Welcome To The World's Biggest And Best-Run Animal Shelter

Don't call it a *pound* - Berlin's Hohenschönhausen houses a huge number of formerly stray dogs, cats and other species in luxe-like quarters and remarkably attentive individual care.

"Hotel with room service"
"Hotel with room service"
Kathrin Spoerr

BERLIN - It’s summer and city streets are empty. It’s summer and the animal shelters are full. It is this way here in the German capital, and plenty of other places. It's an open secret of modern life.

Animal shelters are not places we tend to be curious about, not only because of the sadness of the lost or abandoned animals, but also because of drab and even dire conditions. And the smell, of course.

This is what I'd thought until our cat disappeared. He ended up in Hohenschönhausen — Berlin’s central shelter. When I got word, I lost no time going over there, eager not to leave my beloved pet one minute more than necessary in a place I imagined so awful. I had a surprise coming...

My cat had his own enclosure with a comfortable basket and blanket, bowl of food freshly filled – dry left, moist right, water in the middle. He had his own litter box, and there were places indoors and out where he could move around more. The floor-heated enclosures were arranged so that the animals couldn’t see each other.

It was like a cat hotel with room service.

Our cat’s care-giver was a cheerful woman in a red t-shirt and green slacks, a kind of ranger uniform all shelter employees had on. The sign on the door read "Animal Collection Point" and this lady’s job was to feed, wash and comfort Berlin’s stray animals.

She called our cat "little fellah" – she called all male cats that – and girl cats "little gal," and constantly told all her charges they were beautiful regardless of their actual looks.

One thing was clear to me: I was experiencing something that probably exists nowhere else in Germany, or the rest of the world for that matter. Googling the place later I saw it referred to as "Europe’s largest animal shelter," sometimes also "the world’s largest animal shelter."

It’s a fantastic place. It wasn’t its size that impressed me. It was its beauty and modernity (a 60-million-euro wonder of glass, concrete, light, and state-of-the-art facilities designed by Dietrich Bangert), that made you almost forget you were in a shelter except for the sound of some dogs barking, and my heavy cat in his carrier.

Once home, I kept thinking – was that really a shelter, or some kind of world expo? How does a place like that work, what did it cost, who paid for it? Some time later I went back to Hohenschönhausen, to this place that calls itself "Animal City."

I found that everything at the shelter is related to love in some way – it’s a microcosm of the love of animals so prevalent in Germany where there are 12.3 million cats and 7.6 million dogs, compared to 12.4 million children. Berliners are considered to be particularly animal-loving, and hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats live in the city, mainly in apartments. The shelter was paid for by Berlin’s Animal Protection Society, the chapter with the most members (15,000) in Germany.

Like marriage market

Still, even animal love has its limits. The sentence often heard (also at the shelter’s turn-in counter) is: "we love him to bits but we just can’t keep him anymore." Animal-loving people buy dogs or hamsters whose care later overwhelms them.

Most of them had false ideas about pet ownership, and don’t understand that an animal is work, needs to be fed and washed, needs movement, costs money. And it grows: it doesn’t stay that cute little puppy for long.

When the animal gets to this shelter it is surrounded by loving people – 140 professional animal caregivers. Some love animals so much they refuse to eat meat. If workers here share a love of animals many take a dim view of people – unsurprising since the animals here often are the victims of people.

Nearly all the workers here have a dog, and on average 90 of them come to work with their owners -- but they are not the focus of attention. Lost and abandoned pets are, currently some 1,600 of them: 670 cats, 320 dogs, 140 rodents, 170 birds. The others are exotic pets like snakes, iguanas, monkeys. There is also a horse, four pigs, a pair of ducks and some sheep.

When animals get here the first thing that happens is that they examined, vaccinated and de-wormed. All cats are neutered, but only fighting dog breeds are. Then training begins: untrained animals are not going to find new owners. Cats that won’t let themselves be petted and dogs that pee in corners may be acting according to their nature, but nobody will want them.

So cats get trained to accept being stroked, and dogs get house-trained – all by a small team of volunteers that find meaning in life by spending time with shy or traumatized animals. The cat strokers (mostly women) and the dog walkers (mostly men) often have several hours commute time to do what they do – get difficult dogs and unfriendly cats used to people.

After animals are satisfactorily trained, placement begins. Placement is the highest goal. And it’s unfair, a little like the marriage market. Dogs, cats, people, the rules are pretty much the same: it’s the pretty, clean, poised and smart ones that stand the best chance.

The next best chance at the animal shelter are the originals: one-eyed, three-legged, tail-less. And then there are the ones people don’t want: dogs that growl and bite, cats that scratch. Only a professional animal lover can see the "darling girl" in a scratcher.

Still, the shelter personnel refute the language often used – "hunting dog" is wrong, the name of the breed is the correct way to speak of the animal. "Dangerous," "aggressive" – wrong. People should be educated in common dog behaviors, and hopefully some go home with animals that are less-than-perfect on paper.

Still, the sad fact is that such animals are often here for years, and sometimes die here. That’s the case of Taylor, a black Stafford mix, who’s been here since 2006. He’s now in the shelter’s facility for canine “seniors.” The problem cat is Paula, who is afraid of people and suffers from kidney disease. She’s been here three years.

Taylor and Paula are not the sort of pet that people want as they march through the fancy glass and reinforced concrete premises with an attitude of cool social Darwinism keeping their eye peeled for the cute and cuddly.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!