One of the first things we noticed upon arriving in Berlin was the abundance of bear statues throughout the city. The city does have a bear on its flag but these adorable depictions of the animal seem to be something else – less ferocious and quite adorable. Almost every establishment has one of these two-metre tall bears standing on its hind legs. I was later told that they were called Buddy Bears.
And, that they come in smaller versions which make great farewell gifts for fellow diplomatic spouses once their posting is over. I made a quick mental note on that and found myself noticing them less. This, as I got used to the city and they became a permanent fixture rather than something for me to gawk at as a newbie Berliner.
But that changed recently when I ended up sitting at the same table as the woman behind the Buddy Bear initiative. Eva Herlitz, along with her husband Klaus, started the project in 2001. With the help of embassies and diplomatic missions present in Germany, hundreds of bears were made. Each bear was decorated by an artist from the country it represents.
From there, the bears became popular that even commercial establishments usually have their own as well. The bears have also gone international. They’ve done outdoor exhibitions in 5 of the continents.
But aside from giving Berlin some points in the cute department, Eva says the bears also stand for something – tolerance.
“When we started the project years ago, we wanted the bears to carry a message of tolerance. Also, learning to accept other people no matter how different they are,” she said over some hot chocolate at the Königliche Gartenakademie. This was during an event hosted by the diplomatic spouse club in Berlin. Sadly, I couldn’t stay long that day to chat as I was rushing to accompany my husband to a national day reception. So Eva asked me to drop by at their current Buddy Bear Exhibition that weekend as they were having an event.
Spoiler alert: I’m so glad I went.
The Philippines’ Buddy Bear
Going to the event meant coming face to face with the Philippines’ Buddy Bear. I’ve seen him in photos but he was even prettier in real life. The Philippine Eagle looks pretty bad-a** on its tummy, don’t you think?
I love how the artist brings our eagle – the biggest in the world – forward for the attention it deserves. Sadly, the Philippine Eagle is in danger of becoming extinct. Here’s to hoping that it doesn’t happen! 🙁 Hopefully, initiatives such as this can also raise awareness as to how we can help them from being wiped out.
The bears are currently in Berlin, at the Walter-Benjamin Platz just behind Kurfürstendamm. The event Eva asked me to come for was a little over a week before Christmas and they were having some students from an international school sing carols.
Colouring activities for children visiting the exhibit were also going on that day. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Embassy hosted a coffee ceremony to keep the adults warm.
If you’d like to see the Buddy Bears, you have until the 7th of January to catch the exhibit in Berlin. Aside from bears representing different countries, there are also special ones that represent certain values.
The pair of golden bears holding on to a heart represents the golden rule. “Don’t do to others what you don’t want others to do unto you.”
There’s also a bear representing human rights, and a silver bear promoting respect for all life. The Einstein Bear, which is the only one that’s on all fours, has Albert Einstein’s photo on its body along with his famous quote – “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.”
I just love how these bears carry such messages of positivity, peace, and love. Do visit them with your children to help this initiative’s advocacy to help educate the younger generation. If you can’t make it to Berlin by January, keep your fingers crossed. Who knows? The Buddy Bears may just drop by your city next.