Story and Photos by Kat Nickola
With winter settling in, it’s tempting to stay inside. But, part of staying healthy means getting fresh air and exercise, and Germany is a great place to take walks in the woods.
There is a German saying: Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter, nur schlechte Kleidung
It means: There is no bad weather, just bad (or wrong) clothes.
While here, take this idiom to heart. Get a good coat, hat, gloves, and walking shoes. Whether misting or snowing, a bit of time outdoors will do you good. German infrastructure makes it easy, too, with trails and forests in abundance.
My family’s favorite walk is near our home: the Wildpark in the Betzenberg neighborhood of Kaiserslautern. This free attraction is nestled in the Pfalzerwald (Palatinate Forest), on the east side of Kaiserslautern quite near Kleber Barracks. It’s an easy walk, with some hills, but could also be expanded as the Pfalzerwald has 7000km worth of trails – it even extends down into France! But, that’s another article.
Wildpark Kaiserslautern is a small wild animal zoo set up by the city of Kaiserslautern’s forestry office back in the 1970s. It has a beautiful setting surrounded by some of the oldest trees in the area – many over 120 years old. It doesn’t feel like a zoo; the enclosures are massive, giving the animals lots of wild space to wander.
Take time to Visit the Animals
Many of the animals at the Wildpark are those you may glimpse while hiking in the area. But, here you can get up close and personal.
There are many different species of wild sheep and deer. Over the course of the year, we have watched one buck, in particular, grow his majestic antlers. We’ve named him Magnus, and often bring a few carrots to feed through the fence.
Feeding deer and sheep appears to be OK; the other animal enclosures are clearly marked with an “Absolute Feeding Ban.” However, any older food can be donated for the rangers to appropriately use. There is a marked bin for these drop-offs in the middle of the park near the offices – a quick glance inside shows lots of bread and veggies.
Watching the wild boar fight over food is hysterical, but also eye-opening. These are the animals that wreck lawns and farmers’ fields with their digging; they are strong! Feeding happens daily from 9-10 am.
The most elusive animal at the park is the beautiful lynx. We haven’t glimpsed her at every visit, but when we do we find that she has been watching us for a long time. Her camouflage is so good, it can sometimes take a while to find her lying in the middle of her enclosure beside a log.
Preserving Extinct Wild Animals
One of the most interesting things about the Wildpark is its mission to help preserve animals that are extinct in the wild.
The auroch, for example, is a wild cattle that once roamed all of Europe. There are four wisent, or European bison, that also live at the Wildpark. You may notice their smaller heads when compared to an American bison. Both these types of animals went extinct in the wild during the middle ages, so it’s incredible to be able to see them locally.
One of the coolest projects at the Wildpark is its participation in Tarpan back-breeding. The tarpan is an ancient breed of wild horse, which ranged all over Eurasia prehistorically and may be the ancestor to today’s horses. There was still tarpan roaming wild as recently as the 1800s. Scientists have been trying to breed them back in a program started in the 1930’s. They use some of the oldest and most isolated horse herds, like Icelandic or Mongolian horses, to breed offspring that closely resembles the ancient tarpan. The two tarpans at the Wildpark are part of this program.
The Wildpark makes for a great walk in the woods, and you can spend as much or little time as you’d like. There are ample benches and picnic tables around if it’s a warm enough day to eat outside. Dogs on leashes are also welcome.
Parking is located along Entweilerstrasse across from the Gasthaus Quack (coordinates: 49.437212, 7.808233) south of Kleber Kaserne.
Wildpark Kaiserslautern www.wildpark-kaiserslautern.de