Pfaueninsel, or Peacock Island, on the Havel river between Berlin and Potsdam was the origin of Berlin's Zoos. The Prussian King Frederick William III developed the island for his summer residence and set up a private zoo with a birdhouse, a waterfowl pond, a bear pit, and enclosures for kangaroos, llamas, deer, and water buffalo. This collection of animals was not only for the king’s pleasure, but also open to the public on certain days. Frederick William IV, successor of the founder of the royal menagerie, had very little in mind for the animal residents of the island. When the horticultural director Peter Joseph Lenné, and the Africa explorer Martin Hinrich Lichtenstein joined forces in providing the Berliners with a proper zoo, the king personally decreed that most of the animals on Peacock Island should be donated to this new establishment. The location chosen was an area of the royal pheasantry on the edge of the original menagerie. After a construction period of only three years the zoo opened its doors on 1 August 1844. It was the first zoo in Germany and the ninth in Europe. The new establishment progressed only sluggishly over the following twenty-five years because the Zoo was situated far outside the historical city limits of Berlin, and public transport was a thing of the future. But more importantly the enterprise suffered from lack of money. As a measure to improve its economic base the Zoo in 1845 was granted the legal form of a joint stock company, a form it has maintained to the present day. Nevertheless stock sales did not take off smoothly, because wealth had not yet accumulated in agrarian Germany, where industrialisation had only just begun. In the 1850s and 1860s times changed and the economic situation improved, and when a new series of shares of Berlin Zoo were created they were sold immediately.
In 1869 Heinrich Bodinus was appointed the first full-time zoo director. He had run Cologne Zoo with great success, from where he brought with him a wealth of ideas. These included ornamenting the Zoo with exotic style animal houses as Antwerp Zoo had been doing previously. So, 1871 witnessed the opening of the magnificent Antelope House with four minarets that as one of the principal sights in Berlin even served a few months later as the setting for a meeting between three European rulers: the German Emperor William I, Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria and Hungary, and the Russian Tsar Alexander II. The Antelope House was followed by the Indian style Elephant House, the Egyptian Ostrich House, the Japanese Wader House, the picturesque Elephant Gate, and the Arabian style houses for solipeds. This time of vigorous building also gave rise to numerous music pavilions and the enormous restaurant with its terraces, a setting for the greater part of the German capital’s social life. In 1888 Ludwig Heck took over management and paid much attention to the animal collection, which flourished to extent with incredible breeding results. Being methodically and thorough he attached great importance to providing the visitor with as comprehensive an overview as possible of the animal kingdom’s diversity. The number of mammals and bird species shown in Berlin could very soon compete with that of London Zoo. In 1913 the great aquarium was opened. Its three storeys were home to sweet- and saltwater fish, reptiles (the crocodile hall on the first floor was the first walk-in animal enclosure inside a building), amphibians, and a large number of invertebrates. The aquarium was planned by Oskar Heinroth, not only an able aquarium manager, but above all an international name in the field of ornithology. He is considered to be the founder of comparative ethology, and Konrad Lorenz always referred to him as his teacher.
World War I and the economic crisis imposed restrictions, but the zoo quickly recovered. Under the management of Lutz Heck (1932–1945), son of Ludwig, the zoo soon got a facelift. Where magnificent buildings once stood there were now naturalistic outdoor exhibits according Carl Hagenbeck's idea of bar-less zoos: seal and penguin rocks, baboon rocks, lion steppe, and mountain animal rocks. Expeditions to Ethiopia, East Africa, Finland, Canada, and Cameroon returned with some interesting and rare animals for the zoo. Unlike WWI, World War II proved fatal to the zoo. The first bombs fell in 1941. Further heavy bombardment came in 1943 and 1944. A large number of buildings were destroyed, the Antelope house survived. Virtually the whole infrastructure was gone. And just 91 animals survived the chaos – including two lions, two hyenas, one Asian bull elephant, one bull hippopotamus, ten hamadryas, one chimpanzee, one Oriental white stork, and one shoebill.
The post-war years were marked by severe financial straits, shortage of food and manpower, the Berlin Blockade, and other adversities. Only the dedication of both Katharina Heinroth (1945–1956) and Werner Schröder (1952–1977) are to thank for laying the foundations for reconstruction. Under the management of Heinz-Georg Klös (1956–1991) the zoo was rebuilt and expanded to plan. The new buildings were the monkey houses, the birdhouse, the service yard, the outdoor bear enclosures, the predator house with its nocturnal animal section, the annex to the aquarium, and the development grounds in the former diplomats’ quarter. Also in this period the foundations were laid for many highly successful breeding groups, including African black rhinoceroses, Przewalski’s horses, babirusas, collared peccaries, marsh and pampas deer, bongos, gaurs, and many primates and birds. These were followed by extensive tree care measures, faithful reproductions of historical buildings, many animal sculptures, and the founding of the zoo school, to name but a few. A highlight to mention is probably the role Berlin Zoo played in saving the Père David's deer from extinction.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and German Reunification proved a new turning point for the zoo. Berlin, where the Tierpark was founded in 1955 in the Friedrichsfelde district, suddenly had two zoos. It was clear to all those responsible in politics that they had to be retained and complement each other. A cooperation agreement was concluded that up to the present day has formed the basis of close collaboration. This agreement aims in particular towards maintaining and developing each zoo’s quite special character. Like the inner city zoo (Berlin Zoo) with its many animal houses and the great aquarium, and the expansive landscape park (the Tierpark) with large-scale enclosures. The cooperation agreement 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. Both zoos together are at present home to an animal population whose diversity and rareness cannot even be approached by any other city.
(Sources: website Berlin Zoo; “Zoo and Aquarium History” by Vernon N. Kisling, jr.)