Department of the Great Apes

Karl Kaestner is turning Bobby into a Dermoplastik, 1935, photo archives Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

Bobby was born in Cameroon. As a young gorilla he arrived in Marseille at the age of tree together with the chimpanzee Toto. Exotic animals were often smuggled to the European continent by sailors. From Marseille he was brought to the nearest acclimatization station at the French Riviera. In 1928, the Berlin Zoological Garden bought Bobby from Alfeld Ruhe, who, like Carl Hagenbeck, was an expert in dealing with animals. Subsequently, Bobby was transported in a first class train from Marseille to Berlin. In the capital’s Zoo, the animal became spoilt and spent his time by drinking undiluted raspberry syrup and eating sausages, all provided by his buddy and lifelong faithful zookeeper Mister Liebetreu.

On August 1, 1935, after a very short lifespan, Bobby died at a surprisingly young age; as the forensic autopsy report at Westend Krankenhaus Berlin reported by cause of an appendicitis. The migration of the lowland gorilla ended at the Museum of Natural History where Bobby was mounted by taxidermists Karl Kaestner and Gerhard Schröder in 1935. The taxidermists used an innovative method to preserve him as a so called Dermoplastik, a mount where the body is elaborately modeled. The preservation of Bobby took place in parallel to both, the rise of the National Socialist Party in Germany and the production of the famous movie King Kong by Merian Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack in 1933. Either through taxidermy at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin or stop motion technique in Hollywood, the bodies of gorillas were preserved to enter collective memory.

(This text is based on Werner Philipp: ‘Was Herr Philipp über Bobby sagte’, in: Exh.-cat. Filip Van Dingenen: Bobby’s Heaven, 7hours HAUS 19 #3 & Museum für Naturkunde der Humboldt-Universität Berlin, 2005)

Images: Museum für Naturkunde der Humboldt-Universität, Berlin

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The migration of the lowland gorilla ended at the Museum of Natural History where Bobby was mounted by taxidermists Karl Kaestner and Gerhard Schröder in 1935.