A strange child eating statue stands in the center of the scenic Alpine city of Bern, Switzerland. Set between quaint sandstone buildings and the picturesque River Aare, the man in the statue stuffs a child into his gaping maw. He’s clearly ready to move on to more children once he’s finished his appetizer.
Who is the mysterious child eater of Bern? He has been standing in Bern since the 1500s, creating a nearly 500-year-old mystery about the meaning of the statue. In Bern, they call him the Kindlifresser – literally “child eater.” He is also known as the ogre. If you want to become a specialist in Kindlifresserbrunnen history, keep reading.
Or, if you just want to know more about a statue of a man eating a sack of babies, this is the list for you.
The Child-Eating Statue Dates Back To 1545 When Bern Wanted More Fountains
Today, Bern has over 100 fountains, and it is known as the City of Fountains. That’s, in part, because Bern hired artists around 1550 to create elaborate fountains to replace older wooden fountains.
One of those artists was Hans Gieng, who created the Kindlifresserbrunnen (literally “fountain of the eater of small children”). Gieng made at least three of the 11 fountains erected in Bern in the 1550s, as well as public fountains for his hometown of Fribourg, a small Swiss town southwest of Bern.
But Hans Gieng left no records behind about the meaning of his disturbing creation.
Bern Is A Beautiful City – Except For The Very Strange Child-Eater Statue
Bern is a scenic city, dotted with sandstone houses, fountains, and a distinctly medieval air. It boasts a Rose Garden, Bear Park, and the winding River Aare. It is both the capital of Switzerland’s government and the gateway to the Swiss Alps.
In the 1500s, Bern was reaching the peak of its power, expanding to add territories along Lake Geneva and adding much of the French part of Switzerland to the country’s territories.
So, it is especially strange that Bern decided to celebrate its powerful past by putting up a statue of a man devouring children. It’s not exactly a welcoming image!
Could The Child-Eating Ogre Be An Antisemitic Attack That Portrays A Jewish Stereotype?
One disturbing theory about the Child-Eater is that he was meant to represent Jews, who were frequent targets of antisemitism in medieval Europe.
The biggest clue here is the ogre’s hat, which bears a resemblance to the hats Jews were forced to wear across Europe by Catholic Church law. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, the meeting that required annual confession and communion for Christians, also declared that Jews had to be visually distinguishable from Christians. “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.”
The reason? So that Christians could avoid the “sinful mixture” caused by sexual intercourse with Jewish people.
For Centuries, Jews Were Accused Of Blood Libel – Kidnapping And Murdering Christian Children
As outlandish as it sounds, medieval Christians accused Jews of making their matzo out of Christian blood. According to fantastical conspiracies, Jews lusted after Christian blood and used it in their Passover rituals.
In a Bohemian trial in 1453, a Jewish woman confessed that a group of Jews had kidnapped a three-year-old boy, fattened him, and murdered him for his blood. Even more fantastic confessions were forced out of innocent Jews by torture. The city of Breslau then burned 40 Jews at the stake and forcibly baptized all Jewish children under the age of seven.
A 15th-century image of a Jewish woman even showed her eating the hand of her own child.
So the ogre eating children might represent the rampant antisemitism in 16th century Europe. However, Jews weren't the only group accused of eating children at the time.