The official flag of Berlin is white and red with a bear in the middle. According to the Senate constitutional and administrative law of Berlin, the bear has been demonstrating strength since 1280. Now, the bear represents the entire world, not just Berlin. An exhibition titled “The Art of Tolerance” features 146 buddy bears, so named because they stand hand in hand, symbolizing peace and partnerships. Each country’s buddy bear is painted by an artist from that country.
The Berlin bear was initiated in 2001 when Eva and Klaus Herlitz decided to bring art to the streets of Berlin- but not in form of graffiti, but in form of a bear. The form of a bear was chosen based on the already established heraldic and popular animal of Berlin. A week later, hundreds of artists designed their own bears and put them in front of Hotels, the Central station, or somewhere hidden in the city as a welcoming sign for everyone walking by, especially those who are new in the city. Is became an international sucess story. Since 2001, the Bear came a long way into the peace symbol it is today. The buddy bear exhibition gives a clear message- stand together for a peaceful future. The buddy bear exhibition is currently in the Tierpark in Berlin. This decision was given by the municipality as a staff member of the Zoo explains:” We just got this exhibition and we don’t know when it will leave again. For now all we know is that it attracts tourists from all over the world to this Tierpark. We get a lot of questions about it, who gave it to us and how long it will stay. Unfortunately, we don’t know, but we like it here.”
The paintings on these buddy bears combine the art and culture of the country it represents, making every Buddy bear a unique representative of their country. Each painting on each bear is about the people of the country, their ways and the countries history. Yet, it is not about the political system, giving the people and their traditions space to be represented.
Inhabitants of Berlin said that they know about these bears: ‘‘The bear is an unofficial symbol of the city, but is also used for example in the Berlin film festival as a prize. It’s just typical Berlin, but it is also more than that.’’ The buddy bear is more than just a bear- it is a symbol of political partnerships. When a Berlin bear is standing in front of foreign embassies symbolizes a friendly partnership with Germany. The street-art bear developed into an international peace symbol. And as such, this exhibition travels the world. This exhibition was shown on five continents and inspired more than 40 million visitors at 34 exhibitions. The exhibition is opened by two special bears standing in the beginning- a blue human rights bear and a silver bear saying ‘respect for all life’. The human rights bear is more than just a bear- it is a statue to remember that all humans are born with the same rights and to raise awarenees on that fact. Related to that, the silver bear stands on the opposite side, facing the human rights bear as another reminder of this message.
The buddy bears have yet another function. Every one to two meter statue that is sold is a collaboration with UNICEF to raise money to aid children in need. According to the official buddy bear website, more than 2-5 million Euros have been raised to date. With any auction that the buddy bear collaboration is doing, parts of the money goes to UNICEF. This close collaboration is aiming to raise awareness for suffering children all over the world.
The buddy bears are more than just a symbol. They are spreading awareness, make you look at nations beyond their leaders and political systems. It is also a sign for peace and partnerships between nations and they raise money for children in need. From a street-art campaign to a worldwide success- the buddy bears have made their impact and should not be overlooked when being in Berlin.