Swimming the Spree River in Berlin can be exhausting.
So exhausting, in fact, that even beavers are having trouble making it. For years these furry animals, known to be excellent swimmers, have met their end from sheer exhaustion or the sharp blades of a ship's propeller as they've tried to swim through Berlin. Now with just 30 beavers left, the city has given them their own place on the river. On Wednesday, Berlin officially opened the steel platform on the Spree, on which beavers can come out of the water and rest.
"It's a gas station for beavers. When you build a 100-kilometer long autobahn, one must also be able to refuel. This is the same principle," Derk Ehlert, wild animal expert at Berlin's Senate Department for Urban Development, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
The beaver resting stop is part of a larger effort, under German law, to protect natural wildlife habitats in German cities and states. Over five years ago, Berlin noticed that some beavers had elected to make the city their home, even though there is a beaver colony ensconced just 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) north of the city, Ehlert said. At the same, beavers were also leaving the city waters and falling victim to cars and other dangers. They tended to be young, two-to-three year old beavers, who had been separated from their families and were looking for a new home, Ehlert said.
"We want the beavers to be able to swim through Berlin. We don't want them to build big lodges in Tiergarten," he said.
Roughly 100 years ago, beavers were native in Berlin, but they were eventually hunted and killed to near-extinction for their fur or meat. In particular, beaver was a popular Easter dish. During Lent, the period of fasting prior to Easter, people were forbidden from eating meat. The church, however, had declared that beaver, because it lives in water, was not an animal but a fish, making them an attractive meal.
Today, beavers have returned to Berlin, thanks to improvements to water quality and river banks. This first resting place is just the start, Ehlert says. In the coming years, he hopes to build another platform further north. Animal lovers will eventually be able to see the beavers as they walk along the Spree, although Erlert warns that the animals have not yet discovered the platform, located near Berlin's Ostbahnhof train station. It could take between three and five years for the beavers to discover and then become comfortable using the platform as a resting spot.