First Zoo Without Bars Celebrates its Centenary | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.05.2007
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First Zoo Without Bars Celebrates its Centenary

Hamburg's Hagenbeck Zoo, which opened in 1907, was the first zoo to keep animals in something resembling their natural environments. This summer the facility is celebrating one hundred years of innovation.

Gate to the Hagenbeck Zoo

The giraffe food is placed where only they have access

There's a lot to discover at the Hagenbeck Zoo, everything from aardvarks to zebras, but there's one thing visitors won't see: animals behind bars. That may not seem like such a big deal today, but in 1907, when the zoo opened, its design was revolutionary. In fact, most contemporary zoos owe a huge debt to a family business that began as something more like a circus.

The Hagenbeck Zoo marked its one-hundredth anniversary on May 7 with ceremonies celebrating its legacy of innovation -- and Hamburg mayor Ole von Beust inaugurating a new tropical aquarium. There visitors can get up close, if not personal, with alligators, anacondas and a host of other reptiles.

Keeper in sun chair in front of an elephant

Elephants are a Hagenbeck speciality

Other zoos are paying tribute to the family-run park in northern Hamburg.

"As an urban zoo, it has a special significance," said Dr. Ragmar Kühne, a biologist at the Zoo Berlin. "It gave city dwellers access to animals. And it also helped distribute animals throughout Germany."

Berlin may have the bigger attraction at the moment in baby polar bear Knut. But Hamburg's Hagenbeck has an unparalleled history.

Humble -- and controversial -- beginnings

Man photographs python

Assam the python checks out the latest camera technology

The zoo's precursor originated in 1848, when Hamburg fish dealer and family patriarch Gottfried Clas Hagenbeck put six seals on display at a market in the center of town.

His oldest son Carl Gottfried Heinrich Hagenbeck took over in 1866, establishing a flourishing business trading in exotic animals. He also staged Völkerschauen or "people shows," in which indigenous human beings from around the world -- for example, Inuits and Massais -- were displayed to the amazement of Hamburg spectators.

As inhumane and offensive as that may sound today, the Hagenbecks' endeavors were always pedagogical in nature. And by the late 19th century Carl Gottfried was drawing up plans for a park to house animals as they never had been before. In 1907 he opened the world's first zoo without barred cages.

Keeper pats a taipr

There's nothing like patting a tapir after a hard day's work

"Hagenbeck was exemplary in showing how to keep animals," Kühne said. "They were housed in environments resembling their natural ones in the wild."

It was an idea that worked and that caught on at zoos throughout the world.

Excellence in elephants

Giraffe feeding from suspended bucket of hay

The Hagenbeck Zoo opened its gates on May 7, 1907

The park facility was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1943 but was reconstructed after the war by the family -- and with the help of elephants, which were used to clear away rubble.

Today, with thousands of animals from 210 species, some endangered, Hagenbeck is the largest privately owned zoo in the Europe. It is run without state subsidies and attracts around a million visitors a year.

In 2000, the German news magazine Stern named Hagenbeck one of Germany's three top zoos. The emphasis on natural environments ensures a constant flow of new arrivals.

Keeper cleaning a walrus' tusks

A walrus displays a fine set of choppers

"One of their particular strengths is in the keeping of elephants," said Kühne. "They've had great success breeding them in captivity."

The animals have indeed been contributing in their own fashion to the anniversary celebrations. On May 13, a baby elephant named Shira was born. Two days later an infant camel called Khaled followed.

There seems to be an air of fertility at one of Germany's most historic zoos. Part of the anniversary festivities are a series of "romantic evenings" in August, and the zoo advertises that it is a great place for couples, families and single people looking for some companionship.

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