History of the Munich zoo

The origin of zoos in Munich goes back to the Bavarian dukes and electors. In 1770 elector Maximilian III. set up an enclosure for exotic animals within Nymphenburg park. This was of course only meant for the aristocrats and it was not very successful.

Around 1860 a Mr Benedict opened the first public zoo at Königinstraße close to the English Garden. Although it was very popular with the crowds it had to close again in 1865.

Another attempt to establish a zoo was undertaken in 1885 by the Association of Poultry Farming at the “right bank of the Isar” but also failed.

Oberstleutnant Hermann von Manz was more successful. In 1902 he found suitable grounds for establishing a zoological garden: The “Feßler grounds” that once housed the Lustschlösschen Hellabrunn. Their sheltered location made them perfect for the cause. In order to raise the necessary capital – at least half a million Deutsch Marks – he created the “Society of the Zoological Garden of Munich e.V.” in 1905.

The town granted him his request to place the land at his disposal for free and gave him a certificate of eligibility. On 11.11.1906 the land was made available to the society under the condition that they come up with the necessary capital for the development of a zoo within 5 years.

The elephant house
The elephant house

Opening of the first Munich Zoo Hellabrunn

On August 1st, 1911 the grand opening of the first Munich Zoo Hellabrunn finally took place.

It was first designed and planned by the architect Emanuel von Seidl. The elephant house was finished in 1914 and was one of the few heated houses. Until 1973 it was used to house animals sensitive to cold during the winter.

Although the zoo survived the hardship of the First World War it had to close again in 1922. All the animals and mobile fixtures were sold. Munich had lost one of its attractions.

In 1925 Kommerzienrat August Baumgartner founded a zoo committee within the „Hilfsbundes der Münchner Einwohnerschaft“ (~ Advocates for the inhabitants of Munich) in order to open a new zoo.

In 1928 the Munich Zoo opened its gates under the management of Heinz Heck. It was put on a solid financial basis with the foundation of the Munich Zoo Hellabrunn AG in 1929.

At the same time it was the first Geo-zoo worldwide. Until then the animals were shown according to their zoological taxonomy, for example all primates in one house and all predators in the carnivore house. Heinz Heck wanted to create open grounds like Hagenbeck, in which several animals native to one continent would be kept together.

Hence the animals were shown according to their geographical distribution in the continents of Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Australia. This educationally valuable concept stood the test of time and has often been copied.

Although the sale of the first stocks was not a huge success the zoo had collected enough money by 1930 to lease the land from the town of Munich for the next 30 years for 600 000 Reich mark.

In the following year Hellabrunn grew to become a zoo of international rank. The number of animals increased continuously and the breeding successes made the name Heck well known with in the scientific community as well as the public.

Especially the breeding back of the extinct Aurochs and Tarpan that Heinz Heck undertook with his brother Prof. Dr. Lutz Heck, Berlin Zoo, caused a stir. They cross breed several descendent breeds in order to “bring the extinct animals back to life”. This does not reverse extinction but it gives an impression what the original wild animal looked like.

Even then the problem of extinction had been recognised. Hellabrunn became world famous for the captive breeding of the Wisent and the Przewalski horse.

Przewalski horses
Przewalski horses

Another milestone was the opening of the ape house and the aquarium below in 1936.

But the Second World War laid all other plans to rest. Only a few hundred animals were left due to the enlistment of zoo specialists, bombed houses and stables and the scarcity of fodder.

After the Second World War
In 1945 Hellabrunn had to start all over for the third time. Through innovation and improvisation the management was able to reopen as the first German zoo after the war. The development between 1945 and 1967 was slow since hardly any public funds were available.

In 1967 and 1969 the Predator enclosures were renewed. In 1970 the board of directors requested a general extension plan that was put into practice from 1973 onwards by Dipl.-Ing. Jörg Gribl, who was still member of the architecture firm Peter Lanz at that time.

Fundamental changes were for example made by the grand redesign of the park area “Europe” that changed from an area of many small enclosures for different species of deer into a generous habitat for chamois and marmots.

A visionary building is the aviary build in 1981. It measures 18 meters in height and an area of 5.000 square meters that is covered by a fine mesh of stainless steel. Inside is an idyllic landscape with a small stream where the birds can fly around freely just like in the wild.


Help us protect our species and nature. If you are inspired by animals and nature, then join us in protecting the diversity of the animal kingdom. Our zoological garden is making an invaluable contribution to the conservation of flora and fauna of endangered habitats through various breeding programs and public awareness campaigns.

For more information about our Conservation Center click below.
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