Following Berlin's division due to the war, both parts of the city were lacking public institutions. In the western part of Berlin, there was a lack of established museum structures like the Museum Island in the eastern part. On the other hand, there was no zoo or animal park in the eastern part of Berlin, such as the famous and oldest zoo in Germany, situated in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Since zoological gardens have always been popular recreational destinations for inhabitants and could be marketed well as nationwide attractions, it made sense to build such an institution in the eastern part of Berlin.
Fig.: Slides from the Tierpark Berlin, VEB Bild und Heimat, Reichenbach i. V.
In 1954 the plan became more concrete and on 27 August 1954 the Magistrate of Greater Berlin decided to establish a zoo. The official party newspaper »Neues Deutschland« wrote about it on 29 August:
»All citizens of Berlin are called upon to lend a hand. The magistrate of Greater Berlin decided at its meeting on Friday to begin preparatory work for the construction of a new zoo in Berlin in the Friedrichsfelde Palace Park. First, the overgrown grounds of the park are to be tidied up and a service yard established. Next year, the first outdoor enclosures and shelters for ungulates will be created.
The entire animal park, which will require considerable funds and a lot of work to be established, cannot be finished next year, of course, but is to be expanded from year to year. The magistrate expressed the hope that many Berlin citizens will actively help to make the new animal park a popular and well-kept place of recreation for the population. ...«
Fig.: Postcard »Tierpark Berlin. Alfred-Brehm-Haus. Tropenhalle«, Publisher Bild und Heimat, Colour photo von Rudloff
Less than ten months later, on 2 July 1955, Tierpark Berlin was officially opened in the presence of the then Mayor, Friedrich Ebert, and the President of the GDR, Wilhelm Pieck. At that time, the animal park covered an area of 60 hectares, with about 400 animals and a total of 120 species on display. Heinrich Dathe, deputy director of Leipzig Zoo at the time, was entrusted with the management of the zoo during the start-up phase. He held this position until his retirement in December 1990.
The zoo's grounds, as well as the number of animals and animal species, were successively expanded over the years. At peak times, there were more than 10,000 animals out of a total of 1000 species, which were presented to the public on a total area of 160 hectares. Due to its size, the animal park was always able to maintain its park-like character, offer the animals spacious areas to live and thus set itself apart from many zoos. For comparison: Berlin Zoo covers an area of about 35 hectares.
The newly created attraction was visited time and again by the population during its existence, which resulted in the zoo achieving great nationwide popularity. Radio programmes such as »Im Tierpark belauscht« and television programmes such as »Tierparkteletreff« contributed their share to the attraction's success story. There were also a wide variety of souvenirs and depictions of Tierpark Berlin elsewhere. The famous caricaturist Erich Schmitt, himself an enthusiastic visitor of the Tierpark, created various figures with a strong connection to the zoo, including »Ede der Tierparklehrling«, who enjoyed great popularity at the time. He published his drawings and detailed studies of the zoo in several works, such as the book »Verschmittzter Tierpark« from 1976.
Popular souvenirs also included the brochures »Wegweiser durch den Tierpark«, which were regularly revised and could usually be bought directly on-site during the visit. Especially in the 1960s and 1970s, roll films and slide series with the most beautiful views of Tierpark Berlin were also available.
The success story and popularity of Tierpark Berlin continue unabated to this day. When the zoo celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 1985, it welcomed over 71 million visitors, and by 2010 it had already counted over 90 million. The attraction continues to draw over 1.2 million people annually, making it one of Berlin's most important attractions.
Editor's note: This blog post first appeared on 18 February 2016.