FUR-bruary is LGBT History month in the UK and Europe. To mark it, the bears at Tallinn Bearty, Estonia’s bear community, spoke to Michael Zgonjanin, Chief Editor of BOX Magazine (Germany), on how it all started for bear runs in Europe.
Michael recalls that in Europe a group called “Beards Meeting Beards” he met at the Kings Arms in London in 1981 gave him an idea and a realisation. He also had a friend, Henning Marburger, who regularly visited the US and his encounters with the gay bearded hippies gave him some ideas as well.
This shared experience and realisation led to Michael declaring, “Me and this friend started the group in the end of 1984 here in Cologne.”
“The very first “Bärennacht” (bear’s night) was organized during Cologne Carnival in February 1985. And we had guests from the Netherlands, UK, Belgium and France.”
“After that the Dutch bears started to show initiative and it started to spread. They organized their first meeting in Utrecht, Netherlands, in 1988. The first election of a Mr. Bear in Europe was held in 1989 here in Cologne,” Michael adds.
Tallinn Bearty: “So would it be correct to say Cologne is the cradle of events within the bear movement of Europe?”
Michael: “Yes, that is true for continental Europe.”
TB: “Paris, London, Madrid… all came after that?”
M: “Yes, we had close contacts to the bears in San Francisco and the Bear Magazine (and his founder Richard Bulgar). So everything really got off the ground in the 90s – the very first big meeting was 1995 here in Cologne, but from 2000 onwards it started spreading all over Europe.”
TB: “So, you were the pioneers?”
M: “As it often happens, it’s sometimes more an accidental collusion of time and people. As I said, I brought the idea from London (where I lived in 1981) and a friend I was sharing the flat with, got his ideas from the “fairies” he met while visiting the US.
At a birthday we thought about bringing everybody together with fur and beards – and out of it was born the idea of a regular meeting for fun. Then there was the idea inviting others and make it public, from there the group grew and the events became bigger.
In the beginning of the nineties, our mailing list (and this was by paper) had grown to over 500 people from Cologne and beyond.”
Michael remembers that in 1995 they thought of having a really big gathering in Cologne and they ended up hosting over 500 people. “Cologne peaked in 2004/2005 with around 4.000 people joining the event (bear pride Cologne),” he says. “Since then things have changed and a lot of other events have become big (like MadBear or Hamburg).”
TB: “Thank you, Michael, for this important piece of history. We hope to see you also with us in Tallinn!”
M: “Yes, I hope I have a chance getting to Tallinn… new places to discover, new interesting people to meet. And good to see that our work has inspired others!”
Tallinn Bearty’s mission is to power bear brotherhood in a way that will advance equal rights for everyone, in or out of our own community, and across borders. To find out more about Tallinn Bearty and their weekend in April, visit www.bearty.info