The unbelievable true story of the Cold War’s strangest proxy war, fought between the zoos on either side of the Berlin Wall.
Living in West Berlin in the 1960s often felt like living in a zoo, everyone packed together behind a wall, with the world always watching. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, the East Berlin zoo was spacious and lush, a socialist utopia where everything was perfectly planned...and then rarely successfully finished.
Berlin’s two zoos quickly became symbols of the divided city’s two halves. And so no one was terribly surprised when the head zookeepers on either side started an animal arms race—rather than stockpiling nuclear warheads, competing to have the most pandas and hippos. Soon, state funds were being quietly diverted to give these new animals lavish welcomes worthy of visiting dignitaries. West German presidential candidates were talking about zoo policy on the campaign trail. And eventually politicians on both side of the Wall became convinced that if their zoo were proved to be inferior, then that would mean their country’s whole ideology was too.
A quirky piece of Cold War history unlike anything you’ve heard before, The Zookeepers’ War is an epic tale of desperate rivalries, human follies, and an animal-mad city in which zookeeping became a way of continuing politics by other means.
About the Author
Jan Mohnhaupt has written for many of Germany’s leading newspapers and magazines. The Zookeepers’ War is his first book to be translated into English. He lives in Munich, where he’s happy to be close to one of his favorite zoos.
Shelley Frisch’s award-winning translations from German include biographies of Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Einstein, Marlene Dietrich, Leni Riefenstahl, and Franz Kafka. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
“As riveting as any Cold War spy novel. TheZookeepers’ War is an immaculately researched, moving tale of two zoo directors whose careers became a microcosm of the struggle between two antagonistic ways of life. A captivating read.” — Elena Gorokhova, author of Russian Tattoo
“J. W. Mohnhaupt’s engrossing tale features a mix of just about everything: outsized ambitions, clashing personalities, Cold War drama, and animals galore. It also encapsulates Germany’s history from the end of World War II until reunification. Quite a feat – and a must read.” — Andrew Nagorski, bestselling author of 1941: The Year Germany Lost the War
“With the Stasi chipping in for a pair of bears, Ho Chi Minh sending an elephant, and the Kennedys gifting a decrepit bald eagle, J. W. Mohnhaupt’s portrait of two dueling Berlin zoos gives us a new understanding of the term ‘political animal.’ This quirky and delightful account of captive critters and soft (and occasionally scaly) diplomacy is colorful, provocative, and ultimately about the very human notions of power, pleasure, and the nature of freedom.” — Abby Tucker, bestselling author of The Lion in the Living Room
“Cold War Berlin bursts to life in this riveting, lively German bestseller chronicling the fierce rivalry between zoos on either side of the Iron Curtain... Mohnhaupt is a keen guide to the difficulties of a divided Berlin and to the enchantment of a career devoted to wild animals.” — Publishers Weekly
“An offbeat tale from the Cold War… with plenty of near-comical turns.” — Kirkus Reviews
“One of the stranger proxy wars of the era.” — New York Post