For two years we lived in Germany. During those two years we saw lots of the country, and Europe in general. We took weekend trips to Cologne and Munich, went Champagne tasting in France, toured a Nazi-era mine, experienced the Arctic cold while mushing our own team of sled dogs, dove in a flooded Alpine Park, and ate pasta while sipping a glass of Chianti in the Eternal City. We definitely lived it up, but, shockingly, one place we never made it to was Berlin. It was one of those trips that was too close for a long weekend (we took advantage of company holidays to travel to farther places), but too far for a spontaneous road trip. When we found ourselves back in Germany for a vacation to see a friend get married last September, we knew we wanted to visit a few places we hadn't made it to while we were expats. Berlin was one of those places.
Our time in Berlin came at the end of our trip. After an exhausting ordeal to get to Germany (an overnight flight while 32 weeks pregnant and a toddler, a delayed flight, a diverted plane due to a lightening strike, sold out trains, and a one way, international, rental car were all involved - I'll have to share that story sometime!), and the jet lag, then touring with a toddler while 32 weeks pregnant, we were all pretty tired. Nonetheless, Berlin is a city full of history and things to do, even kids! On our second day there, we got up early to take Evelyn to the Berlin Zoo. While she has been to countless aquariums, this was her first visit to a zoo.
Zoos in the middle of cities are definitely one thing I'm not used to experiencing. While in the zoo, it felt like a big park, but looking up and over the trees, nearby high rise buildings can be seen, an instant reminder of where you are.
The Berlin Zoologischer Garten first opened in 1844 and today is one of the largest and most well-known zoos in Europe. It is home to over 1400 different species making it the most diverse zoo in the world and also has an aquarium. Most of the zoo is located in one large area, roughly triangular in shape, connected to a much smaller area on the opposite bank of the Landwehr Canal, abutting the large Tiergarten park. By the way, if you're looking for a respite from city life while visiting Berlin, Tiergarten park is the place to go. Analogous to Central Park in New York City, Englischergarten in Munich, or Hyde Park in London, the 500+ acre plot of land used to be a hunting ground for the German aristocracy, but today is home to walking paths, green lawns, and plenty of opportunities for Berliners to experience Nature (something near and dear to most Germans' heart) in the middle of the city.
As a kid, I loved seeing the exotic animals - elephants, lions, bears, monkeys, penguins - but as I've gotten older, I've started to have mixed feelings about zoos. I see how they can be more than just a source of entertainment - offering rehabilitation to sick or injured animals, supporting breeding programs of critically endangered species, and educating the public on the effect that humans have on the natural world - but I also see animals that are stressed, out of their element, caged. It's something I grapple with for sure and something I don't have a clear or easy answer to.
Despite my mixed feelings about zoos, I knew - or at the very least hoped - Evelyn would love it. And I was right. She loved seeing the elephants and giraffes, she watched the chickens in the coop intently, but the highlight of the visit for her, unsurprisingly, was the aquarium. Specifically, the large Arapaimas fish from the Amazon River aquarium. No joke, we could NOT tear her away from them! It took us quite a while to drag her out of there - loudly protesting of course! We stopped to watch the monkeys play, the seals swim, and the pandas lazily nibble on bamboo. As much as I enjoy seeing exotic creatures, it's way more fun to watch the excitement on your kid's face as she sees these things for the first time.
After we finished up at the zoo, we headed over near the Zoologisher Garten Bahnhof station where supposedly the BEST curry wurst in all of Germany can be found at Curry 36. It's a little stand with two windows for taking orders and standing-height tables in front of it for you to eat at. German fast food for sure! I'm not a huge fan of curry wurst myself, but Aaron said it was solid. They do offer lots of other sausage products, so unless you're vegan, you should find something there to eat. And if you do happen to be vegan, I suppose you could always eat the pommes......
Visit the Berlin Zoo
The zoo is relatively small and unless you have kids who want to see all the animals and spend time watching them, you can easily do the entire zoo in the morning. Tickets are 15.50 euro for adults (zoo only, the aquarium is an additional fee) and 8 euro for children 4-15, children under 4 are free. Family tickets, valid for two adults and all their children are also available for 41 euro. The Berlin Zoo can be found at Hardenbergplatz 8, 10787 Berlin, Germany and is very close to the Zoologischer Garten Bahnhof station, making it incredibly accessible if you are using public transportation. There is counter service food as well as a cafeteria-style dining room. Both dining options seemed to have tasty looking food for reasonable prices. The entire park is stroller and kid-friendly, including changing stations for children in diapers and playgrounds to let kids burn off even more energy. As one of the most-visited zoos in Europe, I would imagine that in the peak tourism season it can be pretty crowded, but we were there at the end of September, at the same time as the Berlin Marathon, and it wasn't too busy at all.