“Tempela National Park plays a crucial role in the conservation and regeneration of the world’s biodiversity and natural heritage. Some of last remaining members of their species still live in our protected area, hopeful that someday they can be returned to their natural habitat. In addition to this critical function, our goal is to help our visitors experience the profound fragility of life and confront humanities role in its destruction. So be amazed, moved and mesmerized, but also learn, change and act for the salvation of these critically endangered species and the entire planet.”
Malte Erik Jensen, National Park Executive Director
In 1883, on his expedition through the hinterland of German East Africa, today’s Tanzania, the Zoologist and Adventurer Dr. Otto Wilhelm Jensen got a unique idea that would change his life forever: A protected area for african species in the middle of the Reichshauptstadt Berlin.
Following the shores of Lake Njassa, he was to find trade routes on behalf of the German East African Company off the Zambezi River. Fascinated by the diverse fauna of the region, he began to catalog all resident species.
In Jensen’s “Encyclopedia of African Wildlife” of 1887, he was one of the first to describe the appearances and behaviors of mammals and reptiles south of the Sahara. He is considered the discoverer of the black rhino, the okapi and the impala antelope.
Impressed by Jensen’s significant achievements the influential businessman Theodor von Radow offered to put Jensen’s vision into action providing the financial support for his dream of a Berlin National Park.
In 1894, signaling the start of their ambitious project was given, three large cruisers of the imperial navy brought, among other things, elephants, zebras and lions from the German colonies in East and West Africa to the Reichshauptstadt.
At the personal request of the Emperor, the Tempelhofer Feld in the south of Berlin, which until then had been used as a military parade ground, was made available for the Park. Over 200 species were settled in this 350-hectare area. A self-sustaining ecosystem modeled after the African savanna.
On May 11, 1899, the gates of the new “Tempela National Park” finally opened for the curious eyes of the Berlin press.
THE DARK YEARS
The park was initially financed by wealthy donors, who in return enjoyed guided hikes and off-road safaris. During the first years of its existence, Sunday excursions into the wilderness of Tempela were a popular pastime among the upper classes. Only experiments with flying machines and balloons were permitted on the grounds of the Tempela National Park, as Kaiser Wilhelm posessed a similar weakness for advances in aviation as he did for the African fauna.
Prestigious inventors such as Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin, Hubert Latham and Orville Wright presented their latest achievements to the people of Berlin. The enthusiasm for flight grew steadily and the beauty and uniqueness of the African wildlife became a side note of the park. Finally, the emperor gave in to the increasing pressure of the Berliners and used the area of the Tempela National Park to built the Flughafen Tempelhof.
Under the Nazis, efforts were made to expand the airport into a monstrous airfield but this venture was never completed due to Germany’s defeat in The Second World War. The proud animals of Tempela National Park were hunted, sold and eaten. A handful of the most beautiful and rare animals found protection in the outdoor enclosure Schorfheide, where they served as private amusement for the former Reich Marshal Hermann Göring.
When the Second World War finally ended with the Allied victory in 1945, the US Air Force used the airport as an important supply station for the isolated West Berlin.
It remained as such until 1951, when Jensen’s grandchildren Katharina and Gustav Jensen, with the support of the West Berlin mayor Ernst Reuter, decided to bring the forgotten paradise of Tempela back to life.
In the summer of 1956, after five years of intensive negotiation and preparation, the time had finally come, the first animals were returned from the Uckermark and reintroduced to the site of the former airport. Some of them, like quaggas or Cape lions, were already extinct or critically endangered in the wild. The whole worlds eyes were on Berlin.
Initially just a shadow of its former glory, the National Park regained its original splendor over the course of the subsequent 20 years. In the mid-1970s, the park set a new visitor record, ushering in a new, golden era. International movie stars, athletes and monarchs spent their free time among the rare lions and elephants of Tempela.
Under the leadership of the fourth generation of the Jensen dynasty, the park was reborn. It became the most breathtaking and valuable open space in all Germany, if not the world, and remains so today.