FUR-bruary is LGBT History month. Tallinn Bearty had a good chance to get some interesting insights from Michael Zgonjanin, Chief Editor of BOX Magazine (DE), how it all started.
Michael recalls that here in Europe a group called "Beards meeting Beards" he met at Kings Arms in London in 1981 gave an impulse for him, it was a kind of a kick starter. For a friend of him, Henning Marburger, visits to the US and meeting the gay bearded hippies gave some ideas, as well. "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 Netherland, 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.
*November 1984 - first meeting and founding of Cologne Bear Club, Bartmänner Köln that is probably the oldest bear organisation in Europe today.
Tallinn Bearty: "So would it be correct to say Cologne is the cradle of events within bear movement of Europe?"
Michael: "Yes, that is true for continental Europe."
TB: "Paris, London, Madrid... all came after that only?"
M: "Yes." and he continues, "we had close contacts to the bears in San Francisco and the Bear Magazine (and his founder Richard Bulgar). So everything really got off in the 90s - the very first big meeting was 1995 here in Cologne, but from 2000 onwards it started spreading all over Europe."
TB: "Who were you, the pioneers?"
M: „As it often happens, it's sometimes more an accident collusion of time and people. As 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 just 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 (and bigger). In the beginning of the 90ies our mailing list (and this was by paper) had grown to over 500 people from Cologne and beyond."
Michael remembers that as new people joined, in 1995 they thought of having a real big meeting ... and they ended up with one, hosting about 500 people. "And it still grew“.
„I think, 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"
(TB) 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, across borders.