The German Tradition of Posing With a Man in a Polar Bear Costume

Some 30 years ago, when French photo collector Jean-Marie Donat first came across an image of a person in a polar bear costume on the streets of Berlin, the surreal nature of it caught his attention. But he didn’t realize it was part of a larger story until a second one turned up. Eventually, many more became part of his collection—black and white snapshots of (mostly) friendly faces alongside a longhaired white bear with a perma-smile and beady eyes. Now, his many found images are together in a book called TEDDYBÄR.

The origins of the mid-20th century tradition are a bit of a mystery, though Donat gave VICE a possible explanation he received from a German friend: “At the beginning of the 1920s, two polar bears came to Berlin Zoo. Many families go to the zoo to see the bears—they're in fashion—and all of the children want photographs in front of the zoo with these guys in bear suits. It's a huge success in Berlin. And after, throughout Germany for the next 60 years, there are lots of these teddy bears. In my collection I have 30 different bears.”

Hyperallergic sheds a different light on the subject, reporting that the costume was created by stuffed animal company Steiff to sell Fanta—conceived by the Germans as alternative to Coca-Cola in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. The mascot was meant to encourage a feeling of fun and normalcy and detract attention away from the horrors of wartime. (Coca-Cola's polar bear first appeared in 1922.)

The 200-page TEDDYBÄR features the bears with everyone from children to soldiers in Wehrmacht uniforms (and even a child wearing a swastika on her chest). They span decades, from about the '20s to the '60s, offering a unique glimpse at Germany during a very critical time in its history. The book also includes a postface from philosopher Klaus Peter Speidel, adding some commentary to the “placid, playful, sometimes disturbing” and surreal photos.

TEDDYBÄR is printed by Innocences Publishing. You can purchase it here.

From the photo book TEDDYBÄR, a series from the Jean-Marie Donat Collection, Innocences Publishing. All images courtesy of Innocences Publishing.

Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
New 'Eye Language' Lets Paralyzed People Communicate More Easily
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0

The invention of sign language proved you don't need to vocalize to use complex language face to face. Now, a group of designers has shown that you don't even need control of your hands: Their new type of language for paralyzed people relies entirely on the eyes.

As AdAge reports, "Blink to Speak" was created by the design agency TBWA/India for the NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute and the Asha Ek Hope Foundation. The language takes advantage of one of the few motor functions many paralyzed people have at their disposal: eye movement. Designers had a limited number of moves to work with—looking up, down, left, or right; closing one or both eyes—but they figured out how to use these building blocks to create a sophisticated way to get information across. The final product consists of eight alphabets and messages like "get doctor" and "entertainment" meant to facilitate communication between patients and caregivers.

Inside of a language book.
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

This isn't the only tool that allows paralyzed people to "speak" through facial movements, but unlike most other options currently available, Blink to Speak doesn't require any expensive technology. The project's potential impact on the lives of people with paralysis earned it the Health Grand Prix for Good at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity earlier in June.

The groups behind Blink to Speak have produced thousands of print copies of the language guide and have made it available online as an ebook. To learn the language yourself or share it with someone you know, you can download it for free here.

[h/t AdAge]

How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library

Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]


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