Ask me what I’ll miss most about living in Germany and I’ll fumble around for a while – there are a few things – but ask me what I’ll miss about living in Erlangen, that is, living this close to Nürnberg, and I’ll tell you right away…
Zoo! I love zoos and always have done; I don’t know many people that don’t like them but there are not very many adults who love them quite as much as I do. There will always be something magical about zoos, they will always be portals to another part of the world, or to other smaller worlds that we just wouldn’t find otherwise. They are wonderful, laughter-filled pockets of the world with endless spectrum for fascination- I think it has to do with the fairy dust that constantly rains from the sky above them.
That’s zoos in general; I love being outside, drifting around and through nature in a very relaxed, disconnected from the everyday, kind of way. Nürnberg is a particularly good example of one of these fascination pockets though. It’s quite big, I find it hard to say how big because you wander through it in a very easy manner, it seems pretty endless, blending with the natural incline and decline of the land, playing with the rocks, using the exact shape nature has given the space in a very unspoilt way. It has a large selection of animal magic on display too with the classics like several ape varieties, giraffes, zebras, a large open bird space and, of course, the big cats. But it has some less expected new friends too. For me the highlight is the Aquapark; despite having no aquarium Nürnberg has a dolphin pool, a boisterous collection of sea lions and manatees (yes manatees!). These great, majestic living rocks drift benignly around in their tank, peacefully, thoughtfully chomping their way through kale; the hippies of the animal kingdom. They can be viewed from a walk-through jungle that looks down into their pool, butterflies flitting about between gentle, misty (artificial) downpours and a few quieter inhabitants relaxing on sturdier branches. They can also be pondered from below in the indoor tank viewing space. Here you can also find, besides piles and piles of excited children, and weary parents, taking advantage of the indoor seating, the dolphins and sea lions, gliding at a faster pace in the tank opposite. I am always in two minds about animal ‘shows’ because I hate feeling like they are being exploited for our enjoyment but in the case of the dolphin ‘shows’ at Nürnberg they are very low key, tasteful and well explained, all the toys that the animals play with are – just that – toys. I love seeing the dolphins so close, their whole bodies, pure muscle mass, propelling themselves around at amazing speeds and angles. If you go later in the evening the rows of seats are deserted and you can wonder down, almost to the pool side, and gaze at your leisure.
Some days you go to the zoo and you know it’s your lucky day, like there’s a scent, untraceable to humans, wafting around the enclosures, bringing everything out play. This weekend felt like one of those days. We really spent the whole day in the zoo, but it ensures you catch those magical evening hours when the sleepier beasts like to wake up. We saw an extremely active tiger, a lion pair, a lynx – so close you could hear it breathing, it was magical – red pandas and even the snow leopard. I call that a fantastic zoo haul. Aside from the ‘big players’ there are definitely some quirky beasts here, the meerkats are adorable, the ground hogs are endlessly amusing and the enormous Sea Eagles, tucked away at the top of the hill, are definitely a must-see. The collection of large birds is rather impressive, and tends to be overlooked in a zoo, but these are active, happy seeming birds and it’s awe inspiring to see them when they’re walking at ground level. I’m almost confused by their size to grace ratio.
The large natural lake reiterates the general aura of calm around the zoo, and you feel as though the zoo really belongs in its environment, it’s comfortable, with pelicans and herons flying on and off the water- to sunbathe in trees just behind the polar bears or on the seal island. The little burrowing rodents, I forget whether they are a type of rat but they belong in the Savannah section of the zoo, also seem to be able to leave their cages – whether this is a design feature or not – this adds to the magic too, if you spot small gerbil-like creatures scuttling between the cages and making the most of the grassy space by the picnic spaces.
I could rave about Nürnberg Tiergarten all day like it were a new brand of chocolate but I think I’ll leave my fondness there. The thing that sold this zoo, more than so many others I’ve visited, is the blend between the natural and the magic, the way several worlds snuggle together quite comfortably in this one little enclave, sheltered by the ancient, gentle woodland.