Going to the zoo zoo zoo, how about you you you?
Tierpark Dählhölzli (Bern)
Member Name: historywitch
Tierpark Dählhölzli (Bern)
Advantages: Nice range of animals, good vivarium, cheap/free
Disadvantages: Unhappy animals, lack of signing
We found a lovely place to park by the river on the road (Thormannstrasse) leading to the zoo. This area has the most parking spaces and a smaller hill to climb to get to the zoo, so aim for this area if you are coming in by car. If coming in by foot or by bus, the Tierpark is about 1.5 km south of the centre of town but I am assured that it is a pleasant walk along the river to get there. You can also pick up the number 19 tram from the centre of town which takes you there much quicker!
At the bottom of the hill are a series of small restaurants and a large seating area outside. We chose one of these at random and were faced with overpriced and poor quality food, although the queues moved quickly and it was pleasant eating under the trees. There were also toilets here and a play area with sandpit for younger children. This is also where the free petting zoo is located, which I will return to later. We quickly steered Olivia away from this distraction and went to look at the stream at the bottom of the hill, where the racoons are kept, four or five healthy looking specimens who were catching things from the stream. The walk up the hill took us about five minutes and it was quite hard going at times, although Olivia managed to make it on her toddler legs. The Tierpark is not particularly accessible to disabled or elderly visitors as both entrances have large hills to climb, with quite uneven paths.
At the top of the hill is the deer area, although we only saw two or three sad looking bucks wandering around…not enough to distract us from our main goal and we walked through the gate to the zoo. Outside the entrance is a shallow pool, home to a few ducks and a flock of flamingos who were lazily moving around. Only a knee-high wire fence separates the pond from the path so its worth keeping a good eye on younger children at this point. On the up-side you can get really close to the flamingos, close enough to see that the pond is incredibly dirty and not that large. Opposite the flamingo cages were a few smallish enclosures containing certain game birds, although they must have been well disguised as we only managed to locate the ptarmigan!
There is one small entrance desk and there were no queues when we arrived, even though it was a hot Saturday and there were lots of people wandering around outside. The cost for four adults and one child was 32 CHF altogether (about £13.50), so quite a cheap afternoons entertainment. After the desk is a largish area with a drinks machine, toilets and activity sheets for children. There are also two cages with small monkeys in (and a couple of seats so you can sit and watch them), something that took us ages to drag Olivia away from! Parrots apparently (we didn’t see them) live in one of the cages to the right, with some sort of desert birds pecking around in the sand. All these cages didn’t strike me as being quite large enough for the animals inside and this proved to be the case throughout the rest of the zoo.
Once we had looked at these exhibits we were confused about where to go next. Signing seems to be an alien concept in the Tierpark and we were unable to work out where to go next. The only maps were extremely abstract with no paths marked, just the major animals and coloured coded areas indicating which animals were in the free bits outside and which in the paying areas. Its worth paying attention to this as we almost left the paying bit of the zoo several times by mistake and would have had to have paid to get back in again, had we chosen to.
The rest of the main building is given over to lizards, snakes and tropical fish and we wandered around this area for half an hour or so. The lizards and snakes are kept in temperature controlled environments, so be careful where you stand or you may be spritzed by one of the sprays that keep the air humid. Lots of the animals were difficult to find in their environments and we spent most of our time peering in and attempting to guess which immobile brown thing was a lizard or a stick. The desert lizards and toads were easier to spot and my daughter loved them. Every now and then there were boxes on the walls offering a quiz question and buttons to press, I believe they were in English, German and French but we were being driven hard by our toddler and did not have time to examine anything that didn’t meet her exacting standards.
The tropical fish were well presented, a range of colours and shapes in tanks also inhabited by strange sea plants and animals; the best area in the zoo I would say. Opposite their area was a cut away area looking into the seal tank, but the seals were too busy showing off themselves and their new baby at the surface for the other holiday makers. The seal feeding (seehund on the signs) happens twice a day at 10am and 3pm and I have been told that the view into the tank is much more interesting then. The tank was quite small again and the bottom quite boring, there didn’t seem to be much to stimulate the seals and they were quite listless and lethargic overall.
We left the vivarium and headed outside to the main bit of the zoo, to see the seals from above. There was even less to stimulate the seals above, except for the tourists of course and we turned away to investigate the terrapin pool, at which point a couple of moose hoved into view! My mum expressed a interest in seeing the leopard so we headed off in that direction and after a very short walk discovered another enclosure that while spacious, looked too small for the leopard in question who was so uninterested that he was asleep under a rock! Disappointed we followed our noses and found the Humbolt penguins whose enclosure was certainly the most aromatic! Only a small wall separated the penguins from the general public, something that surprised me as they looked a little stressed by the proximity of all the people. They had nowhere to escape as their enclosure was surrounded on three sides by path and the fourth was a large rock.
At this point we got well and truly confused and started off on the path to the exit until we spotted a picture of a bear on one of the abstract maps, in the direction we had come from. We took the path to the bears and passed several more depressing cages, this time holding larger birds such as eagles, owls and vultures. In the interests of the visitors the cages had been made small enough that you could see them at all times, but the birds obviously had nowhere large enough to be able to get into the air and were restricted to merely hopping around. There was a large adventure playground opposite but it was obviously designed for and occupied by older children so we didn’t get too close.
The bear cages are at the end of the path and we first walked past a bare (excuse the pun) concrete enclosure which at first seemed empty. On a second glance there was a very unhappy bear leaning against the glass at the end, looking longingly at the other bear in its slightly more salubrious enclosure. This enclosure had a pool as well as plenty of grass and trees, with a cut away area so when the bear got in the pool you could see him swimming. Initially we found the bear swimming fascinating, a strange sort of doggy paddle that seemed at odds with his huge hairy shape. As we watched longer we saw the bear get out, pace three times up and down by the pool and then jump in, swim around before returning to his pacing. At this point we left and headed for the exit, passing a very sad looking water buffalo in a tiny enclosure and with only a filthy stream for water. Ironically as we left we passed plans for the zoo’s future makeover and a charity appeal to improve the water buffalo’s area. Hmmmm.
Once back down the hill we visited the free petting zoo, a much more enjoyable experience with pigs, donkeys and llamas to investigate, rabbits in hutches and a small area for goats. The goat enclosure has two ladders so you can climb over the fence and get in (not for ladies in skirts!) to pet the goats. They are very friendly little creatures and my daughter loves this bit the best. By far the best bit of the zoo and popular with both adult and child visitors, not least because it is free. Also in the petting zoo is a tiny little shop selling zoo related merchandise, but certainly not on the scale we see in the UK! We came away with a large floor puzzle which cost us 15 CHF (about £6), so not too over-priced either.
Overall we were left pretty unimpressed by the Tierpark. As a day out it is very cheap, especially if you bring your own food and drink and stick to the free areas. The paying areas of the zoo left us a little unhappy about the conditions that the animals were kept in, most obviously the lack of space, but it was a nice opportunity to show my daughter lots of different types of animals. The vivarium was pretty good and you could easily spend an hour in there alone, but lack of maps made the experience somewhat frustrating. If you are in Berne, especially with children, it is a child friendly way to spend a morning or afternoon but don’t expect great things.
The Tierpark is open daily: April–Sept 8am–6.30pm, Oct–March 9am–5pm
Städtischer Tierpark Dählhölzli
Summary: Not brilliant