Germany's only 'zoological-botanical' gardens, the Wilhelma Gardens in Stuttgart provide truly regal accommodation for their animals: the gardens, greenhouses and buildings in a Moorish style were built for King Wilhelm I of Württemberg in the middle of the 19th century, originally as a residence and for ceremonial occasions.
After sustaining damage during the Second World War, the gardens were rebuilt and animals were added to make the park more attractive to visitors. Today, the Wilhelma Gardens are one of the most popular Zoos in Germany with more than two million visitors a year.
It is difficult to decide which part of the 30 hectare grounds is the most beautiful. The bears and big cats exude a menacing charm, and the zoo also breeds great apes, who live near the jungle house, just past the giant water lilies. There, crocodiles lie in wait, and the thunder of the waterfall mingles with the calls of exotic birds. All this is set within the breathtakingly beautiful botanical gardens.
The zoo is famous for keeping all four kinds of great apes (bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas), all in families with offspring as well as for its aquarium featuring animals and plants from all over the world. The botanical gardens contain Europe's biggest magnolia grove. It was also the home of the polar bear Wilbär.
As is common in many German zoos, barriers between spectators and animals are minimal. The bird enclosures let visitor enter and wander among the birds in a landscaped environment.
There is an extensive insectarium on the grounds. There are many types of insects grown and kept live for the public to see, including African colored scarab beetles, among many others.
There are butterflies, spiders, millipedes, and several beetle species that are continually cultivated and kept living, by breeding generation after generation of the individual species of choice.
The main entrance to the park is open every day, even on major holidays, from 8:15 am until between 4:00pm and 6:00pm, depending on the month. Visitors must leave by nightfall, by 8:00pm at the latest. The park is located near public transport and parking is also available, the cost of which is determined by how long you stay.
Tickets for adults cost 11,40 euros per adults and 5,70 euros per each child. Family tickets are also available at 17,10 euros for one parent and his or her children or 28,50 euros for both parents with their children. Groups of fifteen or more can access discounted group rates.
Let me start with a quote from the Wilhelma website:
"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."
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.
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.
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 pibs: 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 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 - take your time. 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. I will write a series of individual tips about each of these attractions within the park.
Prepare for a lot of walking. A round tour is marked that takes you everywhere, but keep yur 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.
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.
A favourite of mine was 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 - a good zoom helps if you want to take photos. Humidity is high inside the house, so the pictures may turn out rather "foggy".
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.
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.
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 a 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.
Currently there is a huge construction site in the middle of the zoo which is going to be the new home for the primates. A second 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, currently also kept in not-so-pretty housing, are going to move, too.
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.
And now to Wilhelma Zoo.
The Zoo still has Animal's in cages, but this is changing. We could see they were making new enclosure's, where the Animal's could be viewed in safety without being in a cage.
I think there was quite a good range of Animal's including the usual Giraffe's, Elephant's, and other African and Asian Animal's. There were cold climate Animal's including Polar Bear, Syrian brown bears and some other Bear species, seals, mountain goats, Alpine Ibex, and more. These have individual enclosures with watercourses as natural barriers.
So, in closing, we had a wonderful time here.
I think you could easy spend a whole day here as there was so much to see and do, and it is quite a large area to walk around. There is the hill, step's or a pathway, so a little bit of energy is needed.
The Damascene Hall is another Moorish building. Generally closed to the public, it is only open from March to October during limited opening times. I wish it was open, but it wasn't, as I read you see ....
"precious ceiling paintings, stucco walls and marble of the chandelier," sounds like it is worth a visit.
In the back of the Damascene Hall is an exhibition on the history of Wilhelma, and outside is another Aviary with indigenous birds.
This historic building was used by Wilhelm I for pheasants and chickens, what a "grand" life they enjoyed!
This is the only historic building in the Wilhelma that was not bombed during the War, even so, it was restored in 1992.
Out the front of it, is rectangular Pond, which had White Pelican's and other water Bird's. At the end of the pond, the view was very nice looking towards the Damascene Hall.
Another lovely Moorish building I came across, was the Wilhelma Ballroom, built in 1851 as a venue for royal ceremonies, receptions and balls. Between the Moorish Villa and Moorish ballroom is the Moorish garden and walkway that join them together.
Of course, it isn't a Ballroom now, but in the Imperial day's of 1953,, King William I [Czar Alexander II] and the French Emperor [Napoleon III] were invited here for a reconciliation meeting.
The Ballroom was badly damaged in the War, with only a small part of the original facade able to be saved.
It is now the Aquarium with a good array of sea creature's. There are large display tanks and smaller aquarium's that hold the various kinds of Fish.
Some I saw were.....
Tropical fish like I see at home, one was sea water, and the other fresh water. The Tropical Fish are ever so pretty in colour, and I really never tire of viewing them! I found Piranha and electric Eel's in the freshwater Tropical, plus many other fish.
Fish were on display for the Amazon area and Native freshwater, where I saw some Fish that are found in the local area. Some of the fish in this display are on the endangered list, so good to see them here.
The Mediterranean had a mixture of giant Lobster, Mussels, and other Fish.
I think I liked the Terrarium the best, because here I saw some Shark's I hadn't seen before, [Horn Shark], and I love seeing rare creature's, and the poisonous /amphibian's. Some of these I hadn't seen before!
The Crocodiles are fed at 2pm daily, and they can viewed when being fed!
Another really good area of the Zoo!
Next, we head into the beautiful Moorish garden which is known as the heart of Wilhelma!
It was here, King Wilhelm I of Wurttemberg established his Swabian Alhambra.
The highlight of this area is in March or early April when the Magnolia's flower. As we were here in July, we didn't see them, but it still was beautiful!
In the center of the Moorish garden is the water lily pond which had huge Water Lilie's!
No wonder, some of them were the LARGEST WATER LILY IN THE WORLD [Victoria Amazonica], named after Queen Victoria. The water is heated to about 30°, especially for these lillies.
Can you believe, these large leaves can carry up to 70kgs!
Plenty other water lilies were flowering, plus Lotus flowers, and with Koi swimming around, it was a very pretty pond.
Around the edge, there were different animal sculpture's and plenty of seating. There were shady and sunny area's and I thought this was the prettiest part of the whole garden, it was lovely!
The Moorish Villa is the former summer residence of King Wilhelm I of Wurttemberg.
It is situated in a high position, where the views are fabulous! The garden surrounding it was so bright and colourful in July.
Either side of the Villa, is the Greenhouse which is full of Tropical plant's. Inside the Greenhouse is a spectacular plant known as "La Diva". The Plant is found in Sumatra, and if you are lucky, you will see one of the largest and most spectacular flower's you can ever see. The tubers of this plant weigh over 75 kilo's.
The tuber of the Wilhelma specimen weighed 40 kilograms and flowered in October 2005 for the first time.
I wasn't lucky, I wish I was. See the website for photo's of what one looks like.
Walking around the historic Greenhouse in the previous tip, I suddenly found myself amongst Bird Cage's.
This turned out to be the "Small Mammal and Bird House."
I thought they had a great display of Bird's including exotic's and beautifully coloured and unusual Bird's from many different Countries.
Mammal's were here too. I saw the slow moving Sloth, short-eared elephant-shrews, rare Cuban tree rats, mustachioed viscachas, Gundis, a bristle hedgehog from Madagascar and Chinchilla's. We have a town named Chinchilla in Australia, but no animal Chinchilla's!
In the next section there are small mammals including mouse lemurs from Madagascar, Australian flying squirrel, Bat's and many others. Some of the nocturnal aquatic animal's were Surinam toads, glowing fish and the Chinese giant salamander.
There were quite a few Animal's and Bird's that I had never seen before. I really enjoyed this area!
The Sub-Tropic's section of the garden was just down the steps from the "Belvedere.'
This would be another favorite of mine!
It is a terraced area, that was rebuilt from 1843 to 1853. I guess what grabbed my attention first, were the three large animal sculpture's that were on one terrace. I loved them, and I loved the way it was terraced, and the many Fountains, lovely sandstone walls covered with ivy and Virginia creeper and the thin, tall cypresses just like in Italy.
There were plants galore, I believe 400 from southern area's that were thriving in this location. This is a very sunny area, and also protected from the wind, making it ideal for plants that otherwise have problems surviving outside in the winter, they can grow Seville Orange's here!
From the end of May until October there are also 450 potted plants placed along the Terrace's.
Now, not only plants, but in amongst all of this were many aviaries with many types of colourful Parrot's and exotic Bird's from Tropical countries around the World. There are more than 20 aviaries with parrots, even some Squirrel monkey's, coming from Africa, America and Australia.
Another area not to be missed in this Garden/Zoo!
After parking our Car, we then walked towards the Main entrance located along the Neckartalstrasse.
I was impressed before we even enter Wihelma!
Well, there was this long wall of Terracotta tiles, that really looked nice, but even more so, because infront was a very nice manicured lawn and garden. Unfortunately, the first wall which was painted with figures and animals suffered moisture damage, and in 1856 was replaced by relief-like terracotta tiles.
Then I saw my first Moorish building, which happened to be the Admission Booth. This Pavilion dates back to 1843, when the then King wanted a covered way to the Wilhelma Theatre, but also a Pavilon built along the way to overlook the Neckar River. His wish is what we see today being used as an Admission booth.
We will now buy our admission ticket and begin our tour