BERLIN, Germany – If you’ve ever been to Berlin, you would have noticed two-metre tall bear statues all over the city. Standing on their hind legs with their front paws raised, the Buddy Bears that come in various designs have become the city’s most adorable symbol. However, not a lot of people know that they carry a message.
Eva Herlitz, the woman who started it all, wants the world to know that the bears are more than just symbols for Europe’s capital of cool. “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,” Herlitz said.
Bears on Tour
Together with her husband Klaus, they had hundreds of the bears created in 2001. Each bear was given a country. Then, an artist from each of the countries represented was flown in to paint their bear. So far, there are 141 bears that showcase the artistic expression of different states all over the world.
The bears have been going on a world tour since 2002. And, travelling with the bears is never easy. They use up eight 40-ft containers to be ferried from one country to another. But thanks to sponsors, the bears have been to: Kitzbuehel (Austria), Hong Kong, Istanbul (Turkey), Tokyo (Japan), Seoul (South Korea), Sydney (Australia), Vienna (Austria), Cairo (Egypt), Jerusalem (Israel), Warsaw (Poland), Stuttgart (Germany), Pyongyang (North Korea), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Montevideo (Uruguay), Astana (Kazakhstan), Helsinki (Finland), Sofia (Bulgaria), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), New Delhi (India), Saint Petersburg (Russia), Paris (France), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Havana (Cuba), and Santiago (Chile).
Back in Berlin
Currently, the bears are making a stop in their home city of Berlin for an outdoor exhibition at Walter Benjamin-Platz from 1 December, 2017 to 7 January, 2018. Visitors can come over to the square to meet the bears while learning about the different countries. As with everywhere the Buddy Bears go, the exhibit is free of charge.
“I think it is important that we make the Buddy Bears accessible to people. This will help educate them about other countries and their people. Hopefully, this can make everyone be more understanding and accepting of others no matter how different they are from each other,” Herlitz added.
So far, these exhibitions have been visited by over 40 million people. Meanwhile, the team behind the United Buddy Bears has raised EUR2.2 million (almost USD2.6 million). The money comes from bears sold in auctions once the country they represent decides to commission a new bear. The money is being used to help children through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Aside from the bears representing different countries, Herlitz says there are also special bears that represent good values. There’s the pair of golden bears joined together by a heart to represent the golden rule that applies to almost every religion. Simply put, they ask people to treat others how they would want to be treated.
There’s also a blue bear representing human rights and a silver bear that promotes respect for all life – even animals. The Einstein Bear which is a bit different since it’s the only one that’s on all fours has the image of the scientist on its body along with his famous quote – “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.”
On Sunday, 10 December 2017, visitors were treated to a coffee ceremony hosted by the Ethiopian embassy. After which students from the International School Berlin serenaded the crowd with Christmas carols.
If by now you haven’t seen the bears, don’t worry – there’s still time. And who knows? They might even be in your city next time!
United Buddy Bears, Berlin 2017
1 December 2017 to 7 January 2018
Walter Benjamin Platz, Berlin 10707