Stories from my life and travels as an American expat in Germany!

Tierpark Hagenbeck in Hamburg, Germany

Tierpark Hagenbeck in Hamburg, Germany

Tierpark Hagenbeck is a zoo in Hamburg, Germany. It’s notable for being the first zoo to use moats, rather than barred cages, for their animal enclosures.

It’s also known for being the filming location of my favorite German TV show, Leopard, Seebär und Co. I’ve been wanting to visit for a very long time. In fact, I’ve had tickets since May, since they were my birthday present. It took us all the way until October 20th to visit. Why? Well, in German culture, the person having the birthday does the planning; whereas, in America, it’s the other way around. I just assumed that someone else would pick the date. That (obviously) didn’t happen; and, since everyone else had their calendars filled up months ahead, by the time my husband reminded that me planning the trip was actually my job…everyone else already had plans for the next two months.

Oops!

goats rams Tierpark HagenbeckIt all worked out for the best, though. Summer in Germany was a hellscape this year. Our trip to the Hannover Zoo was nice, but it was way too hot and you could tell the animals stuck outdoors felt the same way. October 20th in Tierpark Hagenbeck was cold, but it wasn’t unbearable; the animals still outside were very active.

I was excited to see the animals I might recognize from Leopard, Seebär und Co., and (perhaps) even more excited to see some of the caretakers from the show. I didn’t expect to see every single caretaker, but I did think I might glance one or two if I kept my eyes peeled. While I did recognize a few of the animals, I unfortunately didn’t see a single human from the show.

alpaca Tierpark HagenbeckYou can buy feed for some of the animals near the entrance. The elephant feed is (obviously) the most popular, so there wasn’t any left by the time we arrived. They still had feed for the alpacas, goats, and (I think?) some type of primate, but I can’t remember what type. I was a little surprised they didn’t have food for the giraffes, as it seems like that’s the in thing right now for every other zoo.

Anyway, you might think the monkey food is the obvious choice, but…you’d be wrong. Do you really think they’re going to let you hand a monkey some food? Maybe give it a few pats on the head? Hell no. You’re giving them the food through some kind of barrier.

Bo-ring.

Patagonian mara Tierpark Hagenbeck
G’day, doc

Using my incredible powers of deduction when it comes to interacting with animals, I chose the alpaca feed. Why? Well, goats will (usually) let you pet them even if you don’t have food. Alpacas, on the other hand, are ungrateful. They will forget you gave them food the second it’s in their mouths. If you want to pet them, you need food as a distraction.

Like every zoo I’ve ever been to, Tierpark Hagenbeck has peacocks running around. Like many of the German zoos I’ve been to, they also have a bunch of free-roaming chickens and roosters. What makes this zoo unique (at least, to me) are the capybaras and Patagonian maras that also have free run of the zoo. For those who don’t know, a capybara is the largest rodent in the world. Meanwhile, the Patagonian mara looks like a rabbit bonked a kangaroo.

penguin Tierpark Hagenbeck
The rope makes me think this isn’t a rare occurrence…

I was most excited to see the penguins, because they’re my favorite on the TV show. Or, more accurately, one of them is my favorite. Grobi waddled his way into my heart in this episode, in which his sass was set to maximum overdrive. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to check what color the band on his flipper is before we left. So, I have no idea if I actually saw him or not.

I did, however, see one of the poor penguins outside of the enclosure, with four or five other penguins looking down at him as he flapped at the window. When the caretaker eventually showed up, she just scooped him up and threw him back into the water.

Tierpark Hagenbeck alligators
Waiting for their Kinder Surprise…

A lack of supervision seemed to be a running theme in certain areas of Tierpark Hagenbeck. There were two employees watching the lemurs like hawks in a very tiny, easily-manageable space. Yet, in the alligator enclosure, no one was around to tell off the parents dangling their kids right above two alligators. I’ve seen the TV show enough times to know that they will go for anything that falls into their water. In one episode, they threw pieces of wood into the water, and the gators attacked them before they even knew what it was.

I also managed to get this nice shot of an African penguin with my phone’s camera, because another visitor had been reaching into the enclosure and luring it over by pretending she had food.

african penguin Tierpark Hagenbeck

The elephant enclosure had a different layout than I had expected, based on my assumptions from watching Leopard, Seebär und Co. I didn’t realize there was such a large indoor viewing area. The baby elephant was running around the adults, being as cute as possible.

It was really cool to see Odin, Tierpark Hagenbeck’s huge, blind walrus. On Leopard, Seebär und Co., there’s an episode where they separate him from the other walruses, because there was a chance he might accidentally crush the babies because he can’t see them. In another episode, he rejoins the group. During our visit, he was separated from the females again. I didn’t see any babies, but perhaps they’ve recently had some? Anyway, the walruses are some of my favorite animals on the show, so I was happy to recognize Odin. Meanwhile, the other walruses were swimming in circles up to the window in the underground viewing area.

Odin Tierpark Hagenbeck

The orangutans were another highlight. On Leopard, Seebär und Co., they were trying to find a mate for Tuan, their male orangutan. According to the show, he wasn’t interested in any of the females in his enclosure. So, they purchased Conny, a deaf female orangutan from another zoo. They had this adorable segment where they showed Conny a video of Tuan, to see if she was interested in him. Long story short, things must have worked out, because there were baby orangutans!

lemur Tierpark HagenbeckWe saw every animal in Tierpark Hagenbeck, other than the tapirs and giant otters. I was disappointed about the former, but definitely not the latter. Although I love all animals, there is something deeply unsettling to me about the way giant otters look and sound. Regular otters (which Tierpark Hagenbeck keeps with the orangutans) are amazing and adorable. Giant otters are nightmare fuel.

I’m so happy I was finally able to visit Tierpark Hagenbeck! It’s an excellent zoo and it’s always fun to visit something you’ve seen on TV. In terms of value, I think the Leipzig and Hannover zoos have Hagenbeck beat. However, the Leipzig Zoo’s TV show is boring as hell. Leopard, Seebär und Co. is where its at. Tierpark Hagenbeck has all the competition beat when it comes to the German public TV game.

Hopefully, we’ll make time to visit the Berlin Zoo in the near future. I also want to visit the Munich Zoo, though that might be a long time from now, as getting my husband to agree to a trip to Bavaria is like pulling teeth.


Reader Comments

    1. People “joke” in Germany that Bavarians don’t like the rest of Germany, and the rest of Germany doesn’t like Bavaria. Although it’s mostly joking, there definitely seems to be the underlying implication that Bavaria is holding the rest of the country back, because they’re so conservative. Meanwhile, Bavarians seem to think they live in the only “good” part of Germany because it’s generally cleaner, more traditional, wealthier, etc.

      So, long story short…a (mostly) friendly rivalry. 🙂

  1. hah too funny! we are elefant tiger und co devotees! but we have also seen leopard seebär und co. it looks so lovely and green there in the episodes from summer. we cant wait to make a visit to the leipzig zoo for the same reasons… of course we want to see if we can spot some of our favorite tierpfleger celebrities!

    1. Hey there! I’m so glad you’re reading my blog, even if you do like the wrong zoo show. 😉 In regards to your other comment, I agree; living in a small town in Germany can be really rough/lonely. Especially when you don’t know the language yet. I think a lot of Americans assume most Europeans speak English fluently, but they don’t. If they don’t need it for work, and aren’t motivated to keep going, they don’t bother keeping their English up. It’s also just easier to make friends with English speakers, in my personal opinion; they’re a lot friendlier, at least initially.I can appreciate that Germans take a while to warm up, but it gets exasperating really fast. At this point, I miss the “superficiality” of Americans; even if they’re only pretending to like you half as much as they seem, at least they want to hang out enough to eventually be close friends.

      Anyway, rant over. I love the German friends I’ve made, but aside from one (and she’s way more outgoing than anyone else I’ve met), they were all through my husband.

      I’m glad you found a place for your kids. I know it can be really hard to find places in good daycares, for sure. I didn’t realize Kindergarten was tough, though! Are you sending them to a private Kindergarten?

  2. yes the friends thing here is a challenge. i feel im still figuring out social cues and just how to read people – and the question of how i come across- i have no idea! it actually is somewhat freeing (once i get over the anxiety!) to be more focused on language at first and just trying to get some basic communication across, be it in my limited german or in english with a non-native speaker. for now i’m going with very basic cues like: they want to get together again, good! we didnt weird them out 🙂

    re the kindergarten, it is actually a kindertagesstätte (a private evangelical one – costs about same as a state run „kita“ as they are called and the evangelical part is just random- many of the kitas are run by churches and they are often some of the best ones due to being well funded (same with elementary schools). and for us it is a bit funny to have religion mixed in when we are not doing any sort of religious upbringing ourselves.. it’s a long story but we ended up there out of pure luck of a friend informing us of a vacancy and getting on the phone that day and getting the spot.. this after spending a month looking and calling at least 30 kitas which all had no space!!) is like a daycare/preschool hybrid and they also call it kindergarten. it’s not at all academic and kids are there any time from birth until they are 6 here. very cool actually that they don’t really begin“school“ until first grade as 6 or 7 year olds and THAT is a big deal! einschulung german style… here we come this august!

    1. I’ve heard it’s hard to find a non-religious daycare in Germany. No idea if that’s true or not, since we don’t have kids. 🙂

      As far as socializing goes, that’s one of the best parts about Germany: Germans don’t tell you they want to hang out again if they don’t. There’s no, “we should hang out sometime!” to wonder about. I never took it at face value in the US, but I knew Germans living there who did, at least when they first arrived. And sometimes it is genuine, which makes it even harder for them to figure out.

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