Stuttgart: A Day at Wilhelma

Community Highlights Europe Stuttgart: A Day at Wilhelma

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Stuttgart is the proud capital of Baden-Württemberg and locals think it is the greatest thing on Earth. Non-locals are a bit more critical. World War II has spared one single small street of the old town, which is off the beaten path and looks rather run down now. The two palaces, the arcades on Königsplatz and the main church have been rebuilt, the rest of the city centre is almost entirely post-war, so please don't expect too much old-world flair. The city is great for shopping. Stuttgart is on the list of any car freak because of Daimler-Benz and Porsche. There are some good art museums and cultural life as befits a city of half a million inhabitants.

I have to admit that I am not a fan of Stuttgart. Not only because I live in Karlsruhe - these two cities have been rivals for long, even more so since Baden and Württemberg had to unite into one federal state in 1952. The Swabian dialect is, well, particular, and so is Swabian mentality.

There is one place in Stuttgart, though, that I really love: the Wilhelma! The vast grounds include the historical park with its buildings in moorish style, the zoo, and the botanical gardens and greenhouses.

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„The Wilhelma“ is widely known as the zoo of Stuttgart, but it is more than just the zoo. The vast grounds began their career in the mid-19th century. King Wilhelm I of Württemberg had himself a park designed. The buildings in the gardens show the then fashionable „moorish“ style. After 1880 the park was opened to the public and became Stuttgart's botanical garden; the historical greenhouses give testimony of those times. Only in the 1950s the first animals arrived, and the Wilhelma became Germany's only zoological-botanical garden.

In other words, there is a lot to see. The Wilhelma kept me busy for the entire day. There are the greenhouses with their displays of plants, the Moorish Garden, the outdoor gardens. There is the zoo with all kinds of animals that are a „must-have“ for a zoo of international standards, the aquarium, the Amazonas house, the butterfly house, the farm with endangered old races of domestic animals, the upbringing station for orphaned youngsters, and so on.

Prepare for a lot of walking. A round tour is marked that takes you everywhere, but keep your eyes open, the signposts and hence the route are easily missed. This main route is entirely without steps (side paths have stairs, though) and suitable for wheelchairs and prams, but make sure you have a powerful „horse“ to push, as the terrain is hilly with ups and downs and long distances.

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The Moorish Garden

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The Moorish Garden (Maurischer Garten) is the core of the historical gardens, designed for King Wilhelm I of Württemberg around 1850. The „moorish“ style was popular in those times, its model were the buildings from the Arab era in the South of Spain, in this case the Alhambra in Granada (the Wilhelma gardens were known as the „Alhambra of Stuttgart“). The garden is entirely surrounded by arcades and pavillons and accessible through a number of gates. The Northern side towards the hill is occupied by the long row of the tropical greenhouses. The southern wing which contained the moorish festival hall has been destroyed in the war and substituted by the modern aquarium and the crocodile house.

The most beautiful season to visit the Moorish Garden is a certain phase in spring when the magnolia trees are in bloom. The end of March and the first half of April is probably best - each year is different, so it is hard to fix a date. Magnolia blossoms are sensitive to freezing temperatures, so their beauty may quickly be ruined by a frosty night. My photos were taken in mid-April, a bit too late: the petals were already falling, but I got an idea what the garden would have looked like in full splendour.

Autumn colours are also beautiful. This series was taken in mid-October:

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The middle of the Moorish garden is occupied by a round basin which hosts a large collection of nymphaeas from all over the globe - they say, the largest collection in the world, but well, in Stuttgart they love superlatives...

The basin is most beautiful in summer and early autumn. The flowers come in various shapes and colours from white to pink, purple and blue.

These photos were taken in October, there were still many nymphaeas in bloom then. The lotus flowers already showed their characteristic fruit, as shown in the last photo. This shape is well known from Egyptian art.

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The Zoo

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Who is watching whom?

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Since the arrival of the first animals in the 1950s the zoo branch of the Wilhelma has been growing and thriving. They have all the usual specieses of animals a big zoo 'must' have, and also some rarities. Wilhelma is amodern scientific zoo run according to international standards and participating in worldwide breeding and conservation programmes.

A number of modern, roomy animal houses and wide outdoor enclosures have been built in recent years. Donations from companies and private hand have enabled the zoo to expand and modernize - you can tell that there is a lot of money in Stuttgart.

One of the finest recent acquisitions is perhaps the rocky landscape for bears, ibexes, mountain goats, beavers etc.

A focus in the collection seems to be on birds, I especially liked the large halls where they can fly freely and you walk among them.

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The new ape house has been opened in 2013. Bonobos and gorillas now have a roomy home where they live in family structures. I am not so sure how well I like the matter-of-fact modernist design of the interior with concrete, steel bars and ropes instead of wood and trees, though.

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Happy foster mum

Wilhelma is known for their hand-raising of ape babies, in particular gorillas. If ever possible, the littlies stay with their mothers in the group, of course. However, babies that are orphaned or rejected by their mothers must be taken care of by zookeepers. They also take in such babies from other zoos. Usually two or three youngsters of similar age are kept together. A part of the ape house is their “kindergarten”. You can watch them playing together and the zookeepers interacting with them, feeding, playing, cuddling.
Cuteness alert!

A construction site will soon make one of the „dark spots“ obsolete: the narrow old house for pachyderms. Currently the two elderly elephant ladies Zella and Parna inhabit a narrow post-war building, but the problem is being solved: Very soon they will be enjoying themselves in a much bigger home with fine outdoor areas that have been designed to meet the needs of senior elephants. The hippopotamuses and rhinos, currently also kept in not-so-pretty housing, are going to move, too.

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Watching Wildlife

Let me start with a quote from the Wilhelma website:

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Wilhelma is also held in high esteem as living quarters by wild animals that do not belong to the fixed stock of the zoo. Fox and hare meet up on the meadows in the night; during the daytime visitors notice above all the many birds: grey heron and storks are permanent guests at Wilhelma. Sometimes swans land on the ponds, mallard ducks are always there. Special visitors are green-legged moorhens, nuthatches, woodpeckers, tree-creepers and kingfishers. And the famous yellow-headed amazons are always appearing with a good deal of screeching in the trees at Wilhelma. Our visitors enjoy the lively activities of the „ordinary“ blackbirds, titmice and sparrows all over the park. Even squirrels, white weasels, martens and hedgehogs have found their paradise at Wilhelma, which supplies them with food and lodgings in the best of city locations.
Source of quote: http://www.wilhelma.de/en/animals-and-plants/animal-zoo-visitors.html

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The areas outside the cages and enclosures are buzzing with animal life, too. Keep your eyes open and there may be some surprising encounters. Good thing is that these wild animals who visit the zoo regularly are used to human visitors pointing cameras at them. You'll get a little closer to them than under normal wildlife circumstances, so take the chance for a snapshot. I am showing my best pictures here. All these are wild animals who move freely in and out of the zoo grounds, except the peacock who is a zoo inhabitant but also free to move all over the grounds.

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My favourite catch is the photo of the squirrel. It was sitting in a bush by the path and so busy nibbling on a nut that it let me approach to less than one metre of distance, my head and camera immersed in the branches of the same bush.

Insektarium and Butterfly Hall

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A favourite of mine is the butterfly hall, which is a greenhouse with tropical plants where the butterflies fly around and you walk among them. Big colourful tropical butterflies in many different specieses.

You can watch them feeding on flowers and assembling on the fruit plate, resting on leaves, flapping their wings. Flying foxes share the hall with the butterflies.

A good zoom helps if you want to take photos. Humidity is high inside the house, so the pictures may turn out rather „foggy“ at first until the camera has acclimatized.

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Pupae are displayed in a glass showcase so you can watch the butterflies hatch. When they are ready to fly they will then be released into the big hall.

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The butterfly hall is part of the Insektarium house that presents various genera of insects and also centipedes, spiders, scorpions and other arthropods. If you have a dislike for certain kinds of these creatures, better not look into all the showcases...

The most fascinating ones were, to me, the locusts in weirdest shapes, walking sticks and walking leaves – sorry no photo because of bad light conditions.

The Farm

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The „Demonstration Farm“ (Schaubauernhof) presents domestic animals and their wild ancestors: goats, pigs, horses, chickens, donkeys, sheep, rabbits, cows... quite interesting to compare the results of domestic breeding to the origin. A small exhibition in one of the stable buildings explains the development and changes from wild to domestic.

The domestic animals mostly belong to old races which have become rare with today's industrial farming and are on the brink of extinction. The zoo participates in breeding programmes to preserve these races and the genetic material. I especially loved the pigs: the race, Schwäbisch-Hällisches Schwein, named after the town of Schwäbisch Hall, is local and originates in Württemberg. These are pretty pigs with black heads and bums and whiteish-pink in between. One sow had a litter of ten and the piglets surely caused 'action'.

It is not a working farm, of course, but designed in the shape of farm buildings. Part of it is the children's zoo, where you can enter the enclosures and meet sheep and goats. These, and only these, may even be fed, but only the special food from the distributor for 50 cents a box.
The farm is located at the very back of the zoo grounds on the hilltop, a long way from the entrance and the historical gardens, but it is worth walking all the way up.

The „show farm“ is a popular attraction with visitors. Nevertheless there are currently (2017) plans to close and remove it. A new home for the elephants is to be built in its place. They want to build up a large breeding herd then. The current elephant house is pathetic and a change is necessary. The Wilhelma has no room to expand, that’s also obvious. Exotic animals are given preference over domestic specieses. But it would be a pity not to have these cute and interesting creatures any more. Decisions are not yet final, let‘s see.

Practical Hints:

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Pavillon at the main entrance

The gardens and zoo are open every single day of the year. Check the up to date opening hours and entrance fees on the website, as well as current events, the latest births, etcetera. One ticket is valid for each and every attraction in the park.
Website: http://www.wilhelma.de
Opening hours: Cash desk at the main entrance daily 8.15 a.m. – 5.30 p.m.
Entrance fees: Please consult the Wilhelma website for the different tickets and tariffs.
Getting there by public transport: underground line U14. The stop “Wilhelma” is located right outside the main entrance. From the city centre and the central station, it takes you there in a few minutes.

This featured blog entry was written by Kathrin_E from the blog Day Trips Around Karlsruhe.
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By Kathrin_E

Posted Wed, Apr 26, 2017 | Germany | Comments