Monday, May 14, 2007

1 May: Spring at the Wilhelma

Last week Evelyne invited John and me to accompany her and Oda to the Wilhelma, Stuttgart’s historic zoo and botanic gardens. This seemed an appropriate way to celebrate the 1st of May, which dawned, like every day for the past four weeks, sunny and balmy. We picked up Evelyne and Oda (we were a few minutes late so they had already walked nearly all the way down their street) and headed downtown. The Wilhelma is located at the end of the long greenbelt that stretches north from the Schlossgarten for several kilometers. Evelyne guided us to the parking garage (although the zoo is fairly well-marked from downtown – you just follow the elephant signs), we bought our entrance tickets (11,40 Euro per person), and headed into the sprawling complex of Moorish-style greenhouses, landscaped gardens, and animal exhibits.

The Wilhelma was constructed around 1850 for King Wilhelm I of Württemberg as a summerhouse and gardens. It was not until after the destruction of the old palace during World War II that the site was turned into a zoo and botantical garden. Some 8,000 animals of nearly 1,000 species now make the Wilhelma their home, along with a plant collection of over 6,000 species. Some of the plant specimens date to the Wilhelma’s earliest days, making them well over 150 years old.

At Evelyne’s insistence we headed first to the world-renowned monkey house, where they have an “ape kindergarten” of sorts, and watched four young gorillas playing with their keeper. Next we walked through the aquarium, which includes habitats ranging from a Black Forest stream to a South Sea coral reef. I took pictures of German trout for my fishing friends back in the States. We saw the albino crocodile and then went through the reptile house, which has a fascinating collection of snakes, lizards, and frogs. Just before 11:00 we walked back to the Seelöwen display to watch the feeding of the zoo’s five or six California Sea Lions, one of which is named Mercedes. They did some fun tricks – singing, shaking hands, kissing, and jumping – to the amusement of the very enthusiastic crowd. Next we wandered through the Amazonianhaus, which is a huge greenhouse sheltering tropical plants, monkeys, and free-flying birds. We also visited the butterfly house and the insect house, which had some rather disturbing displays of creepy-crawlies.

We strolled past more monkeys and bears on our way to the upper terraces, where we saw most of the common African animals. It was quite depressing to see them in a zoo after our safari experience. They looked very bored, and many were pacing back and forth in their enclosures. The polar bears were also pacing, and there were signs warning that they occasionally throw their “toys” (plastic traffic cones) at spectators.

We walked through some of the gardens on our way to the cafeteria – a self-serve place where we bought maultaschen and currywurst (a rather odd German dish consisting of sausage smothered in red chili sauce and paprika, usually accompanied by a healthy portion of french fries). We sat outside in the sun to eat our lunch, enjoying the beautiful weather – sunny but not too hot. Next we visited Oda’s favorite animals, the penguins, and then toured the expansive greenhouses, which include impressive collections of azaleas, magnolias, orchirds, succulents, and tropical species. The azaleas were in full bloom and were spectacular. It was nearing 3:00 by this time and we all decided we were pretty beat (I think John’s patience ran out after the first greenhouse!). Oda had done very well considering she had major knee surgery less than a month ago. We stopped for ice cream bars on our way out and then headed back to the car.

Evelyne invited us in for coffee when we got back but we had to decline since Cody needed his evening walk. (It’s a good thing too – with the way Evelyne and Oda talk, we would never have made it home before dark!) Oda asked John if he might be able to help her with a computer art assignment, so we picked her up on the way back from our walk. To make a long story short, Oda had constructed a snail out of a matchbox, wire, and string and now wanted to superimpose a photo of the snail onto various pictures she had gotten off the web, including the Eiffel Tower and an iceberg. Her freebie software program wasn’t working for her, so John showed her how to do it in Photoshop. Actually, to be perfectly honest, John did it for her, but I don’t think anyone will know. Oda was ecstatic!

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