History - Tierpark Berlin

Largest landscape zoo in Europe and lifetime achievement of Prof. Dr Heinrich Dathe

With an area of 160 hectares, it could hold about 224 football fields and is almost the size of the German island Heligoland: The Tierpark Berlin

On 27 August 1954, the Berlin Magistrate decided to establish a zoo (‘Tierpark’) in Friedrichsfelde. One year later, on 2 July 1955, the counterpart to West Berlin’s Zoological Garden opened on the site of the former Friedrichsfelde Palace gardens: the Tierpark Berlin. The zoologist Prof. Dr Heinrich Dathe became its very first director – a position he retained until his 80th birthday for over 30 years

All good things come in twos

Two radio towers, two major shopping centres – and two zoos. The partition and size of Berlin meant that there is no shortage of superlatives in this city. The Tierpark Berlin has its roots in the partition of Germany after the Second World War. The famous Zoological Garden was now situated in the British sector of Berlin. The GDR’s state leadership wanted to establish a rival zoo of equal standing.

The decision by the Berlin Magistrate on 27 August 1954 is regarded as the official founding date for the Tierpark Friedrichsfelde. For its location, they selected the generously sized landscape garden designed by Peter Joseph Lenné in the 1820s, which was a fortuitous choice as the palace and its gardens had begun to deteriorate since their dispossession.

400 animals on opening day and the GDR's crown jewel

Voluntary work by private individuals and companies already bore witness to the special significance the Tierpark held for the people. In addition, a number of animal donations ensured that around 400 animals from 120 different species were already on display on opening day, including Siberian tigers and Asian elephants.

Dathe developed the Tierpark step by step according to his own designs, presented new enclosures as well as commercial buildings every year, and capably fashioned the vast palace gardens to accommodate people and animals.

Moats as natural barriers, vast enclosures, natural forests, and wide walking paths still dominate the scenery. Historical plans were used as the basis for the restoration of the Baroque palace gardens.

Dathe expanded the Tierpark from an already ample 60 hectares to 160 hectares. The bear rock enclosure and the large camel pasture were some of his first projects. In 1957, the snake farm and the polar bear enclosure with a 3,000 m²-sized swimming and diving pool were added. The bear canyon and the bear entrance were established at around the same time. The construction of the largest animal house in the world in 1963, the predator or Alfred Behm House, was a worldwide sensation. The open tropical hall with flying foxes and the indoor rock enclosures with moats were absolutely unique at the time. The popular cafeteria was opened to provide hungry and thirsty visitors with refreshments.

The historical Friedrichsfelde Palace was reopened at the beginning of the 80s as a result of huge commitment and extensive renovation work. In 1989, Dathe celebrated the opening of the elephant house including an open enclosure.

All in all, an achievement of a lifetime and the zoological crown jewel of the GDR. After Dathe’s retirement in 1991, Dr Bernd Blaszkiewitz took charge of the Tierpark 

until the autumn of 2013. Many provisional solutions that had started to deteriorate in GDR times due to a lack of building materials were replaced by solid functional buildings under Blaskiewitz. Furthermore, the mountain animal enclosures, the giraffe and monkey houses, and the Africanum were established. For the first time in the history of the Tierpark, both African and Asian elephants were bred.   

After Reunification, it was quickly agreed to establish a close cooperation between the parks with their different characteristics and strengths. This has lasted until today and will be even further intensified in the future.

Modernisation 2.0 - Future-oriented concepts for the Zoo and the Tierpark

In 2014, Dr Andreas Knieriem took on the job to sustainably develop the Tierpark as Europe’s largest zoo animal operation. On 19 September 2013, the board of directors of the Zoologischer Garten Berlin AG announced Knieriem’s appointment to succeed the parting director Dr Bernard Blaszkiewitz.

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 advocates for an interaction between humans and animals that reflects modern sensibilities. A goal and development plan was formulated for the Zoo and Tierpark Berlin by Knieriem in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team – a future concept for the next 20 years.

The Tierpark Berlin 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. Almost 7,800 animals from over 900 species are there to be discovered along the circular walking path of over 20 kilometres.

Therefore, it offers numerous unique development opportunities to attract additional guests from around the world. To discover and expand on these strengths is a task that the team led by Knieriem will approach in the coming years and decades with great enthusiasm, a host of experience, and a pronounced sense of creativity. 

Or in short: the formerly divided city offers us two very different and mutually complementary zoological gardens that both have an exciting future ahead of them. The ‘green oasis’ in the West and the ‘wild potential’ in the East – expect more to come!