The summers in Berlin can get hot, but you don’t want to let that deter you from being outdoors, because Berlin has lots of beautiful parks you can stay cool in, and enjoy some nature while you’re in the city.
One place we highly recommend while you are in town is the Berlin Zoo. Now, there are two zoos in Berlin, the Berlin Zoologischer Garten (Berlin Zoo) and Tierpark. They are located within the same area. Why would there be two zoos in one city, one beside the other? Unsurprisingly, it has to do with the separation of Germany after the World War Two, with the Berlin Zoo in the West and Tierpark in the East. Berlin Zoo is the older one and Tierpark was built because East Germany needed its own zoo after the division.
Tierpark is really large, and we didn’t have time to visit it. Some people say it’s a different experience – more of a nature park than a zoo, and you need to take your time in it. Preferably bring a picnic.
Berlin Zoo is smaller and more manageble, but don’t let that make you think it’s the lesser zoo! It has over 1,500 species and subspecies represented by over 15,000 exotic and endangered critters. It’s one of the most diverse zoos in Europe and has been opened since 1844. It is also the first zoo in all of Germany. Like all zoos, it was initially mostly populated with animals from the King’s private menagerie. The zoo was one of those big, splashy government projects, and its launch was accompanied by the opening, the very same year, of the Berlin Zoologischer Garten U-Bahn station.
Berlin zoo had one of the largest varieties of big cat species I’ve seen in a zoo. I remember seeing lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars. These are always a hit, and it’s great fun to watch them. It was a pretty hot summer though and they were for the most part resting in the shade – nevertheless, we managed to see some action.
In 2018 however, the zoo decided to renovate the big cat enclosure, citing that the current one no longer met contemporary standards of zookeeping. The lion enclosure was great, but the same could not be said for the enclosures of the other cats which were on the small side, and looked too much like cages… some of them were just a bit 80s, if you know what I mean. We look forward to visiting the zoo again after this update!
Apes & Monkeys
The Berlin zoo houses many apes, including the orangutan, the gorilla, the chimpanzee, the baboon and the “controversial” bonobo. Controversial because of their famed over-sexed behaviour. I can’t say I remember seeing any such example of this on my visit though – maybe it was the heat!
The zoo also has a family of gorillas. There are two species of gorillas in the world, the western lowland gorilla and the eastern gorilla (subdivided into two again, one from the lowlands, the other from the mountains) the family here is the western lowland gorilla, hailing from the lowland swamps in central Africa. You won’t find any mountain gorillas in captivity in Europe – there’s only a few held, probably in terrible condition, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
There are plenty of other monkeys in the zoo as well, all worth a visit, to remind ourselves just how close we are to creatures we so easily see as “other”.
Birds & Reptiles
We really enjoyed the aviary. It was renovated recently, completed in 2013, and is quite impressive. All types of enclosures are probably tricky to design – but the aviary must be one of they most challenging, since birds have to be contained in three dimensions. Not only that though – birds are among some of the most intelligent creatures on this earth and… they like to fly, so ensuring that feeling of “freedom”, while important for all creatures (maybe with the exception of certain reptiles, since most of these are quite happy to lay in wait for their food to come to them), is especially important for birds.
The enclosure is large, and when you enter, you really do feel that sense of space. Here, many bird species intermingle among a huge variety of plants, giving each bird enough stimuli to help them feel they are “at home”. But of course, there are plenty of hiding places too, for when they need to relax and get away from unwanted attention.
This larger space also means that visitors have a more engaging experience; here, we got to walk into a large area surrounded by a huge variety of plants and avian creatures filling every corner of our vision.
Overall, we had a really entertaining and enriching time in the Berlin Zoo. I really enjoyed observing all the creatures and it is always nice to be close to nature in the big city.
Here are all the photographs from the Berlin Zoo: