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A man holds a placard with a portrait of Edward Snowden during a ‘Freiheit Statt Angst’ (Freedom instead of Fear) protest in Berlin

Thomas Peter/REUTERS

His story has popped up in advertisements for lingerie and a travel agency. His face appears on merchandise ranging from T-shirts to skateboards. His deeds are celebrated in works by artists and musicians.

Meet Edward Snowden, Germany's latest pop culture icon.

Unlike in the United States, where Mr. Snowden is a more divisive figure, Germans have embraced his historic acts as a whistleblower. For many, his revelations about the long reach of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) make him a hero – with the iconography to match.

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Martin Keune, founder of Zitrusblau, an advertising agency in Berlin, created an image of Mr. Snowden based on the famous 2008 poster depicting Barack Obama by artist Shepard Fairey. Instead of the word "hope" at the bottom, it reads "asyl," the German word for asylum.

Mr. Keune developed the image for a non-profit group that aimed to pressure the German government to shelter Mr. Snowden. (It has refused.) The group, called Campact, has sold thousands of T-shirts bearing the image at the equivalent of $28 a pop. Earlier this spring, a million stickers were printed with it and can now be spotted on walls and lampposts in German cities. Entrepreneurs have approached Mr. Keune asking to feature the motif on bags and skateboards. (He said yes.)

"That a single person can do such a big thing is very moving to us," said Mr. Keune, explaining Mr. Snowden's appeal in Germany. During the Cold War, East Germans lived in the shadow of the secret police and an all-seeing but anonymous state, he said.

"To see one person lift his mask and say, 'Here I am, I made a decision. … I have a face and I can show their faces too,' was kind of overwhelming for us."Germans were also shocked by the revelations that the NSA had been eavesdropping on cellphone calls made by Chancellor Angela Merkel, prompting a crisis in U.S.-Germany relations.

Artists have taken up Mr. Snowden's cause. Last year, Joerg Janzer papered over existing Berlin street signs to rename them "Snowden Street" and "Snowden Avenue." In July, Oliver Bienkowski briefly projected images onto a wall of the U.S. embassy, including the words "United Stasi of America," a reference to the former East German secret police. In both cases, police quickly put an end to the stunts.

Mr. Snowden, 31, faces criminal charges in the United States and currently lives in Moscow, where he has been given a three-year residency permit. A documentary about Mr. Snowden, called Citizenfour, was recently released in theatres. Its director, Laura Poitras, played a pivotal role in bringing Mr. Snowden's documents to light. An American citizen, Ms. Poitras moved to Berlin in 2012 after being repeatedly detained and questioned when entering the U.S., according to news reports.

To find parallels for Mr. Snowden's current cult-hero status in Germany, you have to go back to Che Guevara or Ho Chi Minh, said Johannes Krempl, an advertising executive in Berlin. Unlike the two revolutionaries, Mr. Snowden didn't harm anybody, he said, though "he might have caused a little damage to U.S. institutions."

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Glow, Mr. Krempl's advertising agency, created an ad for one of its clients, Blush lingerie, featuring Mr. Snowden. (It pictures a woman in black bra and underwear, and reads, "Dear Mr. Snowden, there's still a lot to uncover.") Before creating the ad, Blush also posted a message of support for Mr. Snowden on its Facebook page, offering him sanctuary in its boutique.

"Somebody is basically risking his life just to tell the truth … with the biggest power on earth on his heels," said Mr. Krempl. "From an emotional point of view, I think everybody instantly thought, 'Wow, this guy is a real hero.'"

Mr. Krempl added that he's surprised that Mr. Snowden's revelations haven't provoked an even greater outcry. The surveillance he brought to light "didn't really stop because there was no uprising."

Meanwhile, Mr. Snowden's admirers in Germany continue to show their support. In September, readings were held in 32 German cities to honour his contribution to the cause of free expression. The same month, supporters across the country proclaimed their willingness to provide "ein Bett fur Snowden" – a bed for Snowden – to push the government to grant him political asylum.

The campaign featured a version of Mr. Keune's image of Mr. Snowden and gave people stickers to place on their doors to indicate their desire to host the whistleblower. One such sticker is on the outside of Mr. Keune's Berlin office, and the welcome is heartfelt. "If Edward rings here, he could have a very good cappuccino – and a very secure server too," said Mr. Keune.

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