A Brief History Of Berlin’s Iconic Buddy Bears

© Daniel Sancho/Flickr
© Daniel Sancho/Flickr
Photo of Lily Cichanowicz
5 January 2017

Berlin’s colorful life-size Buddy Bears have been on tour around the world as Germany’s ambassadors of goodwill since 2002. Many have also been positioned throughout the city itself. They add a bit of friendliness and originality wherever they go, but how did they get there in the first place? Here is a brief history of the bears that brighten up Berlin.


About the Bears

Klaus and Eva Herlitz are behind the Buddy Bear project, along with sculptor Roman Strobl. Inspired by the cow parade in New York City, the idea was conceived in 2001 as a means of bringing the vibrancy of artistic expression to urban spaces around the city. The bear was their animal of choice because it has long been the symbol on Berlin’s coat of arms.

These bears are meant to promote tolerance and peace amongst the world’s many different religions and cultural groups. The original Buddy Bears are posed standing with both arms up in the air as a symbol of kindliness and optimism.

Plus, each one of these fiberglass bears is hand-painted. More than 240 artists partook in the painting of these bears. Not only do these life-size bears come in completely unique patterns and designs, they are also molded into different positions relevant to their locations. For example, the Buddy Bear outside of the Europa-Center is doing a gymnastics pose.

© Daniel Sancho/Flickr

Buddy Bear Berlin Show

First unveiled at the city’s famous department store KaDaWe, artists initially painted 350 bears to be distributed to public spaces. By this point, the bears came in four different positions: the original bear with arms overhead, one on all fours, one standing with its hands at its side, and one doing a headstand.

Many of these bears were subsequently sold at auction, with proceeds benefiting various aid organizations like UNICEF.

The Buddy Bears’ appeal caught on quickly, and exhibitions were planned for subsequent years in Buenos Aires, Shanghai, and St. Gallen in Switzerland.

© marabuchi/Flickr

United Buddy Bears

This initial popularity spawned the idea for the United Buddy Bears world tour. The United Collection features over 140 bears, each standing at two meters in height. The motto behind the tour is: “We have to get to know each other better, it makes us understand one another better, trust each other more, and live together more peacefully.”

Indeed, these jovial and sometimes goofy bears do have a disarming effect. Of course, actions speak louder than words. The bears stand in a large circle holding hands as a symbol of harmony and connectivity.

The original installation in 2002 involved the Buddy Bears standing in their trademark circle around Brandenburg Gate, and over 1.5 million people came to see it, including famous celebrities like Jackie Chan.

While the United Buddy Bears may have departed from Brandenburg in attempts to help save the world, the Classic Buddy Bears are posted at iconic locations all throughout Berlin. Keep an eye out!

© Leandro Neumann Ciuffo from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil/WikiCommons

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