Germany and Bears

Q) What will you find just about every where you go in Germany?

A) Bears.

You might have guessed beers or football… and you’d be right. But also, bears.

On city emblems, on flags, on logos, outside of shops. Bears large and bears small. The star of the show in Berlin is the infamous Welcome Bear and you wont go more than a couple of streets without spotting one. The image of the bear is celebrated here.

But what about the real thing?

Things Helen Loves, image of wooden bear in trees

Well, there are hundreds of zoos and tierparks across Germany where you can see a bear or two in the flesh. But for an alternative experience you need to find an alternative attraction. Over to you, The Alternative Bärenpark, in Worbis. 

The Alternative Bearpark/ Alternativer Bärenpark Worbis

Located in Eichsfeld, Thuringia, this park is ‘alternative’ for both visitors and residents. For the animals- mainly bears and wolves- who end up here, the park is an alternative to the poor and often inhumane circumstances from which they are rescued.

For human visitors, the park is an alternative to old school zoos and parks where the main purpose would be human entertainment. Here, the aim is education and a better understanding of large predators.

The animals are kept in enclosures designed to create as natural an environment as possible for them, rather than an easy viewing experience for the visito. The clever design of the enclosures mean there are still plenty of opportunities to view the residents.

A teaching trail educates about types of bears and the abuses they face. Exhibits include  bear enclosures of old and  a taxidermy example of a bear used for its bile.

No shame in admitting, it left me feeling a little emotional.

Things Helen Loves, stiffed bear in small cage being farmed for its bile.
Taxidermy bear showing how bears are kept for their bile.

If the exhibits are hard evidence of what has been wrong, the rescued bears playing and interacting in their vast and natural enclosure are a breath of fresh air. Hope for the future. All the bears here have been rescued from abusive or inappropriate conditions.

Things Helen Loves, vintage circus wagons that used to hold bears
Old Circus wagons used to keep bears for entertainment.

The bears find their way here from all sorts of places. Some rescued from circus life, some have found sanctuary here having been abandoned.

 I absolutely lost my heart to a pair of bears by the name of Max and Emma. Both were born in the 1990s in the bear pit of Bern-something I had no knowledge of previously.

Things Helen Loves, brown bear playing in a pond.
Max in the pond, holding a yellow pepper he found floating in the water.

They were both then passed onto an ‘experience restaurant’ in Biberstein, where they existed for eight years in a 36m square concrete bear pit. Diners were invited to feed the bears by throwing them scraps.

Happily, pressure from animal rights groups led to the bears being brought as a pair to the Alternative Bear Park in 2000 where they are now happily settled, and still together

Emma, Image credit to Alternativer Baerenpark Worbis

Although they have found a happy ending, years in cruel captivity has left its mark. Emma follows Max round obsessively and keepers at the sanctuary have to manage the relationship between them carefully.

Periodically, separation has to be enforced to give Max some space. Very sad to think that this beautiful creature cannot live normally and without anxiety because she was used by humans.

Things Helen Loves, image of interior of old bear enclosures, small space with concrete walls and floors.
Bear enclosures of old.

The park made an excellent day out and seeing the bears was a genuinely touching experience. I thought about them for a long time after we left. The visit made me reflect on my own views on things and on the power we hold.

To accept or reject certain things as acceptable. We can vote with our feet. With our money.


More than anything, I left hoping that Max & Emma can enjoy the rest of their lives in freedom in rural Germany.

Even if it has to be mostly together but sometimes apart.

Update: When updating this post I looked up the Alternative Bear Park and sadly read that Emma died in late 2018. Max, on the other hand, continues to thrive and has recently dig his own ‘bear cave’. This natural behaviour is a great step forward and I hope he lives out a long and happy life in Germany.

I also hope to make it back to see him!

Helen x

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