The Swiss capital Bern has a statue of an ogre eating babies and nobody knows why
Unfortunately for anyone who comes across it in the dead of night, the Kindlifresserbrunnen - which literally means Fountain of the Eater of Little Children - is exactly what it sounds like.
In the next edition of The Local Switzerland's ‘Did You Know?’ series for members which highlights forgotten facts and infamous information about Switzerland, we travel to Bern.
Take a walk through Bern’s Old Town and there’s a good chance you’ll come across the Kindlifresserbrunnen, which translates literally as the Fountain of the Eater of Little Children.
No, that’s not a metaphor or some more wacky Swiss German slang - that’s exactly what he’s doing.
From Santa’s companion Schmützli to Pingu, Switzerland can have a weird, wacky - and frequently dark - imagination when it comes to creating characters.
While some translations name the statue simply as the ‘Ogre Fountain’, its full name is a much more accurate and macabre description of what is actually depicted.
Perhaps even more concerning is that nobody knows much about the statue, least of all why it’s eating a naked baby - and presumably planning on eating a few more out of the bulging sack.
The fountain in the centre of Bern. Photo: Mike Lehmann - Wikicommons, CC BY-SA 3.0,
A long, mysterious history
The fountain is believed to have been created in the mid-1500s by sculptor Hans Gieng.
If the style of the statue doesn’t jump out at you, it’s because Gieng is responsible for several more sculptures throughout the Old Town including Lady Justice (Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen) and the Piper (Pfeiferbrunnen).
And while it’s generally thought that the statue was built in 1545-47 - and that yes, it is indeed eating babies - that’s where the consensus ends.
Will someone think of the children?
There are several theories which attempt to explain what the statue is actually supposed to represent. Some are kooky, while others are incredibly problematic.
A major theory is that the statue is a representation of the Krampus, a mythical creature across much of German-speaking Europe who comes out at Christmas time to punish the kids that have been misbehaving - although we’re not exactly sure how a kid is supposed to learn his or her lesson by being eaten.
The ‘fear factor’ of the statue plays out in other theoretical explanations, including that the sculpture was created to scare kids away from falling into nearby bear pits (yes, that was really a thing back then), to scare kids straight ahead of Christmas time (see above), or just to scare kids in general.
Another less than savoury explanation relies on the hat that the ogre wears, which resembles the hats worn by Jewish people at the time. The theory goes that the ogre is either depicting Jewish people negatively, or is supposed to be a warning of sorts.
Another theory - we told you there was a few - is that the statue depicts Duke Berchtold, who founded Bern. Legend has it he was jealous of his handsome, talented and charming younger brother that he went out and ate the town’s children.
While there’s no evidence that this actually happened, keep in mind that the town founder is likely to have access to the record books.
So in short, nobody knows much about the reason for the Fountain of the Eater of Little Children, except that it does what it says on the packet.
If you’re travelling through Bern, you’re stuck for time and are not sure which sights to prioritise, the Kindlifresserbrunnen has a four-stars (out of five) rating on Trip Advisor, so you know it’s good.
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