I dont know whether its a general Berlin tradition, but the day I decided to go to Berlin Zoo, the entire smoking section of the city seemed to have decided to do the same.
Is it that people who smoke like animals more, I wondered? Or is it just that sometimes people wake up and say You know what I want to do with the kids today? I want to smoke tabs and look at critters. Lets go to the zoo.
So there they were, wandering around, puffing away and making appreciative noises at the monkeys. The monkeys which, by now, must suffer so badly from second hand smoke its a wonder there arent more monkey-on-berliner lawsuits. Which is a shame, as there nothing funnier than a monkey in a suit. Still, the monkeys didnt seem have much to pay lawyers hanging around in their enclosures, unless you count orange peel and a lot of branches, logs and shrubbery as currency – but even then youd think some enterprising company would have set up a No Win, No Tree type settlement. Sorry.
I like going to the zoo. I mean, granted Ive only been to two zoos in the last 18 years, but I really have enjoyed those a great deal.
I wish I could say that I went to Berlin Zoo in a kind of You can judge a nation by the way it treats its animals sociological experiment, but it would be a lie. I went to Berlin Zoo because Id spent the previous day walking so much I thought my lower legs were going to fall off, and Id if Id had to walk anymore, they would have actually fallen off, and I would have suddenly found myself Berlins latest tourist attraction – The Stumpy Tourist of Brandenberg Gate, or something. They have a lot of wierd sculpture in Berlin. I didnt want to get mistaken for one.
I went to Berlin Zoo because I thought I could wander around it very slowly, and take lots of pictures of crazy creatures, and there would be lots of benches to sit down on and read a book if I got bored. I was right.
Berlin Zoo is good for: Smoking.
Berlin Zoo is bad for: Maps.
I love maps. Not boring hills or countryside, I love city maps and street plans. I love their winding lines and points of promise in intersection. I love the way you can trace your finger down a street on a street map and walk it in your mind; that when youve walked that street in reality, you walk it again when you look at it on the map.
Also, I love maps because they telling you where you sodding well are.
Im going to send that on a postcard to Berlin Zoo.
I like maps because they tell you where you sodding well are.
They could learn from that, I think.
Berlin Zoo, in a measure I can only reduce to cost efficiency, has one map at the entrance, and one map at the exit. No little leaflet of maps – I assume it to be a littering/waste issue -, and no maps inbetween – I assumed it to be because they hate me and my hurty feet.
Instead of maps, Berlin Zoo had pointy signs, which looked cute to begin with, but soon became a little Alice in Wonderlandy. Because the names of the animals were all completely wrong (wrong=in German, basically), I relied on the little cartoon line drawings beside them to guide myself around.
In one memorable adventure, for example, I spent half an hour looking for the moomin enclosure before I realised that the picture was possibly of a hippo instead, and that Id found them twenty minutes before.
The pointy signs would point one way, and youd happily set off along that road, following the sign, say, for a Bären. Ten minutes later, after following the twists and turns of a path, past colourful cormerants and peeping pipperwills, you would find yourself at another sign, seemingly pointing the opposite direction, towards your beloved Bären (I love Bären). Another twelve minutes, and two signs on, you would find yourself next to an alarmingly familiar sign, the first sign, promising itself to be the true path to Bärenland. This happened to me almost a dozen times, to varying degrees of Wonderlandishness.
Getting frustrated and wandering off in search of something else entirely, I found, was generally the best thing to find the other thing that youd given up on entirely. I found the bears, and when I found them, I spoke to the bears. There was no one around, so I spoke to them in German. Because they were german bears. Guten morgen Bären! I said. Wie geht es Ihnen? But after that, conversation dried up somewhat. I didnt know much more German, and they were bears. It was inevitable, really.
There wasnt anything in particular I went there to see, so mostly I wandered happily around, aimless.
In one place, dozens of people were crowded around the elephant enclosure. Ten feet to the right of them, dozens of people gathered around the llama enclosure. It was feeding time at both, and both had cute little llama/elephanty babies. Inbetween the two, though, was something unexpected. Inbetween the raised ground of the enclosures was a gully, like their often is in zoos, to stop the animals running away, or the people running in, and in the gully, a plain, concrete, pointless place, there were a large community of guinea pigs, eating their lunch. There were some cute little baby guinea pigs, too, but no one saw them.
I dont know whether there was nowhere else to put the guinea pigs, or whether this is the best environment for guinea pigs, or simply whther the guinea pigs were happy there, but they made me very happy, there, then. I like unexpected things.
I stopped by the warthog enclosure, which was empty of people, as scores and hundreds walked by to finder the cuter critters. The warthog enclosure at feeding time is a great analogy for something, Im sure. Perhaps someone could make an analogy about blogging of it, but I wont. These great, rare, unusually beautiful, resourceful and passionate creatures, ignored by the shallow masses, pushed aside in the must-see sodden society – casting their pigs before swine. Or something.
The panda was the straw that broke the camels back. Not literally. that would be rare cruelty. I thought, though, since the Panda was a thing that Berlin Zoo had that many other zoos did not, and since they might all, you know, die in our lifetime and stuff, I should go and see the Panda.
At the entrance, I looked carelessly at the map to discover the whereabouts of said panda. I didnt memorise it then – why should I? I thought there would be more sodding maps as I went along.
Once I decided to find the panda, I followed one sign. Then another. Then I followed another sign. Please understand, while the ratio of signs to maps was, at least, a few:fuck-all, the signs themselves werent, lets say, OVER-used. You would happen upon one every 6-10 minutes, always pointing you in the exact opposite direction to that which you thought you should be going in.
The pandas are this way, said the sign by the giraffe. The pandas are that way, said the flamingo-side pointer. Theyre over there, said the arrow next to the apes. No, over there, replied the helping hand near the hippo.
No wonder its commonly percieved that pandas are fucking rare, I began to conclude.
Eventually – no word of a lie – I reached the exit. There, by the exit, was a pointing sign, laughing handing me back into the arms of the whole zoo. At the top of this pole was one of those comedy arrows you get in every tourist spot.
LOS ANGELES ZOO, 9,746km
said one arm.
said the one below, pointing in the same direction.
Oh thats where it fucking is, I thought.
They could have told me earlier.
Walking thirty feet in the direction I thought Id just come from, I found the panda.
Miserable, sullen, sulky and fifteen other words that mean the same thing, it showed its arse to a camcordered world, and stared into its cage.
I wandered off and read my book with my back to the zoo.
After a while I looked up, and realised that the Berlin Aquarium was in front of me – with a giant stone triceratops head over the doorway, and an enormous staue of an Iguanadon standing in front of it. My god, I thought the pointy signs were bad? At least they delivered eventually – but this? Surely this is false advertising, no?
Youll be glad to know I never found out.
But maybe there is – maybe they do have real dinosaurs in the tanks with the turtles. I dont know – you could go and find them.
Its that way. ->