Berlin and the Bear

27 07 2007

Berlin is a relatively young city in European terms, only around 750 years old. And since then, it is associated with the symbol of the bear.

Apparently, no one really knows where it came from. It first appeared in 1280, on a seal document (which depicted two upright bears with Brandenburg eagle in the center). Earlier, around 1150, there was some guy named Albert the Bear who inherited Berlin from its last Wendish king, as says the article about “the history of Berlin” in Wiki. Maybe he’s the source, who knows. Anyway, the Bear still stands proud as the city symbol and mascot, and appears on its flag.

Berlin flag.

It appears that somewhere along the way, the bear turned from a symbol of strength and might into a symbol of extreme cuteness. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it’s been many years since anyone in Germany saw a wild living bear. That is, until Bruno the bear, who was unfortunately brutally murdered last year, probably for political reasons.

Aside from the “United Buddy Bears” project, we found other appearances of the bear all around Berlin, especially in Nikolei Viertel (which will be the subject of another post).

Bears in Nikolei Viertel.

And they also keep living “city bears” in the middle of the city, in Köllnischen Park. They live in what is called “the bear pit” (Bärenzwinger). We visited there last year. Unfortunately, one of the bears we saw, Thilo, died on April, and currently, only two females – Schnute (26) and Maxi (11) – live there. They have there a sign which gives you very clear instructions what you can feed them and what’s strictly forbidden.

Closest U-Bahn station to the bear pit is Märkisches Museum (U2). Jannowitzbrücke (U8, S-Bahn) is within comfortable walking distance.

The bear pit.

And of course, you cannot write about Berlin and bears without mentioning the very cute polar bear Knut, who lives in the Berlin Zoo. For those of you who didn’t take part in the “Knut-mania”, the sweet cub was saved by the people there after his mother rejected him, and his appearances with his caretaker were very popular. Only we’re talking here about a polar bear, which grows to be about 3.5 meters high, so the caretaker announced recently that since the bear got too big already, the public appearances will not continue. But Knut has a Wiki article all about him.

There are a couple of websites (in German) about the bears in the bear pit:



One response to “Berlin and the Bear”

16 12 2010
Martin Hartmann (23:18:26) :

I am a Berliner and it is correct about Albert the Bear. The Berliner Bear is a symbol dedicated to him. The city flag in the aforementioned article, is the city flag of former West Berlin (1949-1990). Upon reunification of Berlin in 1989, the crown and shield around the Bear have been removed. The reason? Anybody’s guess. More than likely, since both halves of the city had different variations of the flag, this may have been an attempt at appeasement. (This way, no half of the city can complain that their city flag wasn’t used). Of course this is only an opinion one may have to ask the Berlin City Council…

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