Both the kids were absolutely certain of one item on the Berlin must-do list: a visit to the Zoo. Famed to have the most comprehensive collection of animals in the world, Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten (quite a mouthful and Udai practised saying it many times every day, with hilarious results!) is the oldest zoo in Germany, with an interesting history. And true to form, we saw many many species I had never thought I’d see outside of my television screen!
The children were delighted and we spent an entire day there, happy to observe the animals and the humans watching the animals. Of course, a zoo cannot compare to watching animals in the wild, but from an educational perspective, I’m glad we were exposed to such an astonishing array of species. The primate house was particularly impressive, so was the section with night animals where we saw a kinkajou. Now, the kinkajou is an animal we read about in one of the children’s story books and we were all four simultaneously awestruck when we saw one in the flesh! Other highlights were the little joey in her Mumma Kangaroo’s pouch, several types of zebras, the giraffe whose neck wasn’t long enough for Aadyaa and the polar bear, for who we trekked the length and breadth of the fairly large zoo!
Disclaimer: The pictures do not do justice to the fair weather, the well kept environs of the Berlin Zoo and the generally happy state of the animals and those who were out to see them!
No, it wasn’t just the dinosaurs. Yes, they were the major attraction, but once we got there the Museum fur Naturkund (Natural History Museum) turned out to be so much more. It was as if a physical force took hold of the children and we were barely able to keep up, chasing after them as they ran from one exhibit to the other, fascinated by creatures preserved inside bottles, by the science of taxonomy, by the preservation techniques on display and all the stuffed birds and animals, by the sheer biodiversity on our planet that hit us when we were in there. It was like an ocean of information, so well presented and it was an absolute pleasure to be here. To quote from their website, this is “one of the most significant research institutions worldwide in biological and geo-scientific evolution research and biodiversity.”
But let’s start with the dinosaurs!
This gallery, the very first one in the Museum, is a result of a highly successful early 20th century German expedition to Tanzania to collect dinosaur fossils. The Germans were prolific discoverers, very strong on scientific rigour and Berlin is a city full of museums because of this. In this one hall, we saw the largest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world, the Brachiosaurus, which stands 13.27 metres and whose bones were found during the Tendaguru expedition that took place in 1909-1911. The Tendaguru Beds, as they came to be known, yielded many significant dinosaur skeletons and added hugely to our knowledge of this fascinating species that once inhabited the Earth. A skeleton of the herbivore Kentrosaurus or ‘spiky lizard’ that lived in the Upper Jurassic Period and a reproduction of thos period’s largest carnivore, the Allosaurus with its short front legs and enormous jaws with blade-like teeth are some of the other Dino friends we met in Berlin. Take a look…
I’ve noticed time and again Aadyaa is deeply interested in nature while Udai is on a mission for gleaning facts and will read every written word inside a museum (we call him the paisa-vasool tourist, meaning he will eke out the full value from whatever he spends!). And so, the two kids were comrades-in-arms at this museum, Udai reading things out and explaining to Aadyaa, she running ahead to identify the most interesting exhibits. The visual variety in the museum had a lot to do with keeping the kids engaged I feel.
I have to tell you about this incident inside the museum that really tickled me. Udai and Aadyaa were trying to build a 3D model that shows the different types of outer coverings that Dinos might have had, scaly or feathery. But a piece was missing. Off they marched off looking for it, managing to find the thief and communicate with his German grandpa, finally getting their missing piece back. They went on to toil at the model and posed when it was done, pleased as punch! See the tale in pics!
At the tail end of the Museum, I saw all these people lying on a round couch. It was only when the screen overhead began to flash images that I realised this is some sort of planetarium equivalent. The voice over was in German so we didn’t really understand much. But I captured here that aha! moment for which the crowds had been waiting. At one point of the film, the Google Earth image on the screen zooms in to show an image of the people down there on the couch. At the instant I clicked this image, the camera was already zooming out on the screen, but you can see that people spontaneously started pointing to their own faces when that image was shown! Such excitement! Such a simple way to get people to come back again and again!
Dipanwita, a dear friend, initiated a weekend club for children last month (one more in a growing list of hobby clubs in Gurgaon, which is virtually buzzing with community-building activities like this), starting with a theater workshop on a Saturday in January 2012. This month, another friend Ritu, a nature lover and a lady with a green thumb, led the children and a bunch of tag-along adults into an exploration of nature in the midst of our city. Gurgaon, whatever its ills, has a few excellent green areas in and around it and the Sector 56 Tau Devi Lal Biodiversity Park was the centrally located, urban park chosen for today’s walk.
We assembled at seven- eight children and five adults to walk around the park. Ritu asked the children to observe keenly, ask questions and collect samples of whatever took their fancy in a bag. Cleverly, she praised the kids as responsible citizens who wouldn’t do something as base as plucking flowers and leaves, and it worked! The team walked in reasonable order, discovering a variety of palms, bamboos, flowering trees and bushes, a set of religious trees like peepal and ashoka and finally, a small rose garden.
We took a break for snacks and then, Ritu set out two drawing exercises for us all to do. In the first, we were asked to use the collected samples as stencils, trace shapes in an overlapping sort of composition and then shade it in. The second exercise was to draw a tree, not stylistically as children tend to do, but as close to reality as possible.
The experience brought up in a fun way a whole host of topics like natural propagation, conservation, biodiversity, the different uses of certain plants, the importance of green lungs in a city and many more. I was impressed by how much the kids knew and even more so by their curiosity. The drawing exercises challenged us all in terms of focus and helped us internalize patterns from nature. Here are some pictures from our exploration this morning.