When most people think of Berlin, they think of suppression. Communism, East vs. West, the Wall, and the eventual liberation that set a city free. But when I think of Berlin, I think of bears. The bears that line the streets, painted in an array of colors and designs, waiting in silent rows to be thought of, to be laughed at, to be photographed, to be loved. The idea of war and walls is in my head, as it has been stereotyped since I was young, but I now know there is so much more than separation.
The bears to which I am referring were created by an organization called United Buddy Bears. Each bear was designed by an artist on behalf of their country, and have been used to raise money for UNICEF. They are meant to represent peace and tolerance in our diverse world. They are just one tiny morsel of what Berlin has to offer that isn’t found in history books.
Certainly, though, that history is important. Berlin has suffered a tumultuous past. For 28 years, the people of Berlin were separated into the East and the West. It was only 22 years ago that the binding wall was ripped down, and citizens were allowed to mingle with those of the opposing side. Families could reunite, lovers could reignite, and children could finally see what had been forbidden to them for so very long.
They found that they had been missing the massive amounts of art galleries, which totals around 420 in the present time. They had been missing the Reichstag, the old and historical home of the German government, where the Prime Minster now performs her duties. They had been missing the 153 museums, including the Jewish Museum. They had been missing the clubs, the theatres, the restaurants. Everything that defined them was separated, divided – they had become two malnourished halves that needed only a bite of the other to survive.
Perhaps that is why those bears stick in my memory so much during my time in the city. Out of all the things I saw, out of all the history I witnessed, the thought of a cuddly rainbow bear is what lingers. Those bears represent something a lone piece of concrete wall can never accomplish – they represent hope. While so much of the city is structured around remembering the past, these bears are a tribute to the future – a future of togetherness and strength. And while they may just be statues, to me, they represent the city that I have come to admire and respect.