We had ninety short days in Continental Europe. The period was dictated by my Schengen visa (which all South Africans require, unless, like Claire, they possess other, more useful passports) and meant skipping through Austria – with only one full day and two nights in Vienna and two days of hiking in the Alps, sleeping in a caravan near Innsbruck – on our way from Germany’s south to Italy’s north.
We feel qualified to write about neither, and would, besides, have only a dull list of sites to impart. But we feel it worth mentioning that, in the course of our pleasant day’s meander through Vienna, we stumbled on hundreds of two metre high, brightly painted fibreglass bears, filling an enigmatic circle in Karlsplatz. All were facing inwards, arms outstretched.
The United Buddy Bears were, like us, visiting Vienna. Each bear had been painted by an artist in one of the UN’s 192 member states and represented something of their origin: a rather dull wildlife and savannah motif covered South Africa’s bear, a pie eyed and lustful bear represented the Netherlands. Come to promote “tolerance and international understanding,” they were sold at auction in aid of UNICEF, the UN’s Children’s Fund. By November, €1 315 000 had been raised.
The unusual exhibit was more compelling than any museum I’ve entered: adults mingled slowly, smiling at the names of unknown countries, children touched the bears, giggling. Claire and I took photos of those that represented every country we, at that stage, thought we’d visit. You can click on the image above, or here, to see them. Only their stomachs are visible in the thumbnails, clicking through will display the entire bear.
If you enjoyed Among the Buddy Bears in Vienna, subscribe to email updates or our RSS Feed. You'll be notified when we next publish a story about the Old World.