Panda fever has gripped Berlin. The locals can't get enough of the two new zoo residents, "Sweet Dream" and "Darling." Yet animal-lovers can simply walk through the city to get their kicks, says columnist Gero Schliess.
They're traveling first class; they will be officially greeted by Chancellor Merkel and have brought their own caretaker with them. That's pretty much the treatment reserved for a state visit from the world's most important royal couple, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. But sorry, I'll write more about the British royal house in another column. Promise.
The couple who'll be getting the royal welcome in Berlin are a lot cuddlier: pandas Jiao Qing (which means "Darling"), and Meng Meng ("Sweet Dream"). Strictly speaking, they are just visiting - for 15 years. The bears have been loaned by the Chinese President, who'll also be traveling to Berlin for the pandas' state welcome ceremony (perhaps with his own caretaker too - who knows…)
Wild rustling in the press
Darling and Sweet Dream have something else in common with the royals from Buckingham Palace: newspapers have spilled much ink over their arrival. It is discussed, romanticized, written and posted about. Twitter is overheated. Some, such as Berlin's Culture Senator Lederer, feel the tsunami wave of panda tweets is an unfair competitive advantage in the chase for new followers.
One thing is clear: Berliners love the pandas. They love all animals. But animals also love Berlin. And how! Cockroaches, mice, rats. They have long been part of the "beloved" basic setup of every Berlin household. For some time, wilder species have also been added to that list.
And they spread fear. A very personal experience: Recently one night, on my way home on my bike, a fox scurried out of a bush and stared at me. I was startled. The animal appeared traumatized. I was immediately overcome with guilt.
At the time, I didn't know that the poor fox was only the vanguard of a whole armada of wild animals in Berlin. The expression "big city jungle" obtains a whole new meaning.
I googled it: All species of foxes are thriving in Berlin. With one exception: The "Sparfuchs," the German expression for the bargain hunter - literally "saving fox" - is a threatened species in times of budget surpluses.
Capital of wild boars
Berlin is also a sought-after address for boars. The colleagues of a popular science show on public television probably only wanted to flatter Berliners when they named their city the "capital of wild boars."
I can imagine that owners of garden allotments are not so happy about this title. Their garden is a favored destination for the cute omnivores. And they can be truly loyal. Or more precisely, repeat offenders.
Yes, dear Berliners: Wild boars love your city. The explanation is simple: After their natural habitat was reduced through construction and other civilizational madness, Berlin's urban wilderness has become the ideal sanctuary for them. What has disappeared elsewhere can still be found in abundance here: waste land - also called construction sites in Berlin. Unfortunately, the complete transformation of Alexanderplatz was fatal for two boars. They were shot.
The European beaver learned its lesson from this experience, preferring greener areas of Berlin such as Treptow. The species belongs to the cityscape there as I have read on the official tourism website Berlin.de.
But many other animals such as the deer and the raccoon also feel completely at home in Berlin.
Berlin creates form for wild animals
The Berlin State Office has finally noticed this too. They reacted in a typical Berliner way - by coming up with a form. With it, every Berliner is to report a wild animal sighting.
There's enough to report: Altogether there are 53 species of mammals and 180 breeds of birds known to be found in Berlin.
With so many animals running free in the city, one question remains: Does Berlin really need a zoo? Sorry Darling and Sweet Dream, I forgot about you for a minute.