolfing down a handful of jellies in lieu of a healthy afternoon snack,  the Haribo store in Bonn is something approaching nirvana. Cruise Mix are all ship-shaped; Brumbasser are black and yellow bees; Exotic Gums all have exotic fruit flavours; Drama Lamas are a largely inexplicable mix of cacti and llamas. There's even a nod to Australia with Coala Tatzen – cola-flavoured koala footprints.

All of this is spread over two floors, a shameless barrage of marketing surrounded by hanging bags, pick-and-mix cylinders and furry promotional Gold Bears. For the fussy, some lines come in unmixed bags, so if the red or green ones are your favourite, you can gorge on them exclusively.

While all of this seems like some sort of sugar rush carnival, something even more hardcore is to be found about six kilometres to the south, in the suburb of Godesberg North. It's here that you'll find the Haribo factory outlet, which might not have the gloss of the Am Neutor store, but it definitely provides an astounding spectacle.

It's like a supermarket going for stack 'em high functionality but forget fruit, veg, meat and household cleaning products – every single thing on the shelves is Haribo. Massive bags – more extended-family-sized than family-sized – slide around on top of each other like sandbags in trenches. And customers push trolleys around, shovelling in giant tub after giant tub like it's a perfectly normal weekly shop.

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People-watching doesn't get much better than this. And if you can come out with an enormous bag of jelly sweets in the shape of monuments from German cities at the end, even better.

TRIP NOTES

David Whitley was a guest of Derag Hotels.

MORE

traveller.com.au/Germany

germany.travel

bonn.de

FLY

Emirates flies to Dusseldorf from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide via Dubai. Bonn is about 90 minutes away by train. See emirates.com

STAY

The Derag Livinghotel Kanzler makes playful references to Bonn's political history in its public spaces, and offers stylishly masculine rooms with kitchenettes and sofa beds for from €87. See deraghotels.de/hotel-kanzler-bonn

SHOP

The Haribo store is at Am Neutor 3, and the factory outlet at Friesdorferstrasse 121. See haribo.com

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