Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lions & Tigers & Bears, Oh My!

Gorilla in the monkey house
It is repeatedly rated as one of the best zoos in the world and having visited, I can say I whole heartedly agree. First established in 1844, the Berlin Zoo encompasses 84 acres is home to 1,500 different species and close to 20,500 animals. It sits in the middle of a city that has survived occupations, wars, divisions and time itself.  After all of these years it is still going strong and visitors seeking a brief respite from touring the museums, Wall memorials and the general hustle and bustle of the city flock there on a daily basis. We visited on a cold day in the middle of the week and we were not alone as the line to enter queued for several city blocks. (Over 3 million people visited in 2013 alone). But the wait was worth what we experienced once we were inside.

When the Berlin Zoo was first opened, it was the first zoo in Germany, the ninth in Europe and was located on the outskirts of the city limits; today it sits in its center.The first animals were donated by Frederick William IV, the King of Prussia who had a summer retreat complete with peacocks, bears, kangaroos and water buffalo on an island near Potsdam. The first full time director was appointed in 1869 and from then until the end of the century the zoo continued to grow in both size and scope as exotic animal habitats with ornate structures were established. The building of a minaret topped antelope house, and Indian style elephant house, and Egyptian inspired ostrich house and the elephant gate house soon had the Berlin Zoo competing with the venerable London Zoo.

Have you ever seen a goat actually standing on the ground?
The Zoo struggled during World War I but it was during the second world war that the Zoo was essentially destroyed. Bombed in 1941 then again in 1943 and 1944, much of the Zoo's infrastructure was destroyed as was many of the buildings. The Germans established a flak tower on the outskirts of the Zoo to help protect Berlin and particularly the nearby government buildings from Allied bombing raids. They also built a civilian air raid shelter and hospital on the zoo grounds itself to provide a secure storage facility for precious works of art. This flak tower was the last holdout against the invading Red Army. But tragically, of the 1,196 animals and 2,519 birds that called the Zoo home, all but 91 were killed before the war was over. The Zoo was rebuilt after the War with new, more modern buildings and structures replacing those that had been destroyed. The Berlin Blockade, financial and food shortages and a lack of physical manpower resulted in the Zoo's reconstruction being slow going. Once it was rebuilt, however, the Zoo became a recreational destination for West Berliners as the number of species continued to expand. With the reunification of Germany the Zoo worked in close cooperation with the Tierpark Zoo in the former East Berlin with some animals coming west and their two programs complementing each other.

Penguin swimming
When we visited I couldn't help but compare the Berlin Zoo with our own Pairi Daiza Zoo here in Belgium. "Our" zoo is a zoo and botanical garden set in a rural environment with expansive ponds, fields and gardens. The Berlin Zoo, with its skyline filled with skyscrapers, is much more compact but just as impressive. There were animals of every variety, birds and water mammals. The Berlin Zoo has two species of penguins (including the majestic Emperor Penguins) and more importantly to a certain little boy, those penguins swam in the water. No matter how many hours we've stood and watched the penguins at our zoo, they have never so much as dipped their feet in the water. And as our luck would have it, we were able to watch the sea lions being fed. The show wasn't on the caliber of Sea World but Sidney loved watching the sea lions perform with their trainer. And let us not forget the playground. No European family recreation center would be complete without at least one playground and this playground was by far the best one we have ever experienced.

It may have been cold but this zoo is great to visit any time of the year. Plan on making a day of it; we were there when the gates opened and they were shutting them behind us as we left. But the day flew by so if you are in Berlin and need a break from war history, visit the zoo. You won't be disappointed.

The sea lion show

If you go:

Hardenbergplatz 8
10787 Berlin, Germany
+49 (0) 30 254 010
Accessible by U-Bahn & S-Bahn
Open 09.00-19.00, reduced hours during the winter
Adults 13 Euro, children over the age of 5 are 6,50 Euro; family tickets and combination tickets for the
      aquarium are also available

No comments:

Post a Comment