Who is the Child Eater of Bern?

Niels Oberson /
Niels Oberson / | © Culture Trip
Sean Mowbray

While wandering the streets of Bern, Switzerland’s picturesque capital city, you may come across a gruesome statue of a possessed-looking man pulling children out of a bag and munching on them. This isn’t a mirage and you definitely aren’t hallucinating. The Child Eater of Bern is a genuine cultural site, made all the more strange due to the fact that nobody is entirely sure why it’s there in the first place.

The Kindlifresser, or child eater, is one of the many fountains and sculptures that line the streets of Bern. But it’s undoubtedly one that lingers the longest in most minds. Dating back to the 16th century, the fountain is one of the city’s oldest monuments.

Niels Oberson /

One of the theories behind the statue is that it represents the wicked brother of the founder of Bern, one Duke Berchtold. Berchtold’s brother was apparently quite the deranged man and couldn’t handle that his younger brother had more power than him. So, he is said to have sought revenge by rounding up the city’s children and eating them. Luckily for those prone to nightmares, this tall tale isn’t supported by any historical evidence.

Niels Oberson /

Others believe that the statue represents the mythical Greek God Cronus, who famously chowed down on his children so they wouldn’t usurp his throne. Another story goes that it’s a reminder to shun greed as once every year, the fountain flows with wine and those who drink with it become a vassal for the devil, committing horrible sins (such as munching on kids). While others still say that it’s none other than the Krampus, the demonic chum of Father Christmas, who turns up every year to torture naughty children, or in this case, eat them.

Niels Oberson /

Some of the stories are more disturbing. Some say that the statue is anti-Semitic in nature and was meant to stir hatred against Jews (this is perpetuated due to the likeness of the ogre’s yellow hat to those worn by Jews in the 16th century). It was believed by some that Jews used children in blood rituals.

Niels Oberson /
Niels Oberson /

To cut a long story short, nobody is entirely sure what, or who, the Child Eater of Bern represents. Despite the uncertainty and dearth of ideas, it has become well and truly ensconced in local folklore and has been used as a warning to naughty children for centuries. We can only imagine how many tantrums the child-munching ogre has spared the parents of Bern and beyond.

Niels Oberson /

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