The (Spreewelten-) Penguins from Lübbenau  – Impressions of Two Members

Magdeburg 12. Oktober 2020.

The ‟Spreewald” (a section of the German state of Brandenburg) instead of Peru? A bizarre idea that in March ensured shock, unbelieving glances and tears, has turned out to be one of our most moving and beautiful trips of all.

It was the 13th of March 2020, the day on which it was clear that our dream vacation to the South American home of the Humboldt Penguin would, at least for the time being, not happen. The borders were and still are largely closed, we weren’t thinking about traveling, and health was and is the highest priority. During these weeks we heard for the first time about the water park in Lübbenau in the Spreewald, where one supposedly could swim with Humboldt Penugins: at Spreewelten Water Park.

Since our childhood days, we have been fascinated by these black and white underwater ̏fliers”. In particular, after we read the book ̏Unverfrorene Freunde” from Klemens Pütz (no English translation of the book available at this time), after many visits to the Halle Zoo (Saale), and after we repeatedly encountered Sphenisco’s involvement, we decided to join the organization at the end of 2019. It was literally a very moving decision, in every sense of the word, because we were looking for a way to come in contact with the animals themselves. We found a common ground with Sphenisco, which offered ideas, knowledge, experience and tips on how to provide a small contribution for the protection of the penguins in their homeland. Our excitement drove us on, and excitement can be contagious.

Now, since we found out that “Spreewelten” was also an organizational member of Sphenisco, we wanted to see and experience what “Swimming with Penguins” was, and whether or not it was even a good idea.

The time came in September:  we booked a room at the Spreewelten Hotel for five nights, which included entry to the Spreewelten Water Park. We observed the jolly troop of 24 Humboldt Penguins for hours and hours, talked to the loving and energetic animal keepers, and of course, swam in the comfortably-temperatured water, almost belly to belly with the penguins themselves. Here we reveal the secret:  the challenge from some of the two-legged animals to have a swimming competition was happily accepted by the penguins. The winner was always clear! No human is so fleet, agile and elegant as the underwater fliers. They have plenty of room to dive in their huge and beautiful salt water pool. Each penguin can swim at its own tempo; from relaxed, cool and disinterested, curiously watching the humans on the other side of the glass panel, to lightning fast with gallant jumps out of the water. It was simply fascinating and wonderful to be allowed to watch these clever animals go about their everyday activities.

The question here is valid, though:  who is watching whom?  Latest at 9 AM on the second morning, we were greeted at the outside enclosure with loud penguin trumpeting. Some of them provided the impression that they wanted to pose for pictures. Some of the penguins appeared to be attentive listeners, while others were interested observers of what the humans were able to do with their fingers. They followed us over land and water, based on their current whims, with curiosity and concentrating on the movements of our hands and feet, and shadow play with fingers was very popular – for both humans and penguins. Apropos fingers:  as cute as each penguin may seem, their beaks are strong and powerful. Each of the penguins has their own desire as to being caressed. We humans also don’t want to be touched by others without being asked! As such, it is logical and important for the wellbeing of the animals, that they can withdraw themselves and hide if they feel the need. The penguin area has a lot of room and plenty of hidden nooks and crannies behind stones and bushes, that are neither accessible to us guests, nor can be seen by us. It can be that almost no tuxedo wearers are visible, because perhaps most of them are either tired or simply don’t have any desire to be around each other or anyone else observing them.

At the latest however, when it comes time to eat, there’s a lot going on.  The official feeding times are twice a day, and during that time the visitors receive a lot of valuable information about the Humboldt Penguin, and see their black-and-white-feathered stars eat a diverse mix of herring, smelt and sprats. Who wouldn’t get hungry with that being offered?

The visit to Spreewelten was a magical vacation for us! The penguins are the center of attention. They are the highlight and the stars! They make it possible for all of us as visitors to be fascinated by these animals. It was easy for this happy group to put a spell on us, without having to board a plane and book an expensive trip. This is a great opportunity, as the fascination with these animals ensures interest and curiosity in their natural and beautiful habitat, and with that the threat to them. Whoever is inspired will also be sensitive to what is possible and what is needed in order to ensure their survival. Each person can do a bit to help create a world for animals and humans that’s worth living in. Initial motivation can be found for visitors on the information boards at the outside enclosure. The 24 Spreewelten penguins and in particular their animal keepers are therewith diplomats for all the penguins living in the wild! Thank you and keep it up! Viva los pinguinos!

Kathrin Ballenthin

translated by Erich Greiner

5 am Stück Guten Morgen



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