It’s been with Wildling Shoes since the beginning; it twinkles at us from the shoes; hidden behind a mask it greets new owners. On the shoe box and as our logo you can find it wherever there are Wildlings - the fox. Other wild animals quickly came to join the Wildling pack, enhancing our collection season by season.
But do you know which real wild animals live in our towns and cities?
There are kingfishers in Düsseldorf, beavers in Munich, foxes in Cologne. Wild boars roam Berlin and deer graze contentedly while confusing motorway drivers. Raccoons knock over rubbish bins, annoying those who have to clean up the mess.
We met someone who has found and filmed many of these animals.
Animal photographer Sven Meurs snaps them in the city. He documents how much wilderness there is in our towns and cities, why you’ll find animals there that you wouldn't expect to see in urban areas, and how varied urban nature is. He uses the photos and short videos to create impressive presentations and multimedia shows, which he presents to his interested public in Germany’s cinemas and theatres.
I catch up with Sven for the interview just as he’s getting out of the train in Leipzig. “Give me a minute. I’ll just get my case; then I can talk.”
With the sounds of the city in the background, Sven tells me about his career, his love of foxes, and about what we can learn from the wilderness.
From Amrum to Cologne
“After school I wanted to train to be a nurse. But a completely “normal” hospital wasn’t what I was looking for. So I applied to a health clinic on the island of Amrum. I then lived there during my training. The island is a wonderful natural setting with an interesting animal world, but apart from that there's not much going on.
I was out and about a lot with my camera. The indigenous animals weren't exactly shy, and so I began capturing them with my lens.
Later, when I moved to Cologne, I was cycling home one night when I met a fox in an underpass. It made me jump, but then I was curious. A fox here in Cologne? Now I know that there are over 1000 in the urban area. And if there are foxes, then which other animals also live here?
That's how my first project - “Naturally Cologne” - came about. The contrast between these “wild” animals and the urban landscape of Cologne I found fascinating.
A blue-tit nesting in a traffic light - nature taking back the urban space.
On the trail of the fox
To pick up the fox’s tracks in Cologne I made myself a wild camouflage suit and waited for over 260 hours in a home-made hide, but there was always something that came between me and the foxes: the weather, a building site or the wrong time of day.
It was all worth it when I saw the dark snout, and a little while later the vixen with her cubs. Completely ignoring the building site and the other curious observers, she came out of the den, her babies bounding behind her.
Sven in his “fox hide”. When temperatures are low it’s very warm in there. In the summer... hot
Foxes are really fascinating animals. Sometimes they have almost human characteristics. They’re extremely clever and adjust flexibly to their environment - how else would they have been able to integrate into their city surroundings?
Approaching the foxes centimetre by centimetre, until my presence no longer bothered them, adopting their daily rhythm and getting them in front of the lens - for a moment I felt that I was being as cunning as a fox.
Bringing people and animals closer together
Unfortunately, like many other wild animals, foxes have a bad reputation.
I hope that my work will contribute to changing that and will lead to a greater understanding of the world of “wild” animals. In Saxony, where I recently did my show, people are very scared of wolves, above all due to a lack of knowledge. Foxes, too, are feared, because they’re still blamed for fox tapeworm and rabies, although the number of reported cases is negligible in relation to the number of animals. Either way, foxes and other wild animals have a polarising effect.
Wild boars, too, have recognised the benefits of the hip Berlin lifestyle
With my presentations I want to get people excited about nature and the animal kingdom. Warnings and reprimands don't go down well. But if you can create understanding for the animals and generate interest, then you, as a conservationist, suddenly get people on board. We humans have to literally see, experience and understand. Like children collecting beetles in a jar, getting really close up and then quickly releasing them again.
My grandparents were farmers. My grandfather could predict the weather based on the signs of nature, bird flight or the clouds. Today hardly anyone knows the points of the compass or knows where the sun is in the sky at which time. I see myself a little bit as a communicator between nature and people and want to share this knowledge, creating understanding on all sides.
And it’s so good for body and soul when you spend time in natural surroundings. You relax, are less over-stimulated - even in the city there are so many reasons to occupy yourself with the existing flora and fauna!
But please be careful. Once, in order to photograph hawks, I climbed from one tree to another. Falling from a height of three metres isn’t something I would recommend!
The future of Europe’s wilderness
I’m currently working on a new project. I'm interested in how people influence animals’ habitat, and vice versa. So this time I'm also going beyond Germany and travelling throughout Europe.
I’m going to follow the wolves over the Alps, photograph bears in Slovenia and lie in wait for deer in the forest. The project is set to run for four or five years, and I have a couple of collaborators. There are no sponsors though. The projects are financed by my presentations and the sales of my calendars and photo books (www.svenmeurs.de).
But I'm glad I can do what I love and find important, independently of whether or not it pleases a client.”
I’m just about to thank Sven for the interview when we lose the connection - a dead spot in the city or has Sven discovered his next photo opportunity?
Dear Sven, thank you for the interview and your valuable work!
Anna, Ran & Team Wildling