For the last week, there has been only one local news story in Bern: its bears. First we discovered that the seven-month old twins were actually two boys, not one of each as previously thought; no-one had been able to get close enough to check up until now. Trouble was that they had already been named (babies in Switzerland are named within hours of entering the world, and bears are no exception). One was called Urs, rather predictably, the other Berna. But it was decided that Berna would not suffer any identity crisis from having a girlie name. No seriously, that was discussed in the papers.
The big shock came on Sunday. Urs and Berna might have to be put to sleep. Or turned into dog food. Either way in about 18 months’ time, they’d be too big to stay with their mother Björk, and too male to stay together as adults. With a surplus of brown bears in zoos around the world, finding a new home that wasn’t a circus would be almost impossible. Imagine the reaction. After all, since they first appeared in public, the twins have attracted a million visitors to the Bärenpark. And appeared on Youtube:
Unfortunately, while the bears bring in the crowds, they don’t bring in much money. Entry to the newly-completed Bärenpark is free, and the extra sales in the gift shop don’t quite make up for the huge overspend on the bears’ new home. It came in at double the budget. Sometimes even the Swiss can get it wrong when it comes to money matters. And once the twins are past the cuddly and cute stage, will anyone come and see them? It looks like they won’t even have the chance. Urs and Berna need a new home or the picnic is over for these bears.
That doesn’t mean that Bern will no longer have any bears. The parents, Finn and Björk, will still be there, and out at the bears’ woodland home are Mischa and Mascha, orphaned cubs that were a gift from the Russian president. Just as well, as legend has it that Bern will fall if it loses all its bears. In fact, Bern means bears. Literally. It’s said that when the city of Bern was founded back in the 12th century, it was named after the first animal found on a hunting trip in the forest. Just as well they didn’t find a deer or a wolf, or the city would never have been called Bern, from the German Baeren, meaning bears.
Ever since, there have been bears in Bern. The city’s main square, built over a moat where the bears used to live many moons ago, is called Bärenplatz, and Canton Bern’s flag hosts a particularly fine specimen – and a particularly male one. You might notice that his penis is as red as his tongue and claws, a detail defined by a 1957 law. But it took until last year for Bern’s bears to have a home fit for such a noble animal. They were moved out of their cramped concrete pit into the luxury riverside Bärenpark. Then the twins were born and all looked rosy. Until now.
So if you know anyone who fancies a bear, let them know that there are two in Bern in need of a new den before it’s too late. Just make sure they buy in lots of honey first.