The human zoo

Animals and humans displayed together in the so called "ethnological exhibitions".
Animals and humans displayed together in the so called "ethnological exhibitions".

Carl Hagenbeck`s exotic shows

Carl Hagenbeck was born on June 10, 1844. His father was a fishmonger who ran a side business buying, showing and selling exotic animals. When Carl was 14, his father gave him some seals and a polar bear. With a good sense for exotic animals and for business Carl got the idea to present them as an attraction to viewers for an entrance fee. And so the foundation for his own zoo was laid.

But before he opened his own zoo, Carl left his home in Hamburg to accompany hunters and explorers on trips to jungle regions and snow-clad mountains in order to catch wild animals. He soon took over the organization of the hunts and made it global. He captured animals in nearly every continent in the world and began to exhibit them as part of his exotic shows in all the large cities of Europe and the United States. His collection included large animals and reptiles and many of them were trained by him to do tricks.

The human zoo

Not only animals were part of Carl Hagenbeck`s shows. In the mid-70s he introduced to the public some sort of "human zoo". People of Sami, Nubians, Inuits, Somalis, East Indians and other representatives of distant countries, had to stage their everyday life and their cultures. This "ethnological exhibitions" became so successful that they toured all over Europe as musicians and bands do today. One of the reasons for its success was the fact that Hagenbeck knew how to stage the expositions perfectly. Sami people appeared together with reindeer; Egyptians rode on camels in front of pyramids made of paper mache; Tierra del Fuego natives were shown in huts and wore bones as hair accessories, etc.

Although Hagenbeck achieved enormous international success with his performances, even at that time the idea of the human zoo was quite controversial and received some criticism. The "actors" of the human zoos were extremely low paid and they were often confronted with false promises concerning their stay in Germany. They had to work on a busy schedule that included several performances from morning to evening. The constant changes of location and the poor working conditions posed a considerable health risk for many newcomers. In 1880, for example, an Inuit family died of smallpox because they had not been vaccinated. A group of Sioux Indians also died, of consumption, measles and pneumonia.

Pioneer of the modern zoo

Despite his great success, Carl still had one unfulfilled dream - to open a permanent exhibit where animals could live in surroundings similar to their natural habitats. So he started planning his revolutionary modern zoo and even filed a patent for it.

Finally, on May 7, 1907, he founded Germany’s most successful privately owned zoo - The Tierpark Hagenbeck. The zoo was (and still is) located just outside Hamburg and it was a sensation from the start. A park with animals that, so it seemed at least, could live in the wild. With no bars and no high fences. The enclosures were modeled after nature and secured by invisible ditches, making it safe for visitors to observe the animals up close.

The drastic transformation of the zoo architecture initiated by Carl is known today as the Hagenbeck revolution and Carl became famous as one of the most successful animal traders and zoo directors in the world. The Tierpark Hagenbeck remains firmly in the hands of Carl`s family, even after more than 110 years, and still retains the family name. 

The stolen lion

Carl Hagenbeck died on April 14, 1913, in Hamburg from a snake bite. He was buried in Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg (Germany) in a family grave, which was adorned with a very special statue - a life-size bronze lion that guarded his grave for more than 100 years. But it was not just any lion. It was a depiction of Carl`s favorite lion named Trieste. A special, almost friendly bond was formed between them after the animal supposedly saved Carl`s life when he was walking through the zoo enclosure and was attacked by other big cats.

Unfortunately, in 2014, this 100.000 EUR worth piece of art was stolen from the cemetery. The Hagenbeck family was shocked and sad about the loss of this one of a kind statue that had many memories attached to it. In addition, just a year before, the bronze gate of the family grave was also stolen. It was later substituted by a stainless steel replica, but lion Trieste, however, is irreplaceable.

Guardians of graves

One one side, the statue of lion Trieste is a typical example of a professional symbol, which reveals the profession and life of the deceased. On the other side, this lion was a friend and savior of Carl Hagenbeck and as such was chosen "to guard" his grave.

Although angels and other religious symbols are mostly seen as guardians of graves in European cemeteries, animals can also be found among them. Do you know any interesting grave with a statue or a picture of an animal on it? We wonder which animals are most often depicted on graves and what are the stories behind them. If you know any, contact us and let us know!

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