Beyond History Blog

Hagenbeck - a long-term institution in Hamburg - Part 1

Andrea Bentschneider - 06. July 2016 - General, Hamburg, Historical Documents, Historical Events

There is a song well-known in Hamburg called "Geh'n wir mal zu Hagenbeck...." ["Let's go to Hagenbeck..."] and when somebody sings it everyone knows it's about a visit to the zoo. It must be remarked though that Hagenbeck is an animal park strictly speaking: the enclosures are embedded in a park with artificial lakes and mountains and also the concept of laying more emphasis on species-appropriate husbandry in outdoor enclosures was developed by Carl Hagenbeck in 1896; later he even had the patent for it.

Over the decades, what had started as a small animal shop with 6 seals in 1848 escalated into an animal park which was opened at today's location in Hamburg-Stellingen in 1907. "Hagenbecks Tierpark" became the animal park Hagenbeck over time showing several attractions like the "polar sea" and the tropical aquarium.

Apart from the animals, Hagenbeck was also famous for something else: the ethnological exhibitions. At a time when not everybody could read and owned books at home, when there were no cinemas and TV sets, these exhibitions were considered an appropriate measure to let the people of Hamburg " gaze" at other cultures which were considered to be savage and uncivilized; thus like Inuit, Saami, or indigenous peoples of Africa and America became a kind of special exhibitions in addition to the animals.

In retrospective, these exhibitions are strongly criticized as being inhumane, of course. However, they left historical traces visible even until today, for example in the Hamburg passenger lists.


On 02 October 1910, the German steamer "President Lincoln" leaves the Hamburg harbor headed for New York City with a group of passengers aboard whose names catch one's eye among the usual "Smiths" and "Millers" and whose last places of residence are given as Hamburg-Stellingen:

Joseph Little Elk  
Thomas Yellow Thunder
Louise Day Woman
Samuel Little Wolf
John Lame Dog
Emil Afraid of Hawk
Larry Sitting Hawk 

These passengers obviously are members of an indigenous Northamerican tribe who travel back to their homeland after having been part of an ethnological exhibition at Hagenbeck.

Luckily, this kind of indecent exhibition is unthinkable in Germany today. The passenger lists are one part of the little historical evidence we still have of this chapter in Hamburg's history.

Read more about the Tierpark Hagenbeck in the second part of this blog article.



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