Home > Magazine > Carl Hagenbeck, Part 1

The danish magazine: Frem, Nummer 52, 10. årgang. 29. september 1907. Photographer unknown

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 | This article is listed in the sections Magazine and Zoos and animal parks.

Carl Hagenbeck, Part 1

Carl Hagenbeck made his name in the zoological society, above all, for creating Tierpark Hagenbeck as modern zoo with animal enclosures without bars that were much like their natural habitat. 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of his death. Reason enough for parkscout to take a look at his interesting business life.

Quelle: Atelier Theod. Reimers, Hamburg
Carl Hagenbeck, studio Theod. Reimers, Hamburg, ca. 1890
Some may say that Hagenbeck was born with wild animals at heart: His father was a fishmonger who ran a side business buying and selling exotic animal especies. As stated in his autobiography published in 1909, it all began with seals in 1848. Citizens of Hamburg had the chance to watch them for one Schilling – of course they weren't aware of the fact that this virtually represents the future zoological architecture. The political confusion in the mid-19th century forced the family to sell the animals. Giving the seals to a Berlin entrepreneur constituted the frist step from exhibition towards trade.

Carl Hagenbeck's first exhibitions

At the age of 15 Carl Hagenbeck became an increasingly important part in his father's business before he took it over at the age of 22. The young merchant soon noticed the people's penchant for the exotic, and his collection of animals from all over the world – up to five expeditions a year needed to be made in order to collect them – grew until he needed large buildings to keep them in. Carl Hagenbeck not only displayed them, wild animals of all kinds were also sold and sent to zoos and wealthy private people.

At the same time, a darker chapter in his life, at least from today's point of view, was beginning: In 1874 he decided to exhibited humans. Not only wild animals, but also alleged "wild" human beings from different part of the world drew a wide audience, making Hagenbeck a pioneer director in Germany and Europe. He owed the success of displaying exotic lives to his friend Heinrich Leutemann who worked on pictures of animals for a zoological Atlas. The artist advised the zoo director, who experienced economic difficulties at that time, to import some reindeers from Lapland and to grant entry to a group of Sami people.

Mortal diseases

Eight Inuit – men, women and children – were exhibited in 1880 and gained a particularly sad notoriety. At first, everthing proceeded in the usual way, shows in Hamburg followed by touring Prague, Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Krefeld and Paris, but then the table turned. The Inuit people came to Germany without sufficient vaccine protection, a negligence that took dreadful revenge. All eight people died of smallpox within a few weeks. Although Hagenbeck expressed deep concerns, he did not dispense with his ethnological exhibitions. A group of people from Tierra del Fuego arrived only two weeks afterwards.

They were vaccinated against smallpox – but not against measles, pneumonia and tuberculosis. Five group members fell prey to these diseases. Hagenbeck responded with his intention to never ever again exhibit human beings, as written in his letter sent to Johan Adrian Jacobsen, a Norwegian ethnologist who recruited the previously mentioned Inuit. However: The Show must go on – a group of domesticated elephants from Ceylon, today Sri Lanka, came in together with local mahouts that were not exhibited, but in charge of the animals. an.

Hagenbeck's Wild West Shows

Jacobsen pushed Hagenbeck to initiate a Wild West Show in 1910, it turned out to be his most successful ethnological exhibition. Two reasons why he didn't like the idea at first was because American Indians were hard to supervise and, due to their knowledge of English, they could get in contact with the audience which didn't really comply with the illusion of the noble wild, but in the end, 42 Native Americans and 10 Cowboys brought the Wild West to Hamburg and filled more than one million visitors with enthusiasm.

Ethnological exhibitions are to be seen in the context of their time. Hardly anybody had the chance to visit far-away places. Travelling was dangerous at that time when cinema was still in its infancy, and the majority of the people simply couldn't efford it. In addition, European great powers tried to subdue the earth according to the old interpretation of the bible.

In today's point of view nobody can easily judge to what extend Hagenbeck's ethnological exhibitions demonstrate the superiority of the "white race". Primarily people who know the investigations made by "the father of modern pathology" Rudolf Virchow or any other scientific achievement made so far may say that the ethnological exhibitions fail to cast a positive light on Carl Hagenbeck who was in other respects an outstanding person.

Carl Hagenbeck, Part 2

© parkscout/US/AF

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