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United Buddy Bears

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We must become acquainted with ourselves better, then we can better understand, trust more and live better together.
- Motto for the United Buddy Bears.

If you went down near the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) Berlin between June and November 2002, you would have seen a circle of bears. In total, 1.5 million people took the opportunity to visit during the bears' short period of residence. These were the United Buddy Bears. The location was a bare field which at one point stood in No Man's Land, between the two sides of the Berlin Wall which once divided what is, once again, Germany's capital.

Altogether there were 125 of these bears - the bear being the heraldic symbol of Berlin - and various fibreglass bears stand at locations right across Berlin. But these 125 have a special unity; they stand in a circle of solidarity. They were painted by 140 different artists. The artists, half of whom now live in and around Berlin (with the others coming from their homeland) all worked in an open-plan studio from January to May to represent 125 of the member states of the United Nations.

The bears stood in a closely-gathered circle, standing together as a mark of unity, tolerance and communication. The artists chose to represent their countries in a variety of ways:

  • Symbolism - the Irish Bear has ropes knotted around it in the colours of the tricolour, the Yugoslavian bear is full of bullet holes.

  • Realism - such as Malta, which shows the Grand Harbour in Valletta. Countries who went for realism painted scenes on the bear that would attract tourists to their countries.

  • Comedic symbolism - especially the United Kingdom bear which has every stereotype more or less on it including a red post box, policeman's helmet and three flying ducks1.

  • Abstract - such as Slovakia which is totally black from the front but has a message in internationally recognisable pictures on the back. On the back in pictures is the message 'With open eyes, with an open heart. The heart is also in the mind.'

  • Inventive/collage - some like Canada used porcelain. Litchenstein2 used stamps and Portugal used newspapers cuttings from the countries history.

The End of the Project

On 6 November, 2002, the circle of the United Buddy Bears was dissolved and a unique art exhibition was finished. The works of art scattered to new locations, some at their countries Berlin Embassies, such as the UK bear, some to the area of their messages, others went to the homelands of their artists, eg on the Seychelles or to Tunisia. So if you look carefully around the world you will find the Russian Buddy Bear in front of the Berlin-Haus, Moscow, the Vietnamese bear in front of the Goethe-Institut, Hanoi, the Korean bear in Seoul. Other bears can also be found in the Seychelles, Bosnia, Moldova, Austria and Sweden. A further 46 were auctioned off to raise funds for UNICEF a total of 196,000 euros was raised.

1TV comedy shorthand on a wall for a working class home.2Roy Lichtenstein, an artist who favoured the use of comic book-style dots to create his paintings.

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