I like bears. I live in a European city which has this great animal as its mascot – the city of Bärlin is a great place to be, it has great people, lots of history and tons of things to do every day.
I’m at a subway station called Märkisches Museum at least once a week on the way to work, and every time I’m there, I pass the Bärenzwinger in the park next to the church. A Bärenzwinger is the German word for bear pit and to me it’s a very ugly word. Zwang means force or constraint, and as a compound noun it is connected with some of the shittiest concepts in German history. I think this word should be deleted from the language, as the words “mandatory” and “compulsory” should be deleted from the English language. OK, so I was in a bad mood that morning. I tried to think of more cheerful examples of bears, including the popular bear-pit-karaoke contest that often entertains folks at the Mauerpark in the north of the city on weekends. Another example was the fluffy white rock star of a bear called Knut that used to be the main attraction at Berlin Zoo. I was clearly in a bear-induced state of confusion as I walked.
These ursine thoughts were whizzing around in my head as I was looking at the pathetic sight that is the bear pit in the Köllnischer Park a couple hundred metres from the U2 stop which connects with Berlin’s eastern hub, the Alexanderplatz, only two stops south. A shaggy brown bear by the name of “Schnutte” is on display here, a living, breathing mascot of Berlin for everyone to come and glotz at. With a space smaller than the stingiest Berlin one-bedroom apartment and iron bars on the door, the word “prisoner” would be more appropriate. This poor, solitary creature is confined most of the day and is only allowed outside to stretch, get some fresh air and have a piss once a day. (If that sounds familiar, you might want to get out of the office and go for a long walk now, maybe throw a Frisbee in the park).
Schnutte didn’t look all that healthy as she feebly sniffed at the air and was too busy scratching her behind on one of the wooden poles outside the jail to notice me. I was thrilled to see an animal up close, but I was also appalled by the fact that I could do so. The bear moped around sadly, like Tim Robbins in the prison yard in The Shawshank Redemption, except that Schnutte didn’t have an interesting escape plan in mind.
When I got home, I looked on the internets and found out a normal, healthy bear needs about 20,000 hectares of forest to run around in, the equivalent of 2.5 million 2-room apartments, enough space to house every man, woman and pram in this city.
I have a nice, comfortable flat in Prenzlauer Berg and I’d say 40 square metres of personal space is a pretty good start for me. Double that and you get the flat I share with my lovely wife. If you reduced my personal living space in equal proportion to what Schnutte has access to right now, I’d be living in a shoe box. The shoe box with the shoes still in it, and probably some paper filling material as well, maybe a couple of catalogues. You could squeeze in a few pairs of socks and I’d still have more room than the poor old bear. Pretty fuckin gruesome, huh?
In fact, just next to my apartment is the spacious Volkspark, and there stands a wooden likeness of another bear. His name is Bruno, and the effigy commemorates a bear that was shot in the south of Germany a few years ago because it was only trying to do what bears do best, to stroll through forest being a wild animal.
To be sure, keeping a wild animal cooped up in a completely inappropriate space is plain wrong and the authorities in Berlin should know better.
How ironic that the city of Bärlin should be treating its favourite animal in this way. So much for respecting the symbolic mascot of our city. Why not invite someone in charge who makes these idiotic decisions to spend a night in the bear pit and see how they like it? Maybe then they would understand that being a cold, grubby, cramped prisoner in the middle of city isn’t a lot of fun and that wild animals should be out in the open and not in a shoe box.