The place is a zoo – the Tiergarten Berlin debate

Dieser Beitrag auf Deutsch.

Recently, some journalists and politicians in Berlin started a big debate about the Tierpark Berlin: should it be closed, or what else should be done about it losing money? Does Berlin need the Tierpark, and can Berlin afford the luxury of having two zoos?

Since then, part of the debate has become moot, because a key figure has been removed from the game, but before we get to that I’ll lay out the background.

Ovis ammon polii

Marco-Polo-Sheep (Ovis ammon polii)

Berlin has two zoos, the Zoo Berlin next to Bahnhof Zoo (Zoo station) and the Tierpark Friedrichsfelde. Zoo is in the center of the western part of Berlin, Tierpark is at the east end of the center – and much more important, Zoo was the zoo of West Berlin, and Tierpark was the zoo of the capital of East Germany. Pissing contest, anyone?


Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis)

I’ve posted a description of the Tierpark what feels like a long time ago here. Never got around to write in detail about the Zoo, though. In many aspects it is the antithesis of the Tierpark: a rather small area smack in the middle of high-rise buildings and a big rail station, so that many enclosures are much smaller than in the Tierpark, and with comparatively few paths between them. Open spaces? Forget about it, the place is stuffed about as full as it can get. The buildings are mostly ornate and fit the provenance of the animals – buffaloes get log-cabin architecture with totem poles. In contrast, the Tierpark has a lot of on-show concrete and otherwise indistinct utility architecture.

The biggest difference is that the Zoo clearly caters to a typical tourist audience. Petting zoo, Great Apes, a really big central playground, lots of concerts and stuff. The Tierpark has no Great Apes, no petting zoo, and everything is a looooong way from everything else, and while there are quite a bunch of events they are much less of a draw. More a place for a long walk while seeing some animals, or for people with a dedication to zoology.


Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri)

Sorting through a bunch of pro-con things in newspapers, and listing to local radio, I found that the main arguments of those who want to do away with the Tierpark is that they simply like the Zoo better. Typically, because they happen to want a quick high: having a small child, living close-by, being shallow idiots with no appreciation for anything that can’t fit between ad breaks. OK, so these people currently do not need a university – should we thus shut down all Berlin universities?

Another “question” – a very leading one – is: “Does Berlin NEED two zoos?” Well, easy answer: the zoo has nearly 3 million visitors (although that includes aquarium visitors), the Tierpark slightly over 1 million per year (2012). Let’s imagine the packed Zoo on a sunny summer day with an added 33% of visitors – ugh, no thank you! The place is often filled to capacity already!



Copper Pheasant (Syrmaticus soemmerringii)

Point three is: “People vote with their feet!” Glaringly stupid, because the Zoo happens to be in a place that is very close to favourite tourist hangouts. When I go there during the summer I expect roughly half the visitors to speak Polish, Russian, and Italian. The Tierpark is simply too far away for most of these tourists. Thus, they do not “vote”, they simply save time. Additionally, I still get asked where the Great Pandas are (seems I look “official”), although they died quite a while ago. When I tell people they typically shrink into about 1/10th their size and slink away dejectedly. Apparently, quite a bunch of tourists come specifically for the pandas, so that you can’t read a vote on the Tierpark’s qualities into their choice of venue.

However, there are quite a lot of people who do not want to close down the Tierpark, and still voice harsh criticism. And I must say that some of the points I read where bull’s eyes. Here’s a few, with my comments in italics:

  • signs are often only in German (and the taxonomy is usually last century’s, too)
  • it is old fashioned (so what? that alone doesn’t make it bad; interestingly, nothing is ever specified)
  • “quantity instead of quality” (hm, oddly enough the Tierpark, and not the Zoo, is the place that comes to my mind when I think of species I rarely see shown in zoos)
  • too spread-out for a speedy visit (true – and a good thing, too. Many agree with me on this. But sometimes, it really is annoying how far you have to walk to “get somewhere”)
  • too boring for families, it needs an “adventure village” or so (indeed, not much is done to make the Tierpark an Amusement Park)
  • the Tierpark doesn’t advertise (true, I see little from the Tierpark, much from the Zoo)
  • the restaurants are “Eastern” (true, to the point where sometimes in winter the sign at the entrance claims only one of them to be open, and it turns out to be the *other one* that is)


Gayal (Bos frontalis), domesticated version of the Gaur (Bos garus)

The “too spacious” point really is an issue. There are huge areas where there is nothing but landscape, for example when you come in at the Schloß entrance. There, you can see the reptile house, the croc hall, the tortoises, the pelicans and so on – and then you must walk through quite a bit of landscape to get to the next place where lots of animals are shown close together. Let’s say you turn left at the entrance and do the tortoise/reptiles/croc hall combo. That’ll spit you out at the end of the croc hall, and leave you with a walk of nearly half a kilometer to the White-handed Gibbons or the pelicans. With small children that is quite a distance to cover. Or imagine you’ve see a bunch of things and now your kids want the playground, stat! That can easily be a ten minute walk or more.


Urial (Ovis vignei) – the sign in the zoo, and wikipedia seem not to be in agreement on the subspecies

Another point, one that (oddly) hasn’t been made in the public debate, is that some of the excellent new enclosures are set up so that it is nearly impossible for small children to see the animals unless an adult lifts them up. Fine with one baby, a guarantee for chaos with several small children. This is especially true for the new “mountains” region, where even I sometimes do not get to see the ibexes unless I take the >10% down grade, not-for-strollers/wheelchairs unpaved path that is rimmed with stinging nettle. Gargh!


Nelore or Nellore Zebu or Cattle (Bos taurus indicus)

What is especially annoying is the total lack of announcements about feeding times. There are no lists (or if there are they are well hidden), and the internet page lists only the Alfred-Brehm Haus (cats), with a vague “ca. 15:00 except Fridays”). The elephant bath time supposedly is between 11:00 and 12:00 on Sat and Sun – I’ve been there and have seen them bathe between 10:00 and 11:15. Annoying, to say the least!


Golden or Shaanxi Takin (Budorcas taxicolor bedfordi)

So yes, large parts need a gentle make-over, essentially from the “edutaiment” and “entertainment” categories. Reducing the number of animals, as has been suggested – well, that was suggested by classic pro-free-market politicians and other idiots. One of the things that makes the Tierpark so special is the huge number of species on show! Where else can you see, within the space of ten minutes, three species of takins, and thus compare them to each other easily? Or see more pheasants and relatives than I was able to count on the basis of my photos? Or see ~8 different vultures in one large aviary? Lots of unusual cervids, too. The reptile house and croc hall – I’ll have to post on them one day, too. A real treat! The cranes… I have seen about 4 species there I didn’t even know existed! Even Dave Hone, with all his experience in zoos, was quite surprised by the large number of species that are rarely on show, or that he hadn’t seen before, despite us missing out on the Aardwolf.


Sihuan takin (B. taxicolor tibetana)

Part of the debate about the Tierpark dealt with an issue I have avoided so far: stasis! Nothing much seems to move there, and in fact a lot of planning didn’t go very far. To the point where some 200,000 € provided by the Berlin government for advanced planning of a big concept for improving the Tierpark haven’t even been called. That’s mostly to do with office politics in the leadership of the stock corporation that owns both the Zoo and the Tierpark. That’s hopefully soon a problem of the past: the director, a difficult person at best, will have to leave once his contract is up next year. To give you an idea: he said, at a Christmas party, that non-religious employees should not receive Christmas allowance (a holy cow in Germany), and listed female (and only female) employees with the zoological short for “female” by putting 0,1 on their personnel files, but not 1,0 on those of males. Anyways, he’ll go, and maybe then the place can move forward a bit.

Nuff said now! I’ll keep posting on cool animals from the Tierpark, and if you ever make it to Berlin, be sure to go there! It is one of the best zoos in Europe, if you’re nature-minded and not here for an Adventure Park.

Oh, in case you have been wondering about the odd assortment of animals in the photos in this post: this is a small selection of the species that you can see nowhere in Germany but in the Tierpark. “Quantity instead of quality”? Not really!

About Heinrich Mallison

I'm a dinosaur biomech guy
This entry was posted in rants, raves, Zoos. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The place is a zoo – the Tiergarten Berlin debate

  1. Pingback: Ein Affentheater – die Debatte um den Tierpark | dinosaurpalaeo auf Deutsch

  2. Pingback: Newbie sighting at Tierpark Berlin (not!) | dinosaurpalaeo

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