So what to do with the kids in Munich, especially when the weather forecast is rain?
Keen animal lovers, I knew my daughters would love to visit the zoo. Living on a small island in Croatia, they have had limited exposure to wildlife, and although I am not a big fan of zoos, the concept of Hellabrunn sounded interesting indeed.
According to the very informative official website:
"The Munich Zoo Hellabrunn was founded in 1911 as the first Geo-zoo worldwide. The animals live according to their geographic distribution in complex communities. If you follow the icons you will travel around the world and experience our different habitats.
Hellabrunn is not a zoo in the classical sense. It is more of a nature preserve within the landscape conservation area of the Isar meadows inhabited by animals that live in especially large, structured enclosures. Thanks to an extensive array of ditches and a natural landscape design, the visitor can enjoy the wonderful and unobstructed view of animals that could normally only be obtained on safari."
After all the green of the Englischer Garten, it was a pleasant bonus to see just how much land and nature had been given over to the zoo in another prime location in the city. I am beginning to wonder if there are any buildings in this city - the green parks and open spaces make a distinct impression on all.
As did the rain on the young kids. One of the advantages of the zoo was the number of different options, some open, some covered, and we escaped the cold wind and rain, swapping it for something altogether more humid - the jungle...
Here in the heart of Munich, the Amazon came to life, as a plethora of multi-coloured birds, insects and other flora and fauna kept the kids entranced. The sheer diversity of the plant life and the incessant chirping of the birds was mesmerising. Quiet it was not, but oh so tranquil, yes.
And then an added bonus. Next to the jungle, with convenient wide windows, was the lion feeding den. An employee placed large chunks of meat in various locations in the room, while the lions prowled outside before being let in through a circlular opening. They were huge, but as proud and fearsome as they looked, it took them quite some time to hunt down all the food. They came right up to the window, and the sight of a lion just centimetres away was a visit highlight.
One of the striking things about Hellabrunn is just how unlike a traditional zoo it is. Of course there are some animals which are caged, but the accessibility of animals was very impressive. A little goat, which we learned loves to be massaged behind the ears.
And for from just being an open place to view animals, the kids playing facilities were excellent throughout, with plenty of space to run around. This sideways slide was a total hit, as was the chain bridge which moved under the feet as one walked.
The biggest impression for me, however, was that feeling of being on safari mentioned on the website. Sitting down for some lunch and watching zebra and deer grazing lazily just over the river, as though such sights are the most natural in the world in a European city.
And although the Siberian tiger was sleeping, I didn't feel too safe being in such close proximity.
Until I took a step back and examined the intricate designs and ditches built to give the animal the maximum feeling of space and freedom and visitors the feeling of a natural encounter. It works very well indeed.
A very helpful map guided us round the zoo, but any thoughts that we may cover everything in four hours soon disappeared - there was simply too much to take in. The zoo had a real feeling of a park to me - families strolling around as the weather picked up, nature everywhere, and a relaxed Sunday afternoon feeling set in.
"I know you say it is a zoo, Daddy, but it is more like a farm, with all the animals out." And so it was.
And there were surprises. As the rain loomed again, we headed for the bat colony. Inside it was, but I expected the little ones to come out screaming in seconds, but quite the opposite - it was one of the most fun parts of the day.
A lot of effort seems to have gone in to producing authentic habitats, and there was more space than I have seen in any other zoo in the world for the animals to run around. As an educational experience for the young ones, it was excellent, and as a family day out, outstanding.
One day tickets cost 14 euro for an adult and 5 for kids from 4-14 (under 4 are free), but a family ticket at 30 euro is superb value. And if you live in Munich, especially if you have kids, you will be coming back again. An annual family ticket for just 98 euro is arguably one of the best family entertainment investments you can make in Munich.
A wonderful day.
Opening times until October 24 - from 09:00 to 18:00, thereafter from 09:00 to 16:00. Take the U3 to Thalkirchen.