Tierpark Berlin has its roots in the partitioning of Germany and especially Berlin after the Second World War. Due to the agreement to partition Berlin the famous Zoological Garden – Berlin Zoo – became situated in West Berlin, the British sector of Berlin. The resentment that existed after the war drove the German Democratic Republic’s state leadership to establishing a rival zoo of equal standing in East Berlin.
On 27 August 1954 – considered as the official founding date of Tierpark Berlin – the Berlin Magistrate decided to establish a zoo (‘Tierpark’) in Friedrichsfelde. The Friedrichsfelde Manor House gardens, a large landscape garden designed by Peter Joseph Lenné in the 1820s, was selected for development of the Tierpark. It included the former location of Camp Wuhlheide, a work and education camp of the ‘Geheime Staatspolizei’ (Gestapo, Secret State Police) (see ). Almost one year later, on 2 July 1955, the counterpart to West Berlin’s Zoological Garden opened its gates to the public on this particular site. With an area of 60 hectares Tierpark Berlin was the largest landscape zoo in Europe at the time.
The zoologist Prof. Dr. Heinrich Dathe, a well-known scientist, became the first director – a position he retained for over 30 years until his 80th birthday. Under Dathe’s supervision the Tierpark Berlin became one of the leading zoos of the world with many rare breeding groups of birds and mammals. Obviously, the connection and exchange of animals with Eastern European zoos was the main reason that so many rare species, such as takin and white-lipped deer, were part of the zoo’s animal collection. Species that were seen seldom in Western European zoos in those days.
Animal donations ensured that around 400 animals from 120 different species were on display on opening day, including Amur tigers and Asian elephants.
Dathe took a step by step approach in further developing the Tierpark. He was very influential and used scientific knowledge to build appropriate new enclosures with modern design – his own design combined with Hagenbeck’s principles using moats as natural barriers. New enclosures as well as commercial buildings were presented every year, so the enormous baroque-styled Manor House gardens could accommodate more people and animals. These gardens were restored according historical plans, while large enclosures, natural forest, and wide footpaths dominated the scene – which they still do.
The bear enclosure featuring natural rocks and the large camel pasture were some of the first projects. In 1957, the snake farm and the polar bear enclosure with a pool of 3,000 m² were added. Around the same time the bear viewing window entrance was established. In the following years and decades, more exhibits, aviaries, and buildings were added to house a large variety of carnivores, ungulates, reptiles and birds, as well as primates, including great apes.
In 1963, the Tierpark Berlin opened the Alfred Brehm House for predators and tropical birds. This tropical hall with flying foxes was for a long time the largest animal house in the world, and the only one with indoor bar-less moated enclosures for lions and tigers. It was unique and a worldwide sensation.
Dathe expanded the Tierpark from its first 60 hectares to 160 hectares, so it still ranks among the top ten largest zoological gardens in Europe to date.
The historical Friedrichsfelde Manor House, or castle if you wish, was reopened at the beginning of the 1980s. And in 1989, just before before East and West Berlin were reunited, the pachyderm house surrounded by large outdoor enclosures for elephants and rhinoceroses was opened.
Due to lack of building materials after the war, many buildings could be considered provisional and were already deteriorating when Dathe retired in 1991. Nevertheless, his accomplishments are a lifetime achievement and the zoological crown jewel of the GDR.
After the Fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the Reunification of Germany became a fact, a close cooperation between the Zoo Berlin and Tierpark Berlin was established – for the first time in history. Their different characteristics and strengths became mutually beneficial, for instance within their breeding and education programmes. This cooperation also helped alleviate concerns about the other zoos in the former GDR, because the economic crisis struck hard in the eastern part of Germany and people were afraid that many of the zoos would close down.
After Dathe’s retirement in 1991, Dr Bernd Blaszkiewitz took charge of the Tierpark. Many provisional and already deteriorating buildings were replaced by solid functional buildings under. Furthermore, the mountain landscape was established, as well as the nearby monkey house and the giraffe house. And for the first time in the history of the Tierpark, both African and Asian elephants were bred.
Since 2014 it is the task of the current director, Dr Andreas Knieriem, to sustainably develop the Tierpark as Europe’s largest zoo animal operation. This is based on the existing collaboration between the Zoo and the Tierpark, which is also part of the master plan that has been developed and envisages the future concept for the next 20 years. This collaboration must be born in mind when evaluating the development over the last few years. The Tierpark stopped keeping apes, and several species of hoofed animals were transferred from Berlin Zoo to the Tierpark, and a number of representatives were no longer replaced after their deaths, e.g. the square-lipped rhinoceros. No doubt the future will see ‘standard animals’ regarded as important to the public being housed in both zoos. In all other cases there should be attempts to avoid any duplicates.
The formerly divided City of Berlin offers two very different and mutually complementary zoological gardens with the Tierpark having much potential in landscape immersion because of its size. Both zoos together are at present home to an animal population whose diversity and rareness cannot even be approached by any other city, while the Tierpark is and will remain one of the largest public gardens in Berlin, making it an important recreational area, especially for the people living in the eastern parts of the city.
(Source: website Tierpark Berlin; Zoo and Aquarium History by Vernon N. Kisling jr. (ed.), 2001; Wikipedia)