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The Mysterious Child Eater of Bern

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Ravi is a traveler and foodie who loves to visit off-the-beaten-track places and understand the culture, history and customs behind them.

The Mysterious Child Eater of Bern

The Mysterious Child Eater of Bern

The Picturesque City of Bern

One of the first things you notice once you arrive at Bern, Switzerland’s picturesque capital, is its compactness. Unlike other sprawling cities, Bern is a walker’s paradise, replete with limestone arcades, cobblestone streets, and towering copper church spires.

That said, the beginnings of Bern are quite vague, with no archaeological discoveries unearthed before the 1300s. Many believe that the city was named after a bear hunted by its founder Berchtold V, Duke of Zahringen. The duke later commanded an architect to build a city on that very spot to commemorate his victory over the ferocious bear. The nearby oak forest was cut down and the felled timber was used to build houses for the city.

Modern Bern has come a long way from that point and is now a scenic city with a medieval air, dotted with sandstone houses, fountains, and of course great food. Bern has over 100 fountains, and it is known as the City of Fountains.

And as you roam around Bern, appreciating its beauty and its numerous attractions, you are bound to come across a gruesome statue of a man pulling children out of a bag and eating them with relish. The unsettling sculpture was built in 1546 and is called Der Kindlifresser, or "child eater."

Strangely, no one is sure who the terrifying man is or why his statue has been standing for the last 500 years or so.

Bern is a walker’s paradise, replete with limestone arcades, cobblestone streets, and towering copper church spires.

Bern is a walker’s paradise, replete with limestone arcades, cobblestone streets, and towering copper church spires.

The Child Eater of Bern

It was the 1500s and Bern was in expansion mode. Its rulers continuously beautified the city by constructing fountains, parks, and elaborate palaces. Many artisans from across the world were engaged by the city to construct its beautiful fountains and replace the old ones.

One of those artists was Hans Gieng, who created the Kindlifresserbrunnen (literally translating to "fountain of the eater of small children"). Strangely, Hans left no records of his disturbing creation, and its meaning and who had commissioned him to create the work remain shrouded in mystery.

However, over the years there have been many theories postulated to explain his creation.

Why Was the Statue Created?

Why Was the Statue Created?

Why Was the Statue Created?

One theory says that the child eater might have been created to represent Jews who were hated across Europe at that time. In fact, the hat worn by the child eater bears a resemblance to the hats Jews were forced to wear across Europe by Catholic Church law.

According to the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, a meeting held between all Christian communities, it was decided that Jews should be visibly distinguishable from Christians to prevent any kind of ‘sinful relationship’ caused by sexual intercourse knowingly or unknowingly. The council said:

“We order that they [Jews and Saracens] of both sexes, in all Christian lands and at all times, shall be publicly differentiated from the rest of the population by the quality of their garment.”

As outlandish as it sounds, medieval Christians really believed that Jews lusted after Christian blood and were hell-bent on making it "impure." Hence, the "child eater" statue might have been created to warn people of the dangerous Jews.

Another theory talks about the statue representing a witch. Medieval Switzerland was a hotbed for witch trials in the 1400s, with hundreds of people put on trial and burned as witches. And one of the crimes associated with witches was that of eating children alive.

And, interestingly, most of the witch trials happened in the 1500s and the 1600s, during the time the child eater statue was built. Therefore, it is very possible that the statue was built as a warning to caution people against "child-eating" witches residing amongst them.

Yet another theory states that the Kindlifresser is a representation of the older brother of Bern’s famous founder, Duke Berchtold. According to this theory, the Duke’s older brother was so jealous of his brother’s accomplishments that he went insane and started eating the city’s children in his rage. However, historical records do not provide any further details of this elusive older brother of the Duke.

And the final theory (and the most plausible one) is that Hans Gieng simply created the frightening statue to frighten children! That's it! It is simply a scary ogre meant to frighten children. And what child would not get scared if told: "eat your greens or the ogre will eat you"!

In conclusion, nobody is entirely sure what, or whom, the Child Eater of Bern represents. But one thing is for sure; Der Kindlifresser ("eater of little children") has been creeping out tourists and residents alike for nearly 500 years and will continue to do so until somebody solves the mystery.

Sources

Comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 24, 2021:

Thanks Devika for your comments

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 24, 2021:

Bern is beautiful! It is interesting and the reasons behind that statue is unique from your side of it. I find that statues appear with a good reason.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 24, 2021:

A medieval statue in the Swiss city of Bern depicts a man, eating a sack of babies. And nobody is entirely sure what, or whom, the Der Kindlifresser (‘eater of little children’) actually represents.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 24, 2021:

Rajah, you're welcome.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 23, 2021:

Thanks Sukhdev

Sukhdev Shukla from Dehra Dun, India on April 23, 2021:

Quite interesting!

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 23, 2021:

Thanks Vidya for your comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 23, 2021:

Thanks Misbah for your comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 23, 2021:

Thanks Miebakagh for your comments

VIDYA D SAGAR on April 23, 2021:

An interesting article Ravi though intriguing. The theory that they were meant to frighten the children to eat their greens seems plausible. The pictures of Bern are so beautiful. Makes us want to visit the city.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on April 23, 2021:

A very fascinating article, Ravi. Bern is a beautiful city. The pictures are beautiful. I don’t know the story behind the statue but for sure it’s horrible and frightening. In Madrid Spain, a drug addict was caught by police in2019 who murdered his mom, cut her into pieces. And was eating her raw meat along with his dog. Isn’t it horrible, The man is still under trial. what more the worst can we expect than this? There are plenty of similar cases in the world. The statue is old but I am sure there must be some horrifying story behind this statue as well.

Thanks for sharing

Blessings

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 23, 2021:

The explanation that childrens eat up they greens(foods) holds water. Probably a legend all over the world, even among my Wakirike(Okrika) folks in the Niger Delta. Thanks for the read. It's interesting.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 23, 2021:

Thanks Peggy for your comments.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 23, 2021:

I saw another statue in Germany that had the ogre or person supposedly eating a child. Whatever the reasoning behind these statues, it does present a frightening image to onlookers. Bern appears to be a beautiful city.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 23, 2021:

Thanks Lorna for your comments

Lorna Lamon on April 23, 2021:

Fascinating article complete with beautiful photos of Bern. Lots of different theories each one frightening in its own way. Next time I'm in Switzerland I will pay Bern a visit.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 23, 2021:

A medieval statue in the Swiss city of Bern depicts a man, eating a sack of babies. And nobody is entirely sure what, or whom, the Der Kindlifresser (‘eater of little children’) actually represents.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 23, 2021:

Thanks Umesh

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on April 23, 2021:

Wow.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 23, 2021:

Thanks Liz for your comments.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 23, 2021:

This is a very well-illustrated article. It reminds me of how picturesque Swiss cities can be. The mystery of the statue is intriguing but a little grotesque.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 23, 2021:

Thanks John for your comments

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on April 23, 2021:

What an interesting article, Ravi. Bern looks like a beautiful city. I do wonder what the true meaning of the statue is, however.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 23, 2021:

A medieval statue in the Swiss city of Bern depicts a man, eating a sack of babies.And nobody is entirely sure what, or whom, the Der Kindlifresser (‘eater of little children’) actually represents.

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