The official symbol of Berlin is the bear, there is a bear on the flag and there are 6ft tall colourfully painted bears all over the city. I love bears, and I think it is incredibly cool that they are the official animal of Berlin. However, for me personally the true animal the represents Berlin is the raven. This is partly because they are ubiquitous, you see them everywhere whereas bears are disappointingly absent, and partly because they reflect the character of the city far more closely.
Corvids, ravens and crows, are fascinating and incredible creatures. Research has revealed that they are capable of tool use, forward planning and problem-solving that far exceeds that of the higher apes and even human children. In addition, they are capable of recognising allies and enemies…and communicating that knowledge to their fellows.
These findings should not come as a great surprise though, ravens have long been characterised as clever, cunning, and even prophetic. The most famous ravens are probably Huginn (thought) and Muminn (memory) who belonged to Odin and brought him knowledge from other worlds. In some of the myths of the indigenous peoples of North America the raven was a trickster god who is “also a keeper of secrets, and can assist us in determining answers to our own ‘hidden’ thoughts. Areas in our lives that we are unwilling to face, or secrets we keep that harm us – the Raven can help us expose the truth behind these (often distorted) secrets and wing us back to health and harmony”. A similar story is told by traditional Siberian cultures.
To me ravens symbolise using cunning and cleverness to survive and thrive. I had my raven tattoo done several years before moving to Berlin was even a possibility. He was supposed to be a celebration of success following an academic milestone, but things did not go to plan and I suffered a large setback. I still got the tattoo though and now it represents my perseverance and determination. Ever since I got him I take comfort in seeing ravens, and they do seem to appear consistently when I am feeling unsure about the future…maybe they know more than they let on!
Ravens match the identity of Berlin brilliantly, they are not glamorous or sleek or (unlike bears) majestic. With their grey ‘suit’ jackets they don’t even have the svelte all black look of Western ravens. But they are survivors, they are brave and clever, and they a willing to try anything once. I used this last quality to do my first ‘manipulated’ photography. By this I mean I changed the situation to get the shots I wanted. Up until yesterday I have been a reactive photographer, my eye saw an opportunity for a photo and my camera tried to capture it. This worked pretty well, one of my best shots was of a raven by the sea. But the ravens are mainly present in the morning here in Berlin, and because I was feeling unwell this weekend I left it too late in the day.
So how to get some ravens to come near me? Give them an offering of course. So I went out with some slightly out of date veggie salami and it worked great. I found a pair of ravens in the park and got them to hang out with me for a bit. In fact, I rather over played my hand and gave them so much that they flew back to the nest…smaller amounts next time!
My love of ravens mean that I will certainly be doing a second and even third part to this post, but for now I will always have my raven with me.