Day of the Berlin Bear Date in the current year: March 22, 2022

Day of the Berlin Bear The Day of the Berlin Bear (der Tag des Berliner Bären) is celebrated in the German capital on March 22. It was created to honor the heraldic beast of Berlin and one of its most recognizable symbols. Such a date was chosen to commemorate the first recorded use of a bear as a symbol of Berlin.

There are different explanations for why the bear has come to be used as the mascot of Berlin. According to one of them, it happened because of Albert I, the founder and first ruler of the Margraviate of Brandenburg (which included Berlin), who was widely known as Albert the Bear. However, it doesn’t explain why the name of the city includes the diminutive suffix -lein/-lin and therefore means “little bear” or “bear cub”.

Most linguists agree that the name Berlin derives from the Old Slavic stem berl, which means “swamp”. Since it sounds similar to the German word Bär (bear), the beast became associated with the city. It is an example of the so-called folk etymology, when an unfamiliar form or meaning is replaced by a more familiar one. The coat of arms of Berlin depicting a bear is therefore a canting arm: it represents the name of the city in a visual pun.

The earliest preserved seal depicting a bear as a symbol of Berlin is a guild seal found on the guild statute of Berlin fellmongers, dating March 22, 1280. It depicts the Brandenburg coat of arms flanked by two bears rampant. The bears stand with their backs to one another, but their heads are turned so that the beasts look at each other. The seal also contains a Latin inscription saying Sigillum burgensium de berlin sum, which means “the seal of Berlin’s citizens”.

The Brandenburg eagle and the Berlin bear were depicted alongside each other until the 19th century. For instance, a seal dated 1388 depicts the shield with the Brandenburg eagle tied to the bear’s neck. When Berlin became the capital of Prussia, its coat of arms was divided into three parts, showing the bear in a collar below the eagles of Prussia and Brandenburg.

By 1839, the bear began to dominate over the eagles, and in 1870s, following the creation of the German Empire, the bear was portrayed wild and not tamed (collared) for the first time. The bear finally became the only heraldic beast of Berlin in 1935. It is always portrayed rampant (standing on its hind legs) with claws extended.

The Berlin bear has come to be used as the city’s mascot. For example, the highest prize of the Berlin International Film Festival is the Golden Bear, depicting a bear standing on the hind legs, just like on the city’s coat of arms and flag.

In 2001, German entrepreneurs Klaus and Eva Herlitz teamed up with Austrian sculptor Roman Strobl to launch the Buddy Bears project. Strobl created a life-size bear sculpture, and approximately 350 fiberglass copies of it were painted by various artists and exhibited in the streets of Berlin. Since then, the project has transformed into an international art exhibition entitled United Buddy Bears, which moves from country to country.

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Other Observances

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Germany

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Day of the Berlin Bear, holidays in Berlin, holidays in Germany, heraldic beast, symbol of Berlin