It was hard to leave. He, she, I’m not sure, was just so beautiful. Lazily, sleepy-eyed looking at me from the rock in the exhibit. Sebastian already had taken an amazing photo that I know will be my profile picture for every social media account as soon as I’m home. The polar bear was looking curiously, maybe happily, at the camera with me, with only the glass separating us.
There were so many more animals to see at Wilhelma Zoo in Stuttgart, the second ranked zoo in Germany, (Berlin Zoo, ranked #1, is hard to beat, you can read our post here). Notably the meerkat exhibit is incredibly intimate. You can see in this shot how low the glass is, and so in many instances you can gaze soulfully at the meerkats undisturbed.
The California Sea Lion seemed non-plussed that I spoke English.
Unique to Wilhelma are Moorish-revival buildings in its park. These hark back to the property’s origins as a passion project of King Wilhelm I of Württemberg, who like the Tiny House fanatics of today was into the trending Moorish architecture that was all the rage in the 1800s. Architect Karl Ludwig von Zanth was the man for the job and responsible for the majority of the existing historical buildings.
Wilhelma was a public garden before it was a zoo. After the Moorish Banquet Hall was destroyed in WWII, animal exhibits were gradually introduced with an aquarium and crocodile hall in its place. In 1952 Wilhelma becomes the only zoological and botanical garden in Germany.
After so many great car museums, here is your fresh air and cute critters. Visit their thorough English website for more about the animals, garden, and history of this lovely zoo. Have you been to Wilhelma? What exhibit stole your heart?
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One polar bear rose up on his back legs on a single rock in the middle of the pool. Scouting out the perfect spot in advance definitely payed off. I kept my finger on the shutter, while keeping an eye on the bears. The zookeeper started tossing what looked to be raw steaks toward the polar bears, and the one that was on his back legs easily caught them directly in his mouth! Many of the other polar bears dived into the water for theirs. After all of the bears had several steaks, the zookeeper tossed what appeared to be dinner rolls. The polar bears all floated amicably in their pool, balancing their rolls on top of their big paws. I didn’t know polar bears ate dinner rolls, but they’re just carbs right? They were adorable...from this side of the glass anyway.
One of the first things I research when looking into a city to explore is whether or not there is a zoo, and if so, are there polar bears? Berlin delivers on both counts! For being a zoo within the center of a city, it’s huge. We allotted just a morning there, and it wasn’t enough time to see everything. There’s also an aquarium onsite, but a separate admission, and a whole other zoo in eastern Berlin that’s managed by the same organization.
Tips for visiting the Berlin Zoo
I always recommend going to zoos in the morning, since most animals are not active during the middle, or hotter part of the day. Take that advice to the next step, and plan on seeing the animal exhibit you’re most interested in first, to increase your chances of a good experience, as well as you’ll have a significant expanse of time between arriving and leaving that if need be you can visit that animal exhibit a second time if the first visit doesn’t pan out.The Berlin Zoo also presents their polar bear feeding as the first one in the morning. There are numerous other animal feedings and zoo keeper talks available throughout the day.
The Oldest Zoo in Germany
The Berlin Zoo is the oldest zoo in Germany, and kicks off in the 1840s when the Prussian King William IV inherited the throne as well as his father’s menagerie. He was more thrilled about the throne than the animals, suffice it to say. It was a great opportunity for a public zoo, and Martin Lichtenstein, Alexander Humboldt and landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné jumped at it. You can read the fascinating history of the zoo on their site.
Unique Animal Houses
Many of the animal buildings, or houses, in the Berlin Zoo are themed according to the animal living there, and feel like an exhibit in and of itself. The bison have a native american lodge-like house, the giraffes and antelopes have a beautiful brick african inspired building, which was my favorite. Their house really suited the elegance of the giraffe and antelope. Double back up to the title image to see it. The majority of the zoo had to be rebuilt after World War II, but they were rebuilt to how they were before where possible. As I understand it, they’re currently renovating the panda pagoda in anticipation of new pandas from China, and they want to recreate the former elephant pagoda in the Indian style design it was before the war, at the same time expanding the surrounding area for the rhinos and hippos. They’ve shared some concept art on their site.
I have to give a shout out to the Zoo Berlin website, it's wonderful, and it's fully available in English. You can buy tickets in advance, and download a copy of the map. Be sure to check out the one of a kind animal experiences and tours they offer, as those all require advance reservations.
What's your favorite zoo? What did that zoo do to make the experience outstanding? Tell us about it in the comments below. Or, what do you research first when exploring a new city? I can't be the only one who checks the city for polar bears:-)
To get a better understanding of Germany as a whole, the capital city seemed like a great place to start. Berlin scored high on all my interests: great zoo, impressive museums, walkable, and more history than I could handle. War torn, but warmly inviting and refreshingly honest, Berlin openly reflects upon its divided past throughout the city, and offers varied learning opportunities and experiences.
New ideas and art feel welcomed in Berlin. Outdoor sculptures and street art are sprinkled throughout the city. Compared to other capital cities, Berlin feels fresh and young. The eastern part of the city has been going through a growth spurt since the Berlin wall came down in 1989, and to such an effect that it is a modern architecture wonderland. Yet, many historical buildings survived the war, and come from the the rapid growth of Berlin in the 1850s onwards. The cliché is true in Berlin, you can have it all- the historical and the modern.
Upcoming Posts Featuring Berlin
Each month, Sebastian and I want to focus on one German city and provide an overview as well as a series of in-depth articles on particular attractions. This month we’re reveling in everything Berlin, and sharing our favorite parts of the city from our own experiences.
• Museums • We’ll start off with our two favorites from a wealth of options: Pergamonmuseum & DDR Museum
• Shopping • Then, we’ll tell you how history can be made with shopping:KaDeWe and KuDamm
• Zoo • The polar bear exhibit at the historical Berlin Zoo is magnificent, and was home to the world-famous Knut
• Checkpoint Charlie & the Berlin Wall • We’ll show you one way to experience it that will make your jaw drop
• Food While President Kennedy may have famously, accidentally called himself a donut, "Ich bin ein Berliner!", we’ll divulge on a true Berlin cuisine speciality: Currywurst
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