THE CALL OF THE WILD
Berlin's Zoologischer Garten is more than just a zoo, it's a piece of the city's history. Solveig Steinhardt shares five zoo facts for a well-informed visit to the Berlin Zoo.
The Oldest And Most Biodiverse – Founded in 1844, the Berlin Zoo is the oldest in Germany and the one with the most comprehensive animal collections in the world. It hosts 20,500 animals from more than 1500 species, some rare and endangered, including gorillas, chimps, and the black and the Indian rhinoceros.
Hall of (Animal) Fame – Every zoo has its celebrities. In the 1980s, Berlin's animal star was a giant male panda named Bao Bao. Together with his "girlfriend" Yan Yan, Bao Bao was on loan from China for breeding purposes, but despite many artificial insemination attempts, reproduction proved unsuccessful, and he died without offspring at age 34. In 2006, the Berlin zoo hit the news with another tragic story. A baby polar bear had been rejected by his mother and had to be raised by his keepers. Knut, as he was named, gave rise to a major mass media phenomenon and brought the zoo a significant increase in visitors. Unfortunately, in 2011, Knut suddenly collapsed and died in his enclosure before 600 people.
War Zone – Before WWII, the Berlin zoo hosted more than 4000 animals, but starvation first and Allied bombings later decimated the population. Reportedly, the British bombings of November 1943 resulted in the escape of many large mammals, including leopards and apes.
By the end of the war, only 91 animals had survived, including a black stork, two lions, a bull, an Asian elephant named Siam, and two hyenas.
Nazi Directors – Animals were not the only ones to suffer the consequences of Hitler's rise to power. In 1938, zoo director Ludwig "Lutz" Heck, an active fan of Hitler's ideals, helped Aryanize the institution by forcing its Jewish shareholders to sell their stocks at a loss. In 1939, he also banned Jews from visiting the zoo. A sign in the antelope house memorializes these tragic events.
Kids First – Children are the zoo's most important visitors, and many of the attractions are designed for them. There's a petting zoo with farm animals, a gigantic playground featuring a wooden ship and fake cages for playing, and many ice cream kiosks scattered throughout. The animal feeding times are published monthly on the website, and some of them are like real performances. We won't divulge any spoilers here, but in case you are planning on attending the seal feeding, do bring raincoats or make sure to sit in the back, because it does get damp down there.