The coat of arms for the city of Berlin is a bear. But considering Germany’s troubled history with the beast, it may as well be a starfish, a unicorn or a Rabbi.
For one; there are no wild bears in Germany. Not one. Prior to this decade the last known wild bear in Germany was gunned down by hunters in Bavaria in 1838.
In early 2006 a bear named JJ1, became the first of his kind to set foot in Germany in nearly two centuries when he wandered across the border from Austria. Technically the creature was a “brown” bear, but I feel that in the age of Obama we’ve moved beyond such labeling.
The environmental set was thrilled that such a noble animal was once again enjoying nuts and berries in the woods of Bavaria — hailing the adorable killing machine as a symbol of the success of endangered species reintroduction programs. The press affectionately named the critter Bruno.
The joy was short lived. Upon illegally emigrating, Bruno may have wandered into the hearts of Germans, but he also wandered into a country that had absolutely no experience with a real live wild bear.
Predictably Bruno, acting like a total animal, embarked on a ruthless 300 km killing spree, mercilessly dispatching any creature unfortunate enough to cross his path..
The body count from Bruno’s swath of destruction included:
- 33 sheep
- 4 domestic rabbits
- 1 guinea pig,
- Assorted hens and goats
- A bunch of bees defending their honey (probably)
It seems that Bruno’s taste for blood emboldened him to the point where he even brazenly taunted his human adversaries. Bruno was spotted strutting down main street in the town of Kochel, even stopping to take a breather on the steps of the police station.
Things went from bad to worse for Bruno when Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber labeled the once-loveable poster-bear as a Problembär, or (problem bear). You know you’re fucked when a German bureaucrat conjoins words to make a concept out of you.
Much to the delight of local farmers, who claimed Bruno enjoyed killing because he typically killed sheep without eating them, the bear was ordered killed or captured.
In an effort to be humane the German authorities enlisted a cross-species international all-star team of Finnish bear hunters and their Karelian Bear Dogs to capture the hairy menace. Amazingly the Finns and their hounds proved totally useless and were unable to catch the bear over the course of several weeks. Frustrated, and increasingly concerned about the safety of local sheep and bees, the local government sought a final solution.
On June 26th a shocked German public awoke to these words from Spiegel Online, “Bruno the wandering bear is dead. The notorious creature was shot by hunters at 4.50 a.m. on Monday morning, near the Bavarian town of Zell in southern Germany. “The shooting has happened, the bear is dead,” said Manfred Wölfl, the Bavarian government’s bear expert.”
Outrage over Bruno’s death spread far and wide — including Italy, where environmentalists recognized Bruno as JJ1 — one of 10 Slovenian bears introduced in that country’s Trento region. In an effort to retrieve their murdered bear, Rome declared JJ1 as state property, and demanded that his body be returned to Italy. The Bavarian government pushed back, claiming that any carcass on German land is German property.
The story grew even more tragic when details of Bruno’s troubled family history eventually surfaced. As one of several progeny of bear-parents (bearents!) Jurka and Joze, Bruno/JJ1 wasn’t the only problem child in his family. Nearly two years after JJ1 was slain, his brother, JJ3 wandered into Switzerland and was also murdered — without nickname. Though in keeping with German/Swiss historical tradition, Switzerland’s wrong-doing went underreported.
We don’t know if JJ3 was out to extract sweet vengeance from his brother’s executioners and simply got lost, or if he thought he could seek asylum in the oft-neutral nation. We may never know. What we do know, is that it turns out pathologically poor parenting was the root of the original problem.
Soon after JJ3 met his end, Jurka, Bruno’s mother, was incarcerated by the whichever Italian authorities are in charge of disorderly bears. It was revealed that 50% of all bear related crimes in the region were caused by Jurka and her offspring.
There were few winners in the tragic tale of Bruno. Two bears were killed, their mother tossed in prison and Bavarian environment minister Werner Schappau’s reputation was seriously tarnished after environmentalists called for his resignation. I suppose the only silver lining is that we can all enjoy the irascible Bruno everyday of the week, as he’s been stuffed, mounted, and put in display at the Museum of Man and Nature in Munich. And the world now knows not to trust Finns to catch a bear.