Travel Tuesday: Pfaueninsel (“Peacock Island”)

Near southwest Berlin in the River Havel is a strange little island known as the Pfaueninsel (“Peacock Island”). As the name implies, this island is in fact home to a flock of wild peacocks – and these birds have been here for centuries!

© dpa / picture alliance

If you visit the island today, you’ll find yourself surrounded by greenery, abandoned buildings, peacocks and even an old castle.

To understand why, let’s take a look at the island’s history.

The 243 acre island was used for the first time in the 17th century, when William I of Brandenburg established a rabbit farm on the land. As a result, the island was called Kaninchenwerder (“Rabbit Island”).

© dpa / picture alliance

In 1793, Prussian king Frederick William II decided to use the island to build a castle for himself and his favorite mistress. This was primarily used as a summer residence.

The king’s successor and son, Frederick William III, had other ideas for the island. He turned it into a farm with grottos and aviaries and had exotic animals brought to the island, including alligators, kangaroos, buffalos, chameleons, monkeys, wolves, bears and (of course) peacocks. Over 900 animals of 100 species were brought to live on the island. The king then opened this exotic zoo up to the public.

Many people flocked to the island to see the exotic creatures, leading to overcrowding and chaos. Those responsible for the animals had to find a solution – the island simply wasn’t big enough to accommodate all those visitors.

In 1842, the animals were transferred to a location in Berlin (minus a few peacocks), which opened its gates in 1844. This became known as the “Berlin Zoo” and was the first zoo of its kind in Germany.

Meanwhile, the island went through a series of transitions and uses. Today, however, it remains home to free-ranging peacocks and exotic birds and is a designated nature reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Frederick William II’s castle still stands on the island, and visitors can take a ferry over to see it.

Sven Marx Cycles Around the World

For the many of us here who bike to work, even a half hour ride can wind us enough to consider purchasing an E-bike. So when we found out we’d be visited by a German cyclist who is making his way around the WORLD, we stood in awe and had a plethora of questions ready to throw at him.

DCM Boris Ruge with cyclist Sven Marx outside of the German Embassy.

Who is this mystery cycling? His name is Sven Marx and he is someone to follow—we suggest on social media rather than on a bike. About ten years ago, Sven found out he had a 1 cm large tumor of the brain stem. After having it partially removed, he was left with double vision which throws of his balance. Within the same span of time, he was also diagnosed with skin cancer. Obviously, both balance and exposure to the sun are major parts of being on a bicycle. Sven promised himself, however, that if he survived to his 50th birthday with two life-threatening diagnoses, he would hit the road on a trip around the world.

Since rolling out on April 23rd, 2017, he has visited 5 continents, 41 countries, stopped in 27 capitals, and cycled over 43,500 miles! He even made a stop to visit the pope! He often sleeps in a tent overnight and carries everything on his bike—clothes, food, equipment, everything. His bike, in fact, weighs a whopping 132 pounds.

Sven consumes at least 10 chocolate bars a day to intake enough calories.

He said he can’t keep count of his calories intake when he is riding so many miles per day but that his diet consists of a lot of sugar and salt to keep his body energized—including “at least ten chocolate bars a day”.

Sven’s mission is to use his trip to raise awareness for and start a conversation about reducing barriers for those with disabilities. Under the motto “Inclusion Requires Action” he hopes his cycling the world will showcase that disabilities should not hold anyone back from reaching for their dreams and that anything is possible if we ensure access for everyone.
During his stop at the German Embassy, Sven shared a hot coffee with our Deputy Chief of Mission Boris Ruge and took a well-deserved break inside to explain his mission and experiences. He told us that the most important aspect to completing such a long journey by bike is staying calm and avoiding allowing your heart to race. So in the end it was the diplomats who were out of breath– with excitement, compared to the heroic cyclist!

Follow Sven’s journey on his blog (in German) at sven-globetrotter.com.

By Claire MacFarlane, German Embassy

Travel Tuesday: Berlin’s AquaDom

The largest cylindrical fish tank in the world is located nowhere near the ocean. This giant aquarium can actually be found in a hotel lobby in Berlin – and it’s quite a sight to see!

The 82 ft tall AquaDom at the Radisson Blue Hotel in Berlin is home to nearly 2,600 fish of 56 different species. About  264,172 gallons of water fill the cylindrical tank in the hotel lobby.

The aquarium was constructed in 2004 at a cost of 13 million Euros. And upkeep is not cheap: back when the tank had only 1,500 fish, they required 18 lbs of fish food per day – and this number has surely risen.

In order to get a better 360 view of the fish in the AquaDom, visitors can take a transparent elevator up through the inside of the tank!

© dpa / picture alliance

The Aquadom contains a number of creatures, including eagle rays, catfish and shark. Divers enter the tank several times a day to feed the variety of marine life.

There’s no need to travel to the German coast to see marine life – a visit to this Berlin hotel will leave you amazed!

© dpa / picture alliance

Travel Tuesday: Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe

Europe’s largest hillside park is located in Germany – and it happens to be an UNESCO World Heritage site, as well! Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe is a Baroque “mountain park” west of the city center in Kassel, Germany.

Built in 1696, the large park is laid out in a Baroque style with beautiful gardens and architecture. The most interesting feature, however, is its waterworks. About 92,000 gallons of water flow through the park, connecting to reservoirs and channels. The waterworks begin at the top of a hill and flow down to the Grand Fountain, which shoots the water 164 feet into the air.

The waterworks are a sight in and of themselves, but the park also features old architecture, a giant Hercules memorial, faux ruins, a Roman aqueduct and a Chinese pagoda. One of its most picturesque attractions is the Löwenburg Castle, erected by landgrave Wilhelm IX at the end of the 18th century.

The best part about visiting Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe: there’s no entrance fee to get into the park itself! It’s a great spot for those summer picnics we’re so eagerly anticipating right now!