Köllnischer Park — You Knew The Bears Had To Be Somewhere

Knut they’re not. But happily ensconced in the heart of Berlin’s Köllnischer Park, between the Märkisches Museum and the playground, are Schnute and Maxi, a mother-daughter pair of brown pairs with the rather weighty responsibility of being the Official City Bears of Berlin.

They’re the latest in a long line of bears, dating back to Berlin’s 700th anniversary in 1937, to “bear” that responsibility. In the more than seven decades since, the bears have seen some rough times. They succumbed to bombing during World War II.

When Köllnischer Park was rebuilt and reopen in 1949, a new pair of bears arrived. One of them, Jette, managed to reduce an astounding thirty-three cubs before being honorably discharged to the Berlin Zoo.

The bears’ home is known as the Bärenzwinger, or Bear Pit, and it’s been the subject of controversy for a long time. Animal rights supporters feel that it’s not large enough for the animals, although it was improved as much as possible in the 1990s at the urging of Berlin Zoo director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz.

Schnute and Maxi, however, seem to enjoy being the darlings of Köllnischer Park, a somewhat easy-to-overlook green space tucked between Wallstraße, Am Köllnischen Park, and Rungestraße in the Mitte District. If you want a quiet park, you’ll find it here.

This is the historical center of the city, as you’ll be reminded when you pass the Märkisches Museum. The museum took nearly a decade to build between 1899 in 1908. Its Gothic and Renaissance red brick Ludwig Hoffmann architecture evoke visions of those mysterious yet romantic fairytale castles in Germany.

Within its 42 rooms are historical artifacts dating back to the Bronze Age. The main hall contains the portal from the Berlin palace of the Margraves of Brandenburg. There’s also a horse’s head from the original Quadriga which once crowned the Brandenburg Gate. The Museum, in fact, has an astounding four million treasures of different kinds!

The Museum’s other exhibits cover everything from Berlin’s literary and theatrical giants to the mechanical musical instruments which, for an additional fee, the public are welcome to play each Sunday afternoon.

Museum Hours are: Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday 10-6: Wednesday, noon-8; and Friday and Saturday 2-10.

Outside the Märkisches Museum is a rather imaginative statue of Heinrich Zille, the early 20th-century artist whose drawings shed a satirical light on Berlin life of the day.

I often wonder what Zille would have made of the Bärenzwinger! :-)

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