By Sebastian Fischer and Ralf Neukirch
It was one of those great moments in Bavarian politics. When Bruno the wild brown bear wandered over the Alps from Italy into the southern German state, then-Governor Edmund Stoiber was quick to address the matter. Actually, Bavaria was pleased to welcome bears to the state, he said. Provided they are normal bears. Stoiber's definition at the time: "The bear that normally resides in the forest, doesn't leave it and kills perhaps one or two sheep per year."
So far, so good. But Bruno, who wandered over from Italy's Trentino province, had a well-documented penchant for killing livestock, pets and other animals. "And we see a difference between the normal bear, the malicious bear and the problem bear," Stoiber explained. And, yes, "it is very clear that this bear is a problem bear," he concluded.
The government of Bavaria ultimately gave permission for the bear to be shot by hunters. Bruno, the first wild bear to arrive in Bavaria for over 170 years, was killed on June 26, 2006, in the mountainous Kümpflalm area above Spitzingsee lake in the Alps.
US Diplomats Wax Poetic about Bruno
Of course, American diplomats stationed in Munich, the capital of Bavaria, and in Berlin didn't miss any of this. Information about the bear hunt was promptly cabled back to Washington. In the newly-leaked US diplomatic dispatches, one can find detailed information about Bruno the brown bear. That summer the US Consulate, located near Governor Stoiber's offices in Munich, registered some fundamental thoughts on the German understanding of the natural world.
According to the US diplomats, Bruno had forfeited his right to Bavarian hospitality because he was not "willing to adapt to German culture and traditions," as former Bavarian Interior Minister Günther Beckstein had often required of every other foreigner. And obviously the diplomats did not omit Stoiber's classification of Bruno as a "problem bear."
Germans Prefer Their Nature Tame
The end of a June 30 dispatch from Munich offered the following shrewd analysis: The greatest insight to be gained from the whole Bruno affair was that, although German society liked to appear environmentally friendly and "green," modern Germany still had difficulty relating to untamed nature.
There had not been genuine wildlife in the mountainous parts of Bavaria for generations, the report said. "Nature is good, as long as it is controlled, channeled and subdued," it concluded. The diplomatic prognosis was dim. "If the saga of Bavaria's 'Problem Bear' is any indicator, the strategy of reintroducing wild bears to the Alps, at least the German Alps, may be doomed to failure -- that is, unless the bears are willing to cooperate by not being too wild."
After the death of the bear, the Bavarians occupied themselves in a very Prussian manner with possible successors to Bruno. A "Management Plan for Brown Bears in Bavaria" was developed, complete with concrete tips for hikers, should they happen to accidentally encounter another Bruno at some point in the future. "Under normal circumstances a bear will not attack," one tip helpfully offers. "They will smell you and judge you not to be dangerous." Regardless, hikers should make their presence known to bears by, for example, singing loudly.
But, since Bruno, there hasn't been a single brown bear to have wandered into Germany from abroad. Apparently it didn't take access to the confidential US diplomatic dispatches to get that message across to Italy's bear population.
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