The Baby Eater of Switzerland

Atlas Obscura
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July 12 2013 9:45 AM

Baby-Eating Statue Is a Historical Mystery

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Standing in the middle of Bern, Switzerland, is the Kindlifresser, or “Child Eater.” The towering statue has a baby half-stuffed into his mouth and carries a sack full of three alarmed tots on his shoulder—presumably for later snacking. 

The disturbing sculpture is no modern work of art; built in 1546, it is one of the oldest fountains in the city of Bern.

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Strangely, no one is sure why it’s there. There are a few theories—the first and most unfortunate possibility is that the Kindlifresser is an expression of anti-Semitism. The Kindlifresser wears a hat that is strikingly similar to the yellow pointed Judenhut that Jews were forced to wear at that time. The baby-eating may reflect blood libel, the belief that Jewish people kidnapped Christian children to use their blood in rituals.

The second theory is that the terrifying ogre is a depiction of Kronos, the Greek Titan. Kronos has arguably one of the most disturbing stories in Greek Mythology. Long story short: Kronos eats all six of his children to keep them from taking over his throne.

The third possibility is that the Kindlifresser is simply a sort of boogie man from Switzerland’s Fastnacht, or ''Night of Fasting'' festival—a way to remind the youngsters of Bern to behave. Regardless of what the Kindlifresser represents, it has terrified Swiss children for nearly 500 years.

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