They can be found scattered in dozens of locations across Berlin. One dressed as the Statue of Liberty, another as Caesar, one is masquerading as Marilyn Monroe, another Marlene Dietrich. A daring group of five have stolen a chariot and are pretending to be the Brandenburg Gate statue. They are the Buddy Bears of Berlin which, due to habitat destruction and human wastefulness, have been drawn to life in the city and away from their natural habitat in the woods surrounding Berlin.
Most survive by scavenging food from bins, although some earn a good living taking selfies with tourists. Some of the more enterprising have been recruited to support high ideals like human rights or international friendship. Many though, have sold out to become stooges for corporate interests, standing outside hotels and businesses for the amusement of passing humans. Like those people who work as ‘human signposts’. For these bears, life is little better than being in a 19th century circus.
Back in 2001, there were only two recorded sightings of Buddy Bears on the streets of Berlin. Their numbers since then have multiplied at an alarming rate, possibly due to global warming. There are now so many that, not unlike the pigeon and urban fox, they are considered to be a bit of a pest. Buddy Bears? More like bloody bears. Politicians have begun to demand a cull of excess Bears – unemployed Bears have been accused of aggressively demanding honey from passersby. Drug-related bear crime has spiked in recent years.
Others argue for more humane treatment and are working with the World Buddy Bear Foundation to capture and release them in the wilds of Poland and Hungary. So far, this has met with limited success, with many local humans voicing opposition to the bears. Worse, many bears unable to cope with the harsh lifestyles of their wild cousins are reduced to extreme measures. Incapable of competing with native bears, they have been found offering selfies (or worse) in exchange for food in rural Polish towns.
Some cultural commentators have accused the Buddy Bears of falling short of the ideal of the Berlin Bear, which after all has been a symbol of the city for a thousand years. Many people would like to see a return to the more traditional ‘brown’ or ‘black’ bear depicted on the city flag. Some fear the brightly coloured bears could corrupt children, others argue that they should be allowed to express themselves and live free of the shackles of societal pressure. The Bears unwittingly find themsleves at the heart of a modern-day culture war.
It’s unclear what the future holds for the Buddy Bears, but they have found a powerful ally in the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who has frequently been photographed with them and visiting foreign dignitaries. This use of the Buddys as an extension of German foreign policy has brought condemnation from far right political parties. They claim the larger, more aggressive Bavarian bear is a better ambassador than the effete, semi-urbanised Berlin Buddy, who they suspect of supporting human rights. Most of the bears just want to live in peace.
* Most of the above is entirely fictitious, apart from the stuff about Angekla Merkel. If you’re interested in a humane bear hunt, someone has developed a map of all the bear sightings, here.