Consistently topping Berlin’s list of “must-see” attractions is the Zoologischer Garten, more commonly known to English speakers as the Berlin Zoo. This world-class institution is much more than an unparalleled menagerie of exotic animals – it is a historical landmark, a hive of scientific study and a chance for visitors and students to learn about the winged, hoofed and clawed creatures with which we share our fragile planet. With 1,500 different species and 20,500 animals, you’ll think you’ve stumbled onto Noah’s Ark in the centre of an exciting European capital.
Other sights and attractions near the Berlin Zoo that are worth a visit are the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Memorial Church (5 minute walk) or the park Tiergarten (15 minutes by train). From the Berlin Zoo you are also close to some of Berlin's famous shopping areas, e.g. the KaDeWe.
The Berlin Zoo was opened to the public in 1844, located what was then far from the city centre on the far edges of the Tiergarten, the city’s largest public park. Despite its then-inconvenient location, Berliners flocked in droves to view animals completely unfamiliar to the average European – elephants, peacocks, kangaroos, water buffalo and dozens of others. Over the last half of the nineteenth century, majestic themed buildings - the Antelope House, the Indian-inspired Elephant House, the Egyptian Ostrich House and the Japanese Wader House - were constructed by some of the day’s finest architects. A visit to the Zoo in the Prussian era was a grand event indeed, and must have seemed incredibly glamorous and exciting to Berliners circa 1890!
In 1913 the Aquarium was constructed, adding exotic sea life to an animal cast of thousands. Featuring three floors of fresh and saltwater fish, reptiles galore, amphibians, and a large number of invertebrates, the building itself – including its mosaics and demi-reliefs of dinosaurs - is well worth a closer look.
World War II left lasting scars throughout all of Berlin, but the Zoo has a truly tragic wartime past. At the outbreak of the war, the zoo was home to nearly 2000 animals of 400 species (and an additional 2500 birds). Heavy bombardment from 1941- 44 saw most of the buildings destroyed or badly damaged, and the Zoo as a functioning institution ceased to exist. In 1944, the Zoo flak Tower was constructed, and the surrounding area was used as one the last major fortifications against the Red Army.
None of this was easy on the animals, and sadly, most perished. By the end of the fighting only 91 animals remained alive – including 2 lions, 10 baboons, a hippopotamus, 2 hyenas, an Asian elephant, a single chimpanzee and 2 storks. However, in the postwar years zoologists and architects came together to create new animal enclosures, policies and programs that have placed the Zoo on the cutting edge of in-captivity breeding success, particularly of endangered species that other zoos find very hard to replicate.
The Zoo today
As a result of this scientific achievement and fantastic international reputation, the Berlin Zoo is regularly lauded as one of the most ethical and advanced zoos in the world. Visitors clearly agree – this is the most visited zoo in Europe year after year. Guests are treated to the world’s largest collection of animals on display in specially designed enclosures that are meant to mimic natural habitats as closely as possible.
Vistors to the Zoo can feast their eyes upon monkeys of all species, polar bears, wolves, apes (including gorillas and orangutans), king penguins, hippopotamuses, lions, tigers, rhinos and over 1400 others. Feeding times are scheduled throughout the day (available online here), and so it is usually possible to see the animals in an active and engaged mood!
Currently, the Berlin Zoo is home to a few adorable babies – including a baby black rhino, a few tiny zebras and even a precious kangaroo joey. The Zoo’s breeding successes mean that new arrivals are expected regularly, so ensure that you pay the little ones a visit. If you are bringing a wee one of your own, rest assured that everything on site is child-friendly, from the menus at the café to the Streichelzoo children’s petting zoo, a favourite for all ages.
Whether you are a zoo fanatic or a newcomer to the joys of animal appreciation, the Berlin Zoo is truly one of the finest – and most historically interesting – zoos on the planet. Enjoy your urban safari!
Admission, Location and Opening Hours:
The Aquarium and the Zoo can be visited separately or together on a joint ticket. Admission prices for adults are 13/20 Euros (zoo alone/joint ticket) while students pay only 10/15 Euros and children 6.50/10 Euros. Berlin Welcome Card holders will receive an additional 25% discount (as well as a host of other benefits), so it is worth checking them out!
The Zoo is located directly beside the train station that is its namesake, and is serviced by many buses, U-bahn lines and the S-bahn.
Opening Hours vary throughout the year depending on daylight. Check the Berlin Zoo’s official website for current operating hours.