The Tiger

I'm not that keen on zoos in general but one afternoon I had a lot of time to kill waiting for my train. Given that the station I was due to depart from was called Bahnhof Berlin Zoologischer Garten, going to the zoo was an obvious choice. So I put my suitcase and bass guitar in left luggage and headed there.

I had been to Berlin Zoo before as a child – back when there had been a Berlin Wall and everything – but all I could remember were the tigers. Genuinely nothing else had stuck in my mind. The tigers had lived on an island but you could walk through a tunnel built through the middle of it and look out at them through thick perspex windows built into cave mouths on the island's central peak.

Arriving at the Tiger Island as an adult, it turned out this setup was still in place thirty plus years later. The tunnel was shabbier than I remembered, but the perspex windows were still there. And there, curled up next to one of them like a giant housecat, was one of the tigers. I looked through at her but she didn't stir. I wasn't going to start doing anything crass like hammering on the window, so I carried on exploring the tunnel. None of the other perspex windows had tigers by them though.

By the time I returned to the original window the tiger was awake!

Unfortunately this was because there was another tourist in front of the window so I couldn't get closer. He'd obviously tried to attract the tiger's attention. I'm sure you know the type. Rucksack, sandals, baggy khaki shorts. Exactly the kind of galoot that enraged me during The Worst Thing That has Ever Happened ten years ago. This was seven years ago and this instantiation of the backpacker had an enormous expensive looking camera (of course) with which he was snapping away at the tiger.

But even though she was now awake – and furthermore facing into the tunnel – the tiger was completely ignoring him.

She was staring at me. As I walked back and forth behind the happily snapping traveller she was craning to see around him in an almost comical manner, huge round eyes fixed on me. It made me shiver. I had her attention. Was this a good or bad thing? You know when your domestic cat has their eye on something? It was that same fixated, intent stare. Was I potential prey – or just a diversion to relieve the boredom of her confinement, the equivalent of a piece of ribbon dangled to excite a kitten?

I wanted to know more, but tourist guy was clearly not going anywhere now that he had a front seat at the tiger show. This meant I couldn't get any closer to indulge the tiger's interest. Besides, I had a train to catch. So I left.

But the memory of the experience has stayed with me. It's of some comfort to know that while I may sometimes get overlooked or ignored by my own species, I was nevertheless interesting enough to fascinate a tiger and hold her attention, at least for a short while.


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