... a charming account ... is leavened with stories beyond Berlin. Among the bit players weaving in and out of the book is Martin Stummer, a Bavarian adventurer who began trapping animals in Ecuador, supplied Klös with South American deer, and who, Mohnhaupt writes, ended up in the Philippines as the king of a small island. One wishes to know more about him. Not all the minor figures on whom Mohnhaupt periodically dotes are quite so colorful. Dathe and Klös are hardly Shakespearean characters, either, but as frenemies for nearly half a century, they encapsulate the larger saga of the great city, the era, and a world in conflict.
This work by Munich-based Mohnhaupt, translated smoothly by Frisch, provides detail on both the diplomatic and the competitive nature of the 'animal arms race,' the effort to best the other side of the Cold War by having the most exotic and appealing animals. Zoos are one of Germany’s most popular recreational facilities, and Mohnhaupt makes a compelling case that, in divided Berlin, zoos reflected the feeling of being enclosed and the geopolitical realities of Cold War Germany ... Well researched and executed, this book will appeal to zoologists, zoo lovers, and readers interested in the history of postwar Germany.
... unusual ... The book purports to be an account of [a] feud, in which Mohnhaupt claims to trace a microcosm of the Cold War itself...But the book Mohnhaupt actually wrote is even stranger, and wider ranging, than he apparently intended. He does describe the lives and work of those two feuding zookeepers — Heinz-Georg Klös in the West, Heinrich Dathe in the East — but he also describes the lives and work of many, many other, more minor characters. Often, as with Gerd Morgen’s moosecapades, the result is delicious, but the book also begins to feel diffuse. It can’t quite contain everything ... Mohnhaupt spends considerable time on not entirely consequential details, like where each young animal keeper acquired his university degrees, while skimping on larger ethical questions ... it would have been nice to see Mohnhaupt engage with the ethics of animal trapping, trading and zookeeping in general ... His book is a crucial account of the way that human institutions — political, cultural, educational — are bound up with each other, but his unwillingness to acknowledge the cruelty and ugliness these institutions conceal is a regrettable flaw. Still, the liveliness of his storytelling and the wonderful eccentricity of his subject matter make this book well worth a read.
... riveting, lively ... Along with the human characters, a memorable array of four-legged figures includes Knautschke the hippo, so beloved that Berliners fed him cabbage when they had little to spare, and Chi Chi the panda, whose likeness became the logo for the World Wildlife Fund. Mohnhaupt is a keen guide to the difficulties of a divided Berlin and to the enchantment of a career devoted to wild animals.
An offbeat tale from the Cold War and a bestseller in Germany after its original publication in 2017 ... It’s not quite a Bridge of Spies–level thriller, but there are plenty of unexpected, entertaining twists behind bars.