Bernhard Grzimek

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Signature with Latin addition (stamp: "Incidentally, I am of the opinion that the growth of humanity must be reduced.")
Memorial plaque for Bernhard Grzimek in Neisse in today's Poland ( Nysa in Polish )

Bernhard Klemens Maria Hofbauer Pius Grzimek [ ˈgʒɪmɛk ] (born April 24, 1909 in Neisse , Upper Silesia ; † March 13, 1987 in Frankfurt am Main ) was a veterinarian , zoologist , animal rights activist and behavioral researcher , long-time director of the Frankfurt Zoo , animal filmmaker, author and Editor of animal books, an encyclopedia of the animal kingdom named after him and President of the Frankfurt Zoological Society . In the 1960s and 1970s, he was the best-known animal specialist in Germany with regular TV moderations for the Hessischer Rundfunk . His documentary Serengeti Must Not Die was awarded an Oscar in 1960 as the first German film after the Second World War . At first he also published under the pseudonym Clemens Hoffbauer .

Live and act


Bernhard Grzimek from the Grzimek family came as the youngest child of the lawyer and notary Paulfranz (Paul Franz Constantin) Grzimek (born September 18, 1859 in Sisterwitz ; † April 6, 1912 in Neisse), Counselor of Justice to Neisse, and his second wife Margarete (Margot ) Wanke (born April 4, 1876 in Rybnik ; † October 11, 1936 while passing through Leipzig), winner of the Cross of Merit for War Aid , to the world. He had five siblings: Brigitte (1903–1937), Franziska (* 1904), Notker (1905–1945) and Ansgar (1907–1986) as well as an older half-sister named Barbara from the father's first marriage. In his autobiography from 1974, Grzimek states about his first names that each of his siblings received the name of the ruling Pope, he also received the full name of the canonized Viennese Redemptorist Klemens Maria Hofbauer as a first name. His name was Bernhard after his maternal grandfather.

While still a student, Grzimek married Hildegard Prüfer on May 17, 1930 in Wittenberg , the daughter of the teacher Max Prüfer and his wife Meta Fritsche. Bernhard and Hildegard Grzimek had three sons: Rochus (* 1931), Michael (1934–1959) and the adopted son Thomas (1950–1980). Michael Grzimek died in a plane crash in January 1959 while filming the hit documentary Serengeti Must Not Die . Thomas Grzimek committed suicide in 1980. Bernhard Grzimek's first marriage ended in divorce in 1973. On May 30, 1978 he married his daughter-in-law Erika, geb. Schoof (born July 31, 1932 - † February 9, 2020), the widow of his son Michael, and adopted their children. Grzimek's children Monika Karpel (* 1940) and Cornelius (* 1945) emerged from a long-term extramarital relationship.


Bernhard Grzimek: The Egg Book , Fourth Edition, 1938

Grzimek attended elementary school from 1915 to 1919 and from 1919 to high school (Easter 1928) a high school in his hometown. Classmates nicknamed him Hedgehog . This animal later became his heraldic animal, which he also embroidered on his tie. He was declared of legal age at the age of 19 because his father had died 15 years earlier and he had to earn his living as the manager of a farm with a poultry farm and asparagus plantation at Erkner . From 1928 he studied veterinary medicine , initially in Leipzig , where he worked for the Catholic student association KDSt.V. Burgundia Leipzig joined, but soon at the Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Berlin , where he passed his state exam in the fall of 1932 and in February 1933 with a dissertation on the arterial system of the neck and head, the front and rear limb of Gallus domesticus Dr. med. vet. PhD .

From February 1933 to autumn 1933 he was employed as an expert in the Prussian Ministry of Agriculture, then until 1937 as an advisor in the Reichsnährstand . In July 1933 he joined the SA , in which he remained until 1935, and on May 1, 1937, after the end of the admission ban , the NSDAP ( membership number 5,919,786).

From January 1938 to the dissolution of all German government on 8 May 1945, he was a Councilor in the Reich Ministry of Food and Agriculture , and there especially (and successfully) engaged in cattle and poultry disease control, as well as improving the storage of chicken eggs. By reducing the proportion of rotten eggs from four percent to 0.0016 percent, the prerequisites for cold store storage of German eggs were created; previously only imported eggs could be used for this.

His Handbook of Poultry Diseases was reprinted in the 1960s. His habilitation thesis on weight loss and enlargement of the air chamber of eggs in commercially available packs, as well as on the influence of washing eggs , was judged unsuitable and scientifically inadequate in 1936. According to research by the science historian Tania Munz , Grzimek allegedly intervened in 1941 on behalf of the later Nobel Prize winner Karl von Frisch, thus protecting him from dismissal and military service.

In addition to his "job", Bernhard Grzimek dealt intensively with behavioral issues, especially with great apes and wolves; his studies appeared a. a. in the renowned magazine for animal psychology, he also wrote columns on behavioral research for the illustrated magazine published in Frankfurt am Main . It is said that Grzimek, thanks to his behavioral expertise, performed a group of tigers from the Sarrasani circus to the public several times.

During the Second World War , Grzimek became a veterinarian in the Wehrmacht . He used this activity, among other things, for studies on color perception and the homing behavior of military horses. He also worked with elephants. During the war years he was usually assigned to a military service in Berlin so that he could still work by the hour in the Reich Ministry of Food.

At the beginning of 1945 the Gestapo searched Grzimek's Berlin apartment because he had repeatedly provided hidden Jews with food. Grzimek then fled Berlin, first came to Detmold and in March to Frankfurt am Main. There, on March 28, the US military government appointed the former chief editor of the Frankfurter Illustrierte Blatt, Wilhelm Hollbach , as provisional mayor. Grzimek became Hollbach's personal advisor in April and, according to his own statements, was appointed by the US authorities as the successor to SA leader Fritz Stollberg as the Frankfurt police chief. However, he refused this activity and was instead appointed director of the zoological garden by Hollbach on May 1, 1945 . In this function he reported directly to Hollbach.

Grzimek used his position to undermine the permanent closure of the Frankfurt Zoo. Only twenty larger animals had survived the air raids on Frankfurt am Main . The completely destroyed zoo was to be removed from the densely populated Frankfurt Ostend and rebuilt on the outskirts. Plans for this had been in the files of the magistrate since 1926. Grzimek did not believe in their realization in the foreseeable future. Instead, he had some of the damaged zoo buildings temporarily repaired and the bomb craters removed from the zoo.

The zoo was reopened on July 1, 1945 and at the end of 1945 had 563,964 visitors, more than twice as many as in the pre-war period. With folk festivals, dances and showmen, Grzimek had lured the Frankfurt population to the zoo and thus obtained the approval of the provisional city administration and the US military for the preservation of the Frankfurt Zoo, which was also the largest amusement park in Hesse until the end of 1947.

In addition, Grzimek was acting head of the then state-recognized bird sanctuary in Frankfurt am Main from 1945 to 1946 . His scientific assistant from 1946 to 1950 was the future Nuremberg Zoo director, Alfred Seitz .

At the end of 1947, the US military government accused Grzimek of concealing his membership in the NSDAP and, among other things, imposed a legally binding fine of 5000 Reichsmarks on him. Grzimek always denied membership or entitlement to join the NSDAP. The Frankfurter Spruchkammer did not consider his membership to be proven based on certain circumstantial evidence and on March 23, 1948, on the basis of several testimonies, on the contrary, "that he repeatedly and continuously offered active resistance against the National Socialist tyranny" and therefore "in the group of the exonerated will be included ". Thereupon the removal from office, which had already been communicated to him in writing on the instructions of the US authorities, was withdrawn. Multiple further allegations and complaints, mainly driven by the then Munich zoo director Heinz Heck , prompted Grzimek to look for other fields of activity, for example the Schweinfurt zoo, at the end of the 1940s. However, until his retirement on April 30, 1974, Bernhard Grzimek remained director of the Frankfurt Zoo.

In 1954 he founded Okapia KG with his son Michael , a photo agency that is still successful today. According to his own statement in his autobiography, it was a regular source of income and economic protection against political pressure on his administration and editorial work.

From 1970 to 1973 Bernhard Grzimek was the German government's representative for nature conservation . In 1975 he founded the Association for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND) together with Horst Stern and 19 other environmentalists ; until his death in 1987 he was president of the Frankfurt Zoological Society .

From 1974 until his death in 1987, when he retired as director of the Frankfurt Zoo, Grzimek used a mill at the foot of the Steigerwald near Donnersdorf in the Schweinfurt district as his retirement home, but he often commuted to Frankfurt and traveled around the world. He is also considered to be the co-founder of the idea for a Steigerwald National Park . In 1975 he acquired ten hectares of forest and wet meadows adjacent to the proposed national park near Michelau in the Steigerwald in order to leave them to their own devices.

Public work

Grzimek statue in Frankfurt Zoo

At the beginning of the 1950s, Bernhard Grzimek had traveled to Africa - on the one hand to catch animals for his Frankfurt zoo, on the other hand to study the behavior of African animals in the wild and to be able to draw conclusions from this for a more appropriate keeping of the animals in one Zoo. The threatened demise of the African animal world through excessive hunting and the destruction of their habitats through the settlement pressure of the people, which he became aware of during these excursions, prompted him to a lifelong commitment to the wild animals of Africa. For this purpose, Grzimek cleverly used the emerging new mass medium of television.

Since the late 1950s, Bernhard Grzimek's regular television broadcasts made him known and popular across the country. His live appearances as the author and presenter of the hr series Ein Platz für Tiere , broadcast for the first time on October 28, 1956, became legendary , to which he always brought an animal from the Frankfurt Zoo and let it climb around - often also predators - and at the end of each program with exact details of the account number called for "Help for endangered wildlife". In 1980, the 150th episode of the series aired, and it wasn't the last; the series eventually reached about 175 episodes.

Replica of the plane ( Dornier Do 27 ) of the Grzimeks in the Frankfurt Zoo

Grzimek also had great success as a book author and animal filmmaker. He and his son Michael learned to fly for his projects in the African Serengeti steppe. In 1956 he first wrote the book No Space for Wild Animals and then the animal and jungle film of the same name, which received the Federal Film Prize and the Golden Bear . The book has been translated into numerous languages ​​and made a significant contribution to the establishment of nature reserves in Africa.

In 1958/59, the following year, the Oscar- winning film Serengeti Must Not Die was made , the shooting of which was connected with extensive scientific surveys on the number of wild animals in East Africa and their migration. The reason for this were plans to separate part of the nature park and to balance it out by adding other areas. The results showed that parts of the animals' annual migration routes were in the areas to be separated off, while the replacement area was hardly used. During the shooting, Michael Grzimek had a fatal accident in a plane crash in January 1959; he was buried in the Ngorongoro crater on the edge of the Serengeti. The results of the research on animal migrations in the Serengeti, mainly carried out by Michael Grzimek, were posthumously summarized and published by Bernhard Grzimek.

At the end of 1967 Grzimek turned to the then Federal Minister of Agriculture, Hermann Höcherl , to protest against the construction of the high-rise chicken building in Berlin-Neukölln , in which 250,000 laying hens were to be kept in a confined space. It was the first public campaign by Grzimek against caging chickens, and many more followed.

Between 1967 and 1974 Bernhard Grzimek was the editor of the encyclopedia Grzimek's animal life in 13 volumes.

Grzimek also drew attention to problems of human population growth. He provided letterheads with the Latin sentence ceterum censeo progeniem hominum esse diminuendam (“ Otherwise, I am of the opinion that the population explosion must be stopped”).

Loriot set a small memorial to the zoologist during his lifetime: he drew a cartoon about stone lice as a parody of the Grzimek series as part of the six-part television series Loriot and played an imitation of the series.

Death and afterlife

Grave of Michael Grzimek and Bernhard Grzimek in Ngorongoro

Bernhard Grzimek died on March 13, 1987 in Frankfurt am Main as a spectator during the tiger performance of the Althoff circus . His urn was later transferred to Tanzania and buried next to his son Michael in the Ngorongoro Crater.

After Grzimek's death, inheritance disputes prevented the use of his material and creative estate for many years.

Since 2013, the KfW Foundation in Frankfurt am Main has awarded the KfW Bernhard Grzimek Prize, endowed with 50,000 euros, for outstanding services to the preservation of biodiversity , in honor of his memory . His grandson Christian Grzimek is a member of the jury.


In 1960, the naturalist and wildlife filmmaker Henry Makowski accused Grzimek of negatively influencing the ecological balance to the detriment of the animals actually to be protected as well as the landscape through his strict rejection of targeted population regulation, including hunting in the protected areas of East Africa.

Awards and honors




  • 1933: The arterial system of the neck and head, the fore and hind limbs of Gallus domesticus. Berlin 1933 OCLC 908811562 (Dissertation Tierarzliche Hochschule zu Berlin 1933, 19 pages, illustrations, 8, partial print also as: The carotid artery of the domestic chicken , in: Berliner Tierärztliche Wochenschrift , No. 49).
  • 1933: The little poultry book. German publisher, Berlin.
  • 1933: Feeding poultry properly
  • 1934: The egg book
  • 1936: Handbook for Poultry Diseases. Later as a new edition under the title Sick Poultry
  • 1941: We animals are not like that at all! Franckh's publishing house
  • 1943: Our brothers with the claws . Heinrich FC Hannsmann, Stuttgart
  • 1943: Wolf Dschingis: New experiences, knowledge and experiments with animals. Franckh's publishing house.
  • 1949: The animal house in the mountains (book for young people). Heinrich FC Hannsmann, Stuttgart. - 1962: Hallwag, Bern
  • 1949: Michael turns himself off . Heinrich FC Hannsmann, Stuttgart
  • 1949: The elephant school . Heinrich FC Hannsmann, Stuttgart
  • 1951: Monkeys in the house and other animal reports. Franckh's publishing house
  • 1952: Flight to Chimpanzee Country: Journey through a piece of Africa today. Franckh's publishing house
  • 1954: No place for wild animals
  • 1956: 20 animals and one human
  • 1956: Thulo from Frankfurt All about the giraffe. Franckh's publishing house
  • 1959: Serengeti must not die. 367,000 animals are looking for a state. Written together with his son Michael. Ullstein, Berlin
  • 1962: Rhinos also belong to everyone
  • 1963: We lived with the Baule. Flight to chimpanzee country. Ullstein Taschenbuch (new edition of the book from 1952)
  • 1965: Wild animal, white man
  • 1966: Through Australia with Grzimek
  • 1967: Grzimek's animal life
  • 1969: Grzimek among Africa's animals: experiences, observations, research results.
  • 1974: Getting down to earth: experiences with people. Bertelsmann, Munich 1974, ISBN 3-570-02608-6 (first autobiography ).
  • 1975: 20 animals and one human. (GDR license edition published by Henschelverlag Berlin)
  • 1977: And horses again and again. Kindler
  • 1979: From grizzly bear to spectacled snake: A conservationist reports from four continents. Kindler
  • 1980: Commitment to Africa: New experiences with wild animals. Kindler
  • 1984: Animals, my life: experiences and research from five decades. Harnack, Munich 1984, ISBN 3-88966-011-8 (second autobiography).
  • 1987–1989: Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. (Editor)
  • 2009: my life. Memories of the Animal Scientist. Extended new edition of the autobiography, Piper-Taschenbuch 5386, Munich / Zurich 2009, ISBN 978-3-492-25386-4 .



  • Gerhard Grzimek, Rupprecht Grzimek: The Grzimek family from Oberglogau in Upper Silesia. In: Gerhard Geßner (Ed.): German Family Archives. A genealogical compilation. Volume 10. Degener, Neustadt an der Aisch 1959; ISSN  0012-1266 . 4th edition: Herder Institute, Reutlingen 2000.
  • Jens Ivo Engels : From caring for animals to caring for the environment. Animal broadcasts as environmental policy in West Germany between 1950 and 1980. In: Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 43 (2003) 1, pp. 297–324; ISSN  0066-6505
  • Jens Ivo Engels: From the home connection to the group of eco-polemics. Personal networks and political behavior in West German nature conservation between the post-war period and the ecological change. in: Arne Karsten , Hillard von Thiessen (Ed.): Useful networks and corrupt clusters. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, 18–45, ISBN 978-3-525-36292-1 .
  • Christoph Scherpner: From citizens for citizens. 125 years of Frankfurt am Main Zoological Garden. Zoological Garden, Frankfurt 1983, ISBN 3-9800831-0-1 .
  • Claudia Sewig: The man who loved animals. Bernhard Grzimek. Biography. Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach 2009, ISBN 978-3-7857-2367-8 . Reading sample on Google Books
  • Franziska Torma: A nature conservation campaign in the Adenauer era. Bernhard Grzimek's African films in the media in the 1950s. Meidenbauer, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-89975-034-9 ( master's thesis at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München 2004, 213 pages, under the title: No place for wild animals? ).
  • Ina Claus: Michael and Bernhard Grzimek: Two lives for the wilderness of Africa. Verlag Neue Literatur, Jena 2009, ISBN 978-3-940085-20-7 .

Film and audio


  • Thomas Weidenbach: Bernhard Grzimek - A life for the animals. ZDF 2004; approx. 54 minutes
  • Erika Kimmel, Bernd Isecke: Legends - Bernhard Grzimek. ARD 2008; 45 minutes



Web links

Commons : Bernhard Grzimek  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  • For the career section : City Archives Frankfurt am Main, B. Grzimek personnel file
  1. Lia Venn: On Grzimek's birthday: The general's grandson. In: Frankfurter Rundschau from April 15, 2009; accessed on April 1, 2019.
  2. a b Sewig: The man who loved animals , 2009, p. 12
  3. Sewig 2009, pp. 13 and 116
  4. Entry on the Grzimek family at
  5. Sewig 2009, p. 199 f.
  6. Sewig 2009, pp. 93 and 128
  7. Sewig 2009, p. 51
  8. The Normal Truth Behind Grzimek's Nazi Files. In: Die Welt on April 4, 2015. In 1945 he kept silent about membership in order to keep his position in Frankfurt / Main.
  9. Sewig 2009, p. 62
  10. Sewig 2009, p. 69 f.
  11. The bee researcher and the Nazi regime. Article by Klaus Taschwer in Der Standard from January 1, 2014
  12. ^ Frankfurter Neue Presse , edition of June 15, 1946.
  13. This is evidenced by an affidavit kept in the Frankfurt city archive , which was written by a “confidante” of these relief efforts.
  14. Sewig 2009, pp. 153 and 156 f.
  15. History of OKAPIA KG
  16. Article from the Mainpost on the “National Park Offensive” Northern Steigerwald
  17. Information television. Published by Hessischer Rundfunk, October 2, 1986.
  18. Michael Grzimek, Bernhard Grzimek: special issue: A study of the Game of the Serengeti Plains. In: Journal of Mammals. (now: Mammalian Biology. ) Volume 25, 1960, pp. 1-61
  19. Sewig 2009, p. 320
  20. Ernst Kern : Seeing - Thinking - Acting of a surgeon in the 20th century. ecomed, Landsberg am Lech 2000. ISBN 3-609-20149-5 , p. 95.
  21. Sabine Ränsch: Bernhard Grzimek loved animals, women and whoopee cushion , Die Welt Online, March 12, 2012; accessed on May 31, 2016.
  22. Research / Grzimek - The Entertainer. In: Homepage Der Spiegel , issue 38/1960. September 14, 1960, Retrieved February 19, 2019 .
  23. a b Sewig 2009, p. 209
  24. Sewig 2009, p. 243
  25. Sewig 2009, p. 260 ff.
  26. a b c Sewig 2009, p. 269
  27. Scherpner 1983, p. 155 and 165: The animal house, which was still called a 24-hour house during the construction phase from 1972 onwards, was inaugurated as the Grzimek house by a municipal decision in September 1978.
  28. Sewig 2009, p. 187
  29. ^ "A life for animals": ZDF documentary about Grzimek
  30. Legends - Bernhard Grzimek
  31. Grzimek - The Film
  32. TV film “Grzimek”: Animals, Women, Dramas Der Spiegel