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Sheep thrills

The surprisingly exciting world of Berlin’s urban sheep

We're not pulling the wool over your eyes, there really are flocks of urban sheep wandering around Berlin.

Photo: SPSG/Nicole Romberg

Ask the average Berliner if they want to hear about Berlin’s many sheep and you’ll get one of two responses. Either they say, “Wait, WTF, there are sheep in Berlin?” or their eyes well up with tears of sheer relief as they plead “Dear god, yes, please explain why have I seen sheep on Tempelhofer Feld, I thought I was hallucinating.” Whichever camp you fall into, we have the answers you’ve been looking for.

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Sheep can be spotted everywhere in Berlin – before the match at Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark, baaing in the convention hall during Grüne Woche, even grazing in the Baumschulenweg cemetery. In 2019, a herd of 200-plus even made a political cameo, trotting along Unter den Linden with their shepherd and loitering under Brandenburg Gate in the name of agricultural awareness. But even for those that regularly spot the four-legged flocks wandering Berlin’s major parks and nature reserves, what they’re doing in our city often remains a mystery – until now.

The woolly residents are an integral part of Berlin’s landscape. They’re key players in land maintenance, they preserve local ecosystems, maintain the plant and insect life and provide alternatives to fast fashion with their wool. If you haven’t yet spotted the sheep, here are several places you can reliably find and appreciate them, both from afar and up close. Up until now, there hasn’t really been a good guide to sheep in Berlin, but to bastardise the words of former Chancellor Angela Merkel: Wir schaf-fen das!

Sheep In the City

The strong winds of Tempelhof carry the sound of their baas over the tarmac

Sheep are an extension of Berlin’s reputation as one of the greenest cities in Europe, made up of 40% green space and many nature reserves. While the exact number of sheep deployed by the city is unclear, their mammalian lawn maintenance work does a lot, including stabilising the ground near dykes for flood prevention and keeping land from becoming wild without the need for fossil-fuelled lawn care.

Derk Ehlert of the Berlin Senate Department for the Environment, Mobility, Consumer and Climate Protection explained that, firstly, sheep are a popular pick for areas undergoing revitalisation because of the special way they graze, eating through dense vegetation so other rarer species can bloom. The sheep are valued for their speed – or lack thereof. Lawn mowers chop away a ton of vegetation in one quick motion, shocking the ecosystem, while sheep’s slow grazing allows time for soil to adjust and new plants to take root.

The number two reason Berlin favours sheep is, well, exactly that – number two. When sheep poop, they provide nesting areas for rare insects to lay their eggs when the terrain proves to be too dry or grassy for hatchlings to thrive.

  • Find sheep grazing in many of the state’s nature reserves, including Hahneberg in Spandau, Flugplatz Adlershof in Landschaftspark Johannisthal/Adlershof, Biesenhorster, and Dahlemer Feld in Grunewald.

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Royal Relationsheeps

Wait, WTF, there are sheep in Berlin?

One of the more regal spots in Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, has historically kept sheep on the grounds for maintenance. The practice faded in the post-war period – until a few years ago, when a flock of about 40 Gotland sheep were introduced back to the grounds to replace the noisier and more expensive lawn mowers from April to November.

Now the flock has gone from lamb-scaping to headlining some of the former castle’s events. The “Könige der Wiesen” (or “Kings of the Meadow”) tour will be held twice this year (on June 11 and then later on September 3), and Garden Manager Andrea Badouin and Shepherd Björn Hagge, along with herding dogs Julie and Jamie, will explain everything from where the sheep go in winter to how they’re ushered from lawn to lawn.

The second event highlights a special attribute of the Gotland sheep. Unlike the more agricultural breeds, Gotland moult their grey winter coats naturally throughout the spring. Groundskeepers pick up the bits of wool from across the garden, and in June they’re hosting the “Verfilzt Nochmal” (“Felted Again”) workshop. Visitors can use a combination of the Schloss sheep and differently-coloured wools to make small balls or bracelets using a felting method. Both events can be found on the spsg.de website, but be advised – children must be accompanied by an adult!

  • Schloss Charlottenburg. Family tours for children aged 4-14, €8 or €16 for family ticket. To register, email [email protected]

Tempelhoofer Feld

Photo: IMAGO / epd

Berliners flock to Tempelhofer Feld in huge numbers, pulled in by the various sun, skate and grill spots. Since 2019, humans have been joined by a whole other flock – a group of 25 Skudde sheep. These sheep are part of a five-year pilot project co-hosted by Grün Berlin, a state-owned company that works on sustainable infrastructure and public green spaces, meant to revitalise the field and help sustain the local skylark population. After a successful first few years, their number has now bloomed to 80 under the guidance of shepherd Frank Wasem.

Photo: imago/tagesspiegel

From spring to summer, you can find these sheep on the southern end of the Feld (Tempelhof Weide, for those who prefer a Google Maps pinpoint), sometimes under the small green tents that serve as the sheep’s sun shelter during the hotter moments of summer. You know you’re in the right place if you see the “do not walk on the grass or feed the animals” sign with a bright orange sheep and a plaque explaining their mission. If you’re still having a hard time spotting them, make sure to open your ears: the strong winds of Tempelhof carry the sound of their baas over the tarmac.

Sheep can be spotted everywhere in Berlin

The sheep are also a conservation project unto themselves. Skudde are an endangered breed, listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, which nearly went extinct in the aftermath of the Second World War. The sheep you see today are descended from a small flock at the Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich. Thanks to conservation efforts in the post-war period, the Skudde sheep population is stable and can now be found in various locations across Berlin. In fact, Tempelhof is not the only former airport with its own group of Skudde: since its inception last year, Grün Berlin has introduced another project at the Tegel grounds.

Should you want to get a closer look at the Tempelhof herd, keep an eye out for “Schaf Tag auf dem Feld”, the flock’s official field day. For the last two years, this event has celebrated all things sheep: carriage tours of their habitat, spinning and weaving demonstrations, and – perhaps a tad sacrilegious – the chance to eat Lammwürstchen fresh from the grill. There’s even a chance to pick up a special souvenir: pellets made from their shorn wool fleeces on the Feld. Mixing them into your garden can aerate the soil, add nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen as they slowly break down, and can even serve as a slug repellant.

  • Tempelhofer Feld. For more info on Schaf Tag auf dem Feld, visit gruen-berlin.de

All’s Wool That Ends Wool

Photo: David von Becker

Berlin is a city wound up with fibre life, with over a dozen yarn shops and countless crafting groups. Many Merino sheep, the name most commonly associated with yarn production, are raised in nearby Brandenburg, some of whose wool is dyed in the city by local Berlin yarnmaker Kiez Garn. Berlin is not a city widely known for its yarn production, but Hauptstadtschaf yarn, released this year by Berlin based company Mährle Wolle, is aiming to change that.

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Mährle Wolle is a yarn company established to bring crafters closer to the sheep who make their yarn and highlight the value that regional breeds contribute to biodiversity. With a strong demand for locally made yarn, Hauptstadtschaf has been warmly welcomed by makers both in and outside of Berlin, founder Dagmar Fresenius explains. And though the herd that provides the wool wanders Brandenburg, we can count them as true Berliners.

Under the care of shepherd Knut Kucznik, they graze in the local nature conservation areas of Wegendorfer Mühlenfließ, Neuenhagener Mühlenfließ, and Langes Elsenfließ. This flock of Schwarzkopfschafe (“Black headed sheep”) are unlikely candidates for fibre production: typically bred for mutton, they are quite muscular and have thick coats not common in yarn use. Despite this, the wool they produce surprisingly softens up with just one washing, a popular selling point.

These sheep are on a mission with some unexpected coworkers – water buffalo who graze in wetter areas that the sheep cannot access. Together they have helped stabilise the population of a rare blue butterfly in the area by promoting the growth of the Großer Wiesenknopf flower (the namesake of one of Hauptstadtschaf’s colourways).

Because the sheep are separated into six herds and ushered to various corners of their 170 hectare workplace, you’ll need to strap on some good hiking shoes and ride on the S3 to S-Bahn Hirschgarten to find them. Right off the station is Erpetal: a wildlife refuge that follows the Erpe tributary. With water views, plenty of paths and the promise of sheep spotting, this makes for a great addition to your summer hiking list. And for those who prefer a more stationary exploration, you can pick up your own skein of this special Berlin wool from the Mährle Wolle website or their Berlin stockist WollGenuss in Moabit. Its woolly nature makes it an ideal yarn to learn fibrecraft with and, as Fresenius highlights, you can “feel the nature” with every stitch.

  • WollGenuss.Berlin, Wilhelmshavener Str. 34. maehrle-wolle.shop

Meet and Bleat

Photo: David von Becker

There is no denying that petting a woolly head can be a relaxing and blood-pressure-lowering experience. However, the sheep we have pointed out so far are better seen, and heard, from a slight distance, as getting too close can be an anxiety-provoking experience for creatures whose human interactions are limited. Luckily, there are lots of Streichelzoos throughout Berlin, many of which have sheep who are acclimatised to new people.

The best known may be Tierpark Berlin, whose petting zoo has three different sheep breeds, all of whom are endangered – Rotkopfschaf (Rouge du Roussillon), Geschecktes Bergschaf (Pied Mountain), and Mongolenschaf (Mongolian Sheep). Open daily, this is a great chance to get to know sheep while checking out the variety of other animals who call Tierpark Berlin home.

For those interested in meeting Skudde sheep face to face, there are several petting zoos that allow you to get up close and personal with this rare breed. Not far from Mauerpark is Jugendfarm Moritzhof which, along with hosting kid-friendly events on skills like felting and baking, is also home to Merlin the ram and his flock companions Jacky, Rike, Söckchen and Blackfoot, who you can visit from Monday to Saturday.

And if you want to get a healthy dose of history, the Museumsdorf Düppel, a museum near Grunewald founded atop the remains of a 12th century village, has its own flock of Skudde. This open-air museum seeks to recreate medieval life, providing a glimpse into old-fashioned skills such as blacksmithing. One of Museumsdorf Düppel’s working groups (volunteers who bring such mediaeval skills to life) focuses on wool and how to process it using techniques from shearing to scouring to spinning. For those interested in volunteering, their working groups are always looking for new members, and all you have to do is send an email to the museum.

  • Tierpark, Lichtenberg, Adults €17.50, children 4-15 €8.50.
  • Museumsdorf Düppel, Clauertstr. 11, €5, children free. More info at stadtmuseum.de