Tag Archives: zoo

Carnival with the animals

Berlin has two zoos. One in the former East, one in the former West. They are still referred to as the Ost-Zoo and West-Zoo, and in my experience the one Berliners choose to visit is determined by the side of the wall on which they, or their families, grew up. As my British heritage removes any sense of obligation I might have for one or other establishment, I can take my pick. On Saturday I tossed a coin, bundled up my youngsters, and set off in a flurry of snow to see the western penguins in their element.

IMAG0542I am not, I should point out here, entirely comfortable with zoos, and whenever I do go, I am struck as much by the behaviour of my fellow human beings than by that of the animals they are there to see. I’m not talking about the hordes of tourists who rush from one cage to the next taking photographs at such a pace that it seems unlikely they have the time to take in what they are documenting, but about those who come alone, and talk to the animals as if they have known them for a long time. Those people catch my eye.

A couple of years back I recall walking towards the hippos behind a woman with a pram. I was pushing one of my own at the time, and thought nothing of it until she stopped to tend to her baby. I swerved to pass her, and as I did so, I saw that her baby wasn’t a baby at all, but two life-sized dolls. Dressed up and wrapped up, they stared at her with eyes and expressions as blank as her own.

Our paths crossed again in the hippo enclosure, where she whispered to her dollies, and questions whispered to me. I was thinking about her when I went to the zoo this weekend, half-wondering if she might be there somewhere. I went to the hippo house on the off chance. But the spot where she had stood on my previous visit had been given over to children in costume and adults in brightly coloured wigs. Carnival had come to the zoo.

IMAG0528Loudspeakers thrashed out German folk songs, and people stood about eating sugarcoated balls of dough and drinking coffee from paper cups. But there was no dancing, no laughter, and the atmosphere was one of forced gaiety. I asked one man who was doling out sweets if there was any particular reason for staging the event with the animals? “The hippo house is heated,” he told me. “That simple.”

In which case I think I prefer the complex. I prefer the dollies in the pram, because however plastic, they were, and perhaps still are very real.

Category: Berlin, Childhood | Tags: , ,
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