Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
On October 30, 1338 Berlin, whose sister-city of Cölln used an eagle as their emblem, put their bear-stamp on a council deed regulating securities in loans and pawning known as a Ratsurkunde ueber Pfandegelder. Fifty eight years earlier the official city seal bore an image of two bears flanking the Askanian eagle (the House of Askania – or Anhalt – was the German ruling family to which Albrecht der Bär, the first Margrave of Brandenburg, belonged): the bears stood for the sister-cities, Berlin and Cölln, while the eagle symbolised the overarching power of the Askanian rulers. Although the 1338 city seal bear appeared to be sovereign and independent, the truth was quite different: the animal was forced to wear a collar with a small shield attached to it and sort of flying behind it in the wind. The shield bore the symbol of an Askanian eagle…
The bear seal of Berlin and the eagle seal of Cölln appeared on all key documents issued by their common council until as late as 1710, when the five independent cities of Berlin, Cölln, Friedrichswerder, Friedrichstadt and Dorotheenstadt were merged into the single royal capital and residence city of Berlin.
The Berliner Bär has continued to act as the city’s symbol. It is featured on its official flag, its seal, and on its coat of arms. However, despite its striking similarity with the city´s name, which has been a constant source of confusion, no large, furry carnivore was a namesake for Berlin. Its etymology, like of an astounding number of other place names in Brandenburg, is Slavonic. The prefix barl’ means swamp, morass or marshland. One look at any construction site in the city´s centre when the foundations are being dug will immediately tell you why.
To find out more about the Berliner Bär and its presence in the local symbolic and culture as well as to read more interesting stuff on the etymology of the city´s place names, we recommend our beautifully designed and lovingly compiled book of lesser-known Berlin facts and stories, “Notmsparker´s Berlin Companion” – a book about everything you never knew you wanted to know about Berlin, available at Berlinarium, at Amazon.de , at Book-on-Demand Berlin or in selected Berlin bookshops:
Shakespeare and Sons in Warschauer Straße 74, Berlin-Friedrichshain
Do You Read Me?! in Auguststraße 28, Berlin-Mitte
Hundt Hammer Stein in Alte Schönhauser Straße 23-24, Berlin-Mitte
Buchbund in Sanderstraße 8, Berlin-Neukölln
Herrlich in Bergmannstraße 2, Berlin-Kreuzberg
Ararat Curiosity Shop in Bergmannstraße 99, Berlin-Kreuzberg
Jewish Museum Museum Shop, Lindenstraße, Berlin-Kreuzberg