Peter Zimmermann, Bundesarchiv 1973 [photography]


Until that day in autumn 2015, on which Schnute, the last female city-bear was euthanized, several generations of brown bears – Berlin’s heraldic animals – had inhabited the Bärenzwinger [bear pit] for almost eighty years.

The Bärenzwinger was officially opened on the 17th of August 1939 with the four bears Urs, Vreni, Lotte and Jule. Urs and Vreni came from the world-famous bear bit of Bern and were gifts from the city of Bern on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of Berlin in 1937.

Originally built for the city’s sanitation department in Köllnischer Park, the Berlin architect Georg Lorenz converted it into the Bärenzwinger.

Bound to an almost eighty-year history of the city, the Bärenzwinger was facing closure twice. All the bears except for Lotte were killed during the 2nd World War and the Bärenzwinger itself was buried under rubble. Thanks to the intervention of citizens, the area was cleared of rubble and reopened on the 29th of November 1949 with the bears Nante and Jette.

The preservation of the bear pit, located in  the former East of the city, became a matter for debate shortly after the fall of the Wall due to its poor structural condition, until private donation initiatives finally set its restoration in motion.

Around the turn of the millennium, the keeping of the bears on the site encountered increasing opposition once again, this time because of doubts concerning the welfare of the animals. Criticism from animal welfare groups finally led to the municipal decision to discontinue the site’s usage as a bear pit after the death of Schnute.

Cultural Site

Photo: Tobias Willmann, 2017


The cultural use of the Bärenzwinger as a location for exhibitions and events, lectures and discussions has been made possible through the transfer of the property to the Department for Further Education and Culture of Berlin-Mitte and the provision of support through interdisciplinary funding. Artists and scientists will be able to develop exhibition ideas on-site and progressively present them by way of carefully considered site-specific interventions and installations.

The cultural program of the former bear pit is organized by young curators of the Department of Arts and Culture, to whom the Bärenzwinger will be made available as a place of practice and learning during their traineeship.

After having stood empty for almost two years, the Department for Further Education and Culture has assumed responsibility for a cultural monument, which was home to Berlin’s heraldic animals for more than 80 years and thus has developed a high degree of popularity and sympathy among the citizens of Berlin.

Its immense effect on creating identity among Berliners is therefore of great value, both for the future urban planning around the area of ​​the northern “Luisenstadt” as well as for the nearby historical center of Berlin.

The aim is to develop the location as a public place of cultural learning and teaching as well as a knowledge base for urban culture. In addition, exhibitions, workshops and events will reference cultural urban design, the history of Berlin and contemporary art.

Curatorial Program

Photo by Tobias Willmann, 2017

The curatorial program at Bärenzwinger from September 2017 to January 2019 developed from an analysis of the history of the area, the animals which inhabit it, its occupants and its critics. It opens up manifold forms and formats and explores the potential of the grounds for historical, environmental, cultural, and artistic interventions.

The program focuses on the role of the bear pit and bears within the scope of the cultural and social identity of the city, the architecture of the site and its urban integration, as well as engaging in discourse surrounding matters of ecology and animal welfare pertaining to the bear pit.

The bear pit, having stood empty for almost two years, still contains numerous traces of its former utilization as a long-standing domicile of Berlin’s symbolic bearers.

The Bärenzwinger exhibition program thematizes three core areas: The first, entitled “Traces of the Animalic” (Spuren des Animalischen), addresses the perceptible absence / presence of the bears. The second key aspect “Architectures of Segregation” (Architekturen der Segregation), sweeps through both the internal and external grounds of the bear pit. The third curatorial program entitled “Projections of Indistinguishably” (Projektionen der Ununterscheidbarkeit), ultimately develops ideas for perspectives and future scenarios of the bear pit.