While browsing through vintage snapshots of Germany, French publisher Jean-Marie Donat made a peculiar discovery—for decades, people in polar bear suits were running around Germany and inserting themselves in photographs. At weddings, beaches, and even Nazi gatherings, these Arctic imitators would regularly appear in photos with non-bear-suit-wearing folk, for reasons that, to this day, no one knows.
What we do know is that the phenomenon lasted from the end of World War I to 1960—a not uneventful interval of time for Germany—and that there are literally hundreds of these pictures featuring more than one suit. The non-bears posing in the snapshots appear generally happy, and not at all baffled or alarmed by their hirsute companions.
The collection of photographs, published by Donat in a 200-page book called TEDDYBÄR (currently on a limited 500-copy run), show the unfolding of Germany's history in a way that is at once absurd and disturbing. A window is opened into the nation's turbulent circumstances in the early to mid-20th century, but with the surreal addition of polar bears.
Klaus Peter Speidel, an artist and philosopher who adds commentary to the book, can offer the only convincing interpretation of the enduring mystery: "People need a reason to have their picture taken, and a bear is a damn good reason."
All images via Innocence Publishing