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Uptown 'Buddy Bear' Celebrates Connections To Germany

Duncan McFadyen

Uptown Charlotte got a new piece of public art this week.

Unveiled with great fanfare, an 8 foot tall bear, arms upstretched, painted with colorful designs now stands in the plaza in front of the library at 6th and Tryon.

Buddy Bear, as he’s called  in both English and German, is supposed to represent the strong ties between the Charlotte region and Germany. The Bear is a symbol of Germany’s capital city, Berlin.

Kurt Waldthausen spearheaded the campaign to raise money and get city approval for the project. He moved from Germany to Charlotte 32 years ago and now runs an executive search firm. Waldthausen says Charlotte’s “Buddy” is one of three or four in the US.

“One is in front of the German embassy, one is in front of the German consulate in New York City, and the other one—I don’t know if it has gone lost—but it’s supposed to be in California, and I guess he went to the beach and never returned, ha ha!” he says.

We weren’t able to confirm whether there’s a fourth Buddy in California. But Waldthausen says there are more than 200 German companies in the area. And Charlotte’s ties to Germany go all the way back to colonial days.

The city’s namesake, Queen Charlotte, was born in Mecklenburg, Germany. Artist Sharon Dowell’s design features Charlotte and one of her favorite hobbies, botany.

“There’s some dogwood flowers from the state of North Carolina on there; there’s a bird of paradise flower which was named after her. Then there are some zeroes and ones in there, which is binary code. And I wanted a way to represent that connection with technology that’s made this relationship with Germany possible," Dowell says.

Dowell flew to Berlin to paint her design on the fiberglass mold, where she worked alongside artists from Mongolia and Syria painting bears for their countries.

Credit Duncan McFadyen

There’s a traveling exhibition of 148 Buddy Bears, each representing a different country. Kurt Waldthausen originally wanted to bring those bears to Charlotte, but they’re in Brazil this year to coincide with the World Cup.

He says, “I decided well, if I can’t get 148 Buddy Bears to Charlotte, I’m going to bring one Buddy Bear to Charlotte.”

It took Waldthausen two years to bring  Buddy Bear to his adopted hometown. He says the sculpture is a permanent “thank you” from German transplants and their families to the people of Charlotte.