Postcard from... Berlin


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The Independent Online

Dressed up in jackboots and the grey uniform of former Communist East Germany’s hated border police, the man-sized bear goose-steps across the cobblestones in front of the Brandenburg Gate. He sidles up to giggling tourists who willingly part with their euros to have pictures taken of themselves being bear-hugged for a souvenir.

The bear is Berlin’s heraldic beast and the border-guard version is the latest stunt designed to get visitors to part with their money. Yet he is now the source of a furious row. “A Berlin bear in an East German border guard’s uniform – that’s grossly irreverent,” one conservative city councillor complained.

Hubertus Knabe, the head of Berlin’s former Stasi prison, which is now a museum dedicated to explaining the evils  of Communist repression,  was just as angry. “This is  about as tasteless as one can get!” he exclaimed.

Mr Knabe and other critics emphasise that East Germany’s border guards shot dead hundreds of people trying to flee to the West over the Berlin Wall. They want the border-guard bear banned.

However, their arguments have made little impact on the bear: “This is art, and people like these historical figures,” the 30-year-old bear stuntman told Berlin’s BZ newspaper. “And anyway East Germany has long since disappeared,” he added. So has Nazi Germany. But its symbols and uniforms are prohibited. Critics point out that if the bear had been wearing a Gestapo uniform he would have been arrested immediately.