Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


Bearing with the unsolved


L. to R. – Gretl Braun, Eva Braun, the infamous bear, and one of the Braun sisters’ friends on a wintry day in Bavaria.

As I followed the research path of my novel, The Munich Girl, poring over hundreds of photographs from Eva Braun’s albums, there was one whose circumstances remained a complete puzzle.

It pictures her with her younger sister, Gretl, and a friend standing beside what looks like a polar bear. Not a statue or a stuffed one, mind you, but a bear up on its hind legs, “arms” around two of  the women, very much a presence in their midst.

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One of my days at the National Archives, examining Eva Braun’s photo albums.

Susanne Weigand finally helped me solve the mystery this week when she shared an article from the Huffington Post. It describes how photograph collector Jean-Marie Donat discovered a huge cache of photos taken in Germany between the 1920s and the 1960s, all snapped in public places, that show a wide variety of individuals posing with a hairy white bear, just like the one in Eva Braun’s photo.


U.S. soldiers in war-shattered Germany. Photo from TeddyBär, published by Innocences Bookmaker.

Donat collected these thousands of images over the years and compiled them into a book called TeddyBär. Art critic Klaus Peter Speidel writes, “The images accidentally piece together an alternative history of 20th century Germany, documenting pre-war Nazi soldiers, young German children donning Swastikas, American GIs, and everyday individuals navigating this historical time of terror and upheaval. It’s strange to see individuals isolated from their circumstances, all behaving in a relatively similar, humanizing manner: posing goofily next to a large bear.

Speidel adds: “The images, playful in their time, acquire a bittersweet aftertaste in retrospect, with each jocular shot tugging at our 21st-century memories of war, persecution and loss. In this strange compendium of posing bears and happy bystanders, Donat creates an unlikely timeline of everyday German history, one that, especially in comparison to the photo-happy present, looks frighteningly familiar.”

And one of those happy bystanders, in a photo taken early in the bear’s “career” (probably the early 1930s, judging by Eva’s hair color) was going to wind up famous for reasons she could never begin to imagine.

12369218_10208140857064106_2523709969075442989_nLearn more about “TeddyBär , published by Innocences Bookmaker, and read the entire article here:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/teddybar-vintage-found-photos-germany_us_56ba222ee4b08ffac122bc5a


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