History of Zoo Berlin

“In order to shape the future, you need to look back at the past” (Dr Andreas Knieriem, director of the Zoo and the Tierpark Berlin)

From a royal pleasure to the zoo with the greatest diversity of species in the world

Founded in 1844, the Zoo Berlin is the oldest zoo in Germany and the ninth oldest in the world

Thanks to King Frederick William III of Prussia: his great passion for exotic animals laid the foundation for the Zoo Berlin. Together with his first wife, Louise of Prussia, he established an impressive menagerie on the romantic Pfaueninsel (‘Peacock Island’) from the beginning to the middle of the 19th century that was also open to visitors. Peacocks, sheep and bison, stags and pigs were soon joined by numerous birds as well as mongooses, raccoons and even kangaroos, monkeys, coatis, and a peccary. Many of the animal residents were gifts, but the king also acquired new animals, for example purchasing large parts of the Grand Ducal menagerie in Karlsruhe. After William’s death, his son, William IV, ascended to the throne in 1840 and essentially inherited a private zoo, but he never developed a real passion for it. 

Lichtenstein’s day had come...

Martin Hinrich Lichtenstein, who was the director of the zoological museum and a professor at Berlin University at the time, had already been a royal advisor to William III and was in charge of supervising its animal population. He had already been pursuing the idea of founding a private zoological garden for some time and saw this as his chance. Together with the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, and the landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné, he convinced the king to make his animals and some of the buildings available for this project. The king then gifted his pheasant house located in the Tiergarten park and the animals kept on the Pfaueninsel to the people of Berlin. After three years of construction, the Berlin Zoological Garden opened on 1 August 1844. The beginnings, essentially managed on a voluntary basis by Hinrichs, Humboldt, and Lenné, are generally regarded as onerous and not particularly successful. As a result, the zoo went public in 1845. It has remained a public holding company until this day and is mostly privately owned. 

Pheasant house Zoo Berlin, 1900

Two Cologne natives in Berlin: Thriving growth under Bodinus and Heck

n 1869, Dr Heinrich Bodinus, previously the director of the Cologne Zoological Garden, 

took over the helm of the park and ushered in an upward trend. 

By issuing new stock, he raised the capital to pursue a modern concept: to exhibit more animal species, construct music pavilions, terraces and a restaurant for entertainment, and build new, exotically styled houses. Attendance and revenue increased considerably.

Bodinus died in 1884. The director of Frankfurt Zoo, Dr Maximilian Schmidt, succeeded him, but died only four years later. Schmidt is credited with establishing orderly accounting processes as well as recruiting a staff of craftspeople.

Next to Bodinus, however, it was Ludwig Heck who really left a mark on the zoo. Heck, who, like Bodinus, had previously been the director of the Cologne Zoo, managed the park after Schmidt's death from 1888 to 1931. At only 28 years of age, he took charge of the legacy and shepherded the Zoo Berlin to become one of the zoos with the greatest diversity of species in the world. Heck is credited with significant breeding successes with Asian elephants, orangutans and chimpanzees.

These golden years under Bodinus and Heck saw the construction of the famous elephant portal on Budapester Straße as well as the antelope house, the elephant house, the ostrich house, the monkey palm house, and the large predator house. 

In 1913, under Heck's leadership, the aquarium designed by behavioural scientist Oskar Heinroth was opened to the public. 

In 1932, Ludwig Heck placed the Zoo Berlin in the hands of his son, Dr Lutz Heck.

Heck junior modernised the park yet again, had bars built into the trenches and constructed lavish outdoor enclosures using natural stone. The monkey rock, lion grasslands, and rock enclosures for brown bears, wolves, ibexes, etc. were built during this time. 

Destruction, rebuilding, breeding successes

In 1939, the Zoo Berlin counted over 4,000 animals belonging to 1,400 species – 91 animals survived.

The bombing raids in 1943 and 1944 and even the final battles

almost completely destroyed what had grown into an impressive success story over the past 100 years. Zookeepers looked after all the surviving animals with selfless devotion. 91 were reported to have survived, including the popular hippopotamus bull Knautschke, the elephant bull Siam, and the chimpanzee empress Suse.

As the first female zoo director in Germany, Dr Katharina Heinroth took on the difficult task of rebuilding the destroyed zoo from the rubble. The aquarium that her husband Oskar Heinroth had originally designed was restored and the antelope house was brought back to life. The elephant house and the hippo house were completely rebuilt thanks to her commitment.

The dedicated director retired in 1956. She was succeeded by Dr Heinz-Georg Klös, previously the director of the Osnabrück Zoo. Many of today’s enclosures and buildings date back to his tenure, for example the monkey houses, bear enclosures, and the predator house with a nocturnal animal section.

Besides the faithful reconstruction of architecturally significant buildings such as the elephant gate, Klös’s primary focus was on species conservation. With his breeding successes, he laid the groundwork for many currently successful groups such as the rare black rhinoceroses, Przewalski’s horses or white-lipped peccaries. Furthermore, he founded the zoo school. Dr Klös retired in 1991.

One city, two zoos

As a result of the partition of Germany, the GDR opened its ‘own zoo’ in 1955, the Tierpark Berlin under director Heinrich Dath, which is now the largest landscape zoo in Europe.

Consequently, there were two zoos in Berlin after Reunification, each with its own unique characteristics and strengths. It was quickly agreed to establish a close cooperation between the parks, which has lasted until today and will be even further intensified in the future. 

Dr Hans Frädrich, who had been Klös’s deputy, managed the Zoo Berlin following Reunification from 1991 to 2002. Under his tenure, the futuristic hippo house and the penguin and seal enclosures were constructed.

He was succeeded for five years by Dr Jürgen Lange, who had previously expanded and managed the Berlin Aquarium for a quarter-century. The nocturnal animal house was redesigned under the direction of Dr Lange. In 2007, Dr Bernd Blaszkiewitz took over, who had already been the director of the Tierpark Friedrichsfelde since 1991. 

Blaszkiewitz was the first director to be put in charge of the Zoo, the Aquarium, and the Tierpark. In 2008, Gabriele Thöne became the commercial director of the incorporated Zoo AG and the managing director of the subsidiary Tierpark Berlin GmbH alongside Blaszkiewitz. In those years, the chimpanzee enclosure was redesigned, and the open gorilla enclosure, the new orangutan enclosure, and the bird house were opened within the zoo. In September 2013, Gabriele Thöne retired from her office.

Modernisation 2.0

Future-oriented concepts for the Zoo and the Tierpark Berlin

In 2014, Dr Andreas Knieriem took on the job of making the Zoo, the Aquarium, and the Tierpark fit for the future. On 19 September 2013, the board of directors of the Zoologischer Garten Berlin AG announced Knieriem’s appointment to succeed the parting director Dr Bernhard Blaszkiewitz, making him the sole director for both institutions.

Knieriem was one of the leading heads instrumental in the restructuring and conception of the Hanover Adventure Zoo as well as Hellabrunn Zoo, where he was the director and sole chairman until his move to Berlin. He is committed to the fight for nature and species conservation and wants to convey his enthusiasm to the public. Accordingly, Knieriem advocates for an interaction between humans and animals that reflects modern sensibilities. He is currently working with an interdisciplinary team to plan the goals and development for the Zoo and the Tierpark until the year 2030.