It’s almost impossible to walk around the city in Berlin and not see a Buddy Bear statue. These bigger than life-size fibreglass structures are part of a peace initiative called United Buddy Bears that launched in Berlin in 2001 by local business people Eva and Klaus Herlitz, with artistic input from sculptor Roman Strobl. Initially planned as a street art event, the project now has more than 140 bears representing United Nations recognised countries and the exhibition has been seen by over 35 million people.
Each country selects an artist to design their bear and once completed the bear joins the rest of the statues in a large scale exhibition that so far has been hosted in almost 30 destinations including Berlin, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Havana, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, and Warsaw, to name a few. The exhibition’s primary purpose is to promote and encourage tolerance, peace and harmony across continents; a purpose that is well defined in their motto:
“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.”
The first exhibition was held in Berlin in 2001 in front of the KaDeWe department store with 350 bears and was such a great success that the dates were extended into 2002. Tourists and locals alike were drawn to the optimistic friendliness of the bears with their colourful designs and various playful positions. As more and more tourists connected with the bears, it was realised that they could have a higher purpose than only as local street art here in the city. Many of the bears from that first exhibition were sold at auction and the proceeds donated to charity. Numerous exhibitions have continued to take place around Berlin ever since.
The success of the first few exhibitions gave birth to the idea that is fully realised today. Now the bears are considered global ambassadors and smaller versions can be taken purchased to display in homes across the planet. Proceeds from Buddy Bear activities are committed to various charities including UNICEF and children’s charities and the most recent fundraising tally came to over €2 milllion.
The present day exhibition layout involves 150 bears, each standing two metres tall, all set up together in a giant circle in alphabetical order by country (using the language of the host country. This allows the individual designs their own presence as well as forming a connected and collaborative art piece as each individually designed bears form part of the whole design. It also means the exhibition is different in each country depending on how the alphabetical layout takes shape. Today there are bears all over Berlin and you can freely touch them, take your photo with them and hung them as many tourists like to do! The Buddy Bear company has a handy Buddy Bear location map showing you where to find your closest bear so get out into the sunshine and feel the love!