There are a lot of attractions in Germany that you won’t find anywhere in the States. I’m not talking about the castles, medieval walled cities, or towering cathedrals. While those are all uniquely European, I am talking about places like Affenberg – Monkey Mountain. Paying it a visit when you are newly arrived in the country gives you a true sense of just how different things are here.
We’d been in Germany less than a month when we decided to pay the monkeys a visit. It seemed that everyone we met mentioned the park with the monkeys. What makes it unique isn’t the mere presence of monkeys. It’s the fact that you walk among them while feeding them special popcorn. Definitely something that wouldn’t happen in the States. We were later told that they had looked into opening one stateside, but the cost of insurance prohibited it.
The first thing I noticed when we stepped out of the car was the noise. I expected to hear chattering monkeys, but that wasn’t what I was hearing. It sounded like someone beating sticks together. A lot of sticks, incessantly clicking out a wild, indistinguishable rhythm. Almost like hundreds of woodpeckers, but that wasn’t quite right either. It grew louder the closer we got to the entrance. I just couldn’t guess what it was, I had never heard anything like it. I finally looked up to find the racket’s origin. Storks. Lots and lots of huge, white bodied, black winged storks. What looked like large bundles of straw scattered across the roof were in fact giant nests on special platforms. Beyond the building more nests were perched atop poles, creating a forest of nests.
They may be a common sight in Europe, but I still wasn’t accustomed to seeing one White Stork in the wild, let alone multiple nesting pairs at once. They are lovely, graceful birds. We enjoyed watching and listening to the storks while we waited in line to pay our entrance to the park.
As interesting as the stork village was, the main attraction at Affenberg is of course the monkeys. The park is home to over 200 Barbary Macaques, which you can walk with over a path in the forest they call home. The enclosure includes 20 hectares (almost 50 acres) of woods, with a simple wooden rail fence separating visitor from monkey habitat.
The path runs through the preserve from an entrance on one side to an exit on the other. Because Affenberg is a very popular local attraction on a beautiful summer day, we had a bit of a wait before enough visitors filtered through so we could enter. We were among the few non-German speakers present that day, and all of the information briefings were in German. In the end it didn’t really matter, the multilingual signs perfectly illustrated what could happen if you harassed the monkeys. Our favorite was one illustrating a happy mild-mannered monkey, who when pet transformed into a mutant fanged beast. It was at this point we were also given popcorn, to feed the monkeys. Looking at the popcorn in my hand and the sign above my head, I began to wonder what we were in for. No one else seemed a bit worried. Clearly, everything would be fine as long as we remembered to feed the monkeys, and keep our hands to ourselves.
The pathway winds up the hill through the woods. When a monkey wants some popcorn, he simply sits on the fence and waits. The smartest (and roundest) of the monkeys wait by the front entrance where visitors still have plenty of popcorn to share. My little ones were too nervous around the monkeys to feed them, they merely watched anxiously as monkeys picked popcorn from our outstretched hands. The monkeys were in fact quite mild-mannered, and most passed the afternoon simply watching the visitors amble past them from their perches in the trees.
Affenberg is located outside the city of Salem, in Southern Baden Württemberg not far from the Bodensee. Salem is known for its international boarding school and its open air concerts. For more information, you can visit their website here.