Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


The new zoo’s director, Heinrich Dathe, standing behind East German President, Wilhelm Pieck and East Berlin’s Mayor, Friedrich Ebert (son of Germany’s first president, Friedrich Ebert Senior) during the Tierpark’s opening ceremony (photo via Bundesarchiv Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-31492-0004).

On July 2 1955 East Berlin celebrated the opening of its new zoo, Tierpark Friedrichsfelde: having been separated from the western part of the city occupied by Western Allies meant that the residents of the Soviet Occupational Zone were left with increasingly limited access to the old Zoo Charlottenburg (on August 13 1961 that access was terminated for good).

Built in only eight months as part of the National Aufbauwerk (National Restoration) programme in a total of 100,000 man-hours, the zoo occupied the historic park of Schloß Friedrichsfelde on the von Treskow family estate (Friedrichsfelde is a locality in the borough of Lichtenberg). In the nineteenth century the palace, dating back to 1695, got surrounded by a lush park designed by none other than Berlin’s park-designer-in-chief, Peter Joseph Lenné.

Upon its opening East Berlin’s Tierpark could display 400 animals representing 120 different species. Most of the creatures were donated by other zoos, like the little polar bear sent as a gift from the USSR or the China-alligator sent to the East Berlin zoo as a donation from the zoological garden in Beijing in the People’s Republic of China. Mao – for that is the name bestowed upon this member of a greatly endangered species – is a local Methuselah: the 62-year-old China-alligator is the oldest creature in Tierpark’s collection of 9018 animals representing 790 species. Today it spends the autumn of his life in a special alligator “retirement home” created for it on the site.

Little polar bear cub arriving at the Tierpark Friedrichsfelde from the USSR (photo by Stephanie von Becker, Tierpark Archiv).

But even though only several years after its opening the Lichtenberg zoo quickly introduced a much wider variety of animals than it could offer at the start and the place’s popularity sky-rocketed (it prides itself on having attracted over 90 million visitors so far!), probably no other creature won as many hearts of the Tierpark’s guests as a small elephant cow shipped to East Berlin in 1958 as a present from Ho Chi Minh, the president of North Vietnam.

Kosko running with children in one of the zoo’s alleys (image via Archiv Freunde Hauptstadtzoos in “Berliner Woche” edition for the borough of Lichtenberg).

Named Kosko after a Polish ship which brought her to Berlin she was moving freely on the zoo’s site: the Tierpark did not have an elephant compound yet. Soon after her arrival in May 1958 Kosko became an absolute favourite of both children and grown-ups. Her death in 1994 left tens of thousands of her fans, most of whom grew up with her, in mourning.

As for the Friedrichsfelde zoological garden itself, not many people know that at 160 hectares Berlin’s eastern zoo is also the largest landscape park in Europe.


Planning to visit Berlin? Interested in learning more about the city’s lesser known past and present? You can find out more about its big and smaller secrets of as well as those of Berlin’s Tierpark Friedrichsfelde reading “Notmsparker’s Berlin Companion” books (both Part 1 and Part 2 are available via – shipping worldwide!)


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