The Berliner Bear

by Renee S. Hills, New York

Member of the "Berliner Bärenfreunde e. V."

Once you enter the cosmopolitan city of Berlin, the bear will always be with you.

In his official capacity he adorns the flag and is shown on all escutcheons and the city seal. In an unofficial capacity you will find him on postcards, souvenirs, as a stuffed toy and in many comic strips. You will also find the heraldic animal of the German Capital in the name of enterprises or on labels of goods produced in Berlin.,

Should you enter Berlin via the Autobahn , the so-called "Zehlendorfer Kleeblatt" ( formerly controlpoint Drei-linden), you will see Renée Sintenis model of the bear standing on a pedestal to greet you.

Of cours; in Berlin´s famous animal gardens, the Zoo and Tierpark Friedrichsfelde, many friendly bears can be seen. But the tradidional place for the Berliner Bear ist the bear pit in the Koellnische Park, near the Maerkisches Museum, first established in 1939.

Our Berliner Bear now has a re-spectable age of 720 years. He first appeared on a guild letter from the furriers in the year 1280. Actually in that city seal he is not a single figure, but rather a pair, one to the left and one to the right of the Margrave´s eagle.

The Berliners and their bear had to fight many battle for their ultimate freedom. From 1415 to 1918 the Hohenzollern Dynasty ruled the formerly independent town of Berlin. In 1442 Elector Friedrich II., known as "Irontooth" (so-called because he never yielded what he once got his teeth into), asserted his Hohenzollern authority over Berlin, abolishing many privileges and forcing Berlin to sever ties with the Hanseatic League.

He marked his victory over the city by forcing the Berliners to adopt a humaliating coat of arms. The bear was dropped on all fours with a chain collar and on his back was perched the heraldic eagle of the Hohenzollern.

In 1875, the Berliner Magistrate decided to free the Berliner Bear from his humbling chain collar.

When the revolution of 1918 broke out,the German Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and the eagle was banished from the inner city emblem and change within the inner city took place. Much work was needed to form a new community called Greater Berlin which incorporated eight cities, 59 village communities and 27 estate districts. It was obvious that this new community needed a new coat of arms. Since 1920 the bear has stood alone in the escutcheon as symbol of the new municipality.

Why did the forefathers of Berlin choose the bear as a symbol for their city seal ? Among several theories this explanation sounds most plausible: There is a strong possibility that bears still lived in Berlin at the time the seal was adopted and this feared beast of prey was a suitable insignia for the city. Since the middle ages the bear has been a very popular heraldic figure.

Berlin has seen many changes since it was founded ( app. 1180, officially 1237) - but one thing remains intact- the Berliner Bear.

Illustration 1. The Berlin city seal as it first appeared on a guild letter from the furriers in the year 1280. Not the bears on either side of the eagle.
Illustration 2. Reneé Sintenis bear standing on a pedestral greeets drivers on the Autobahn in Zehlendorf
Illustration 3: The bear pit in the Koellnische Park, near the Maerkisches Museum.

Online seit April 1999

Letztes Update: Februar 2011