Episode 286 – A Zoo By Any Other Name

Tiergarten. Tierpark. Literally “animal garden” and “animal park”. Germans can be SO literal. Fortunately, not every word has to be long or compound; a zoo can also be simply “zoo” (pronounced “tsoh”).

The Berlin Zoological Garden is the oldest and best known zoo in Germany, established in 1844, and has the distinction of being home to more species than any other zoo in the world. No wonder it is the most visited zoo in Germany. Its website beckons visitors with: “Around 20,000 animals are already looking forward to your visit!”

So who are we to keep all those animals waiting?

The Asian elephants. The males (top) are kept separate from the females (bottom). It was fascinating to watch these huge gentle animals intentionally walking backwards on a narrow concrete curb at the side of their enclosure, as if they were practicing for the Olympic balance beam event.

It’s just 4 S-bahn stops from our nearest subway station to the zoo, and our first use of our €9 monthly transit passes since taking the S-bahn from the airport last Sunday. Honestly, the easy availability of trams (streetcars), subway and trains here is wonderful – we’re not going to need to rent any of the ubiquitous shared bikes, e-bikes, scooters, or mopeds in order to get around efficiently. All the trains travelling from platform 6 at Friedrichstraße train station go in the right direction to take us to the zoo, so it doesn’t matter which one we board; there’s another train every 4 minutes! On the return trip, any train on Track 5 works.

These Alpine Ibex can obviously take any track they want!

We bought our zoo tickets on line in order to skip the physical queue. Entry is “timed”, but only loosely, so you choose a 09:00-13:00 or 13:00-16:00 time slot for arrival and are not obligated to leave at any particular time, as long as you’re gone by the time the zoo closes at 18:30.

I read a review on Tripadvisor that suggested a tour of the zoo could be completed in 2 hours. We’ve never spent that little time in a zoo – not even a small one – and the Berlin Zoo has pandas AND penguins, so I was pretty sure we’d need way more than 2 hours. I booked a morning entry time, and we spent a leisurely 4 hours, which included a quick snack of Berliner bockwurst on a bun, fresh “pommes frites”, and a delicious Berliner Kindl Natur Radler (60% lemonade/40% pilsner beer, for a refreshing 2% alcohol drink), but did not include the aquarium (for which we hadn’t bought tickets) or any of the scheduled animal feeding demonstrations.

Just staring at giraffes eating their lunch can use up 10 minutes.

The zoo has an interesting but also tragic history. In the mid-19th century, the famous naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, the African explorer Martin Hinrich Lichtenstein and the landscape designer Peter Joseph Lenné proposed the opening of a zoological garden in Berlin. After three years under construction, the site designed by Lenné opened its gates in 1844. Its first inhabitants were the animals that King Friedrich Wilhelm IV donated from his own menagerie and pheasantry in the Tiergarten (the royal animal garden). Over the years, the site of the zoo was redesigned and extended a number of times. Sadly, of the 4000 animals it housed before the Second World War, only 91 survived, and many of its buildings were destroyed and not rebuilt. (Information taken from the visitberlin.de website).

Is there anything cuter than meerkats, otters, and Humboldt penguins? The Asian small-clawed otter (centre) is the smallest in the world.

Surprisingly (or maybe not, all things considered), there is a second major zoo in Berlin: the Tierpark Berlin in former East Berlin, built after Berlin became a divided city following the Second World War because East Berlin also wanted to have a zoo. That zoo, opened in 1955, is the largest in Europe. Trust the Soviets to one-up everyone. To differentiate between the two zoos the older is known as the Zoo (zoological garden) and the newer is referred to as the Tierpark. The Zoo has giant pandas. The Tierpark has polar bears (the Zoo used to, but its last polar bear, Katjuscha, died just this past December at an amazing 37 years old – the polar bear area is now empty). Our choice of which zoo to visit was based partly on proximity, and partly on the fact that when given the choice between old or new I’ll almost always choose old.

Primates are always a zoo highlight. Top left: mandrills. Top right: a broody male gorilla. Centre right: male baboon. Bottom: The entire group of baboons appeared to be fast-walking a marathon round and round and round…..

One of the two main entrances to the Berlin Zoo is the famous Elefantentor (Elephant Gate), a reconstruction of the 1899 gate destroyed in the war. The Far-Eastern temple-inspired design features life-size reclining elephants in sandstone under a pagoda roof featuring red wood, gold ornaments and green glazed tiles. Inside the Elephant Gate is a fountain which leads to 3 paths, each containing floral displays and sculptures.

The zoo itself is a lovely place to walk around. There are lots of trees, clean manicured paths, large enclosures for the animals, and interestingly designed buildings to house the animals when they need or choose to be indoors.

The buildings behind the American bison were decorated to reflect both American settler and American indigenous dwellings.

My only disappointment today was the jungle cats, with the exception of 2 sleeping lions, a sleeping leopard, and a sleeping Amur (Siberian) tiger, were all in hiding. But on the plus side … the Giant Pandas were adorable.

Honestly… those faces!
It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to eat all that bamboo.

I’m convinced that the things Ted likes taking pictures of most are birds, and there certainly were lots of those in the zoo – including a blue heron who was not technically a zoo animal but made itself right at home in the penguin area!

Top L: Abyssinian ground hornbill. Top R: black stork.
Bottom L: East African crested crane. Bottom R: Chilean flamingos.
Top L: Nicobar pigeon. Top R: white-crested thrush.
Bottom L: black-capped lory. Bottom R: (tba)
Top L: hooded parrot. Top R: white bellied go-away bird (really!)
Bottom L: Gouldian finch. Bottom R: blue-winged kookaburra
Top: white-crowned hornbill. Centre L: blue-bellied roller.
Centre R:brown-hooded kingfisher. Bottom: village weaver.

It was a lovely, uncrowded day at the zoo. PRIMA !

TODAY’S TREAT: German Pflaumenkuchen (plum cake’ with streusel and the obligatory side of whipped cream, and a Milchkaffee (basically a cross between a latté and a French-style café au lait)


  1. What a delightful day, Rose – zoos are my fav, also! Conservation and care of the world’s animals…
    But, what I find so interesting is the you have so much to see and do in such proximity to your “home-central”. And, to be able to enjoy a public transportation system as efficient as that! Fun, fun, fun! And with that “obligatory dollop of whipped cream on the side”! LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We enjoy visiting accredited zoos as we believe they serve as a good introduction to people — especially — youngsters and encourage conservation efforts of the various species around the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Rose and Ted for your emails!! Having some very family ties to Germany, we will most certainly have to get there !! We appreciate you both!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s fascinating and really interesting reading about attractions and features of Berlin through a visitor’s eyes. I’ve lived in the city since 1974 and take many of these things for granted. I hope you also have time to visit the lakes, rivers, forests and villages of Berlin. Love the zoo pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tom would have loved the zoo!! I’m sending this to my kids. I had a membership at the Toronto zoo and would take guests and kids . Great walks! Love you history lesson- always!!


    Liked by 1 person

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