Tragedy Strikes Berlin Icon: Joschka the Ostrich Dies while Filming Hotel Adlon History

Berlin's Adlon Hotel has long been a favorite among the rich and famous. But an attempt to film the luxury lodging's colorful history has now been marked by disaster. An ostrich cast to play the bird pulling Josephine Baker in a famous 1926 photo died this week in a tragic accident.

Photo Gallery: The Colorful History of the Hotel Adlon Photos
Getty Images

These days, most tourists to Berlin stop in front of the Hotel Adlon only to try to identify which window Michael Jackson dangled his baby out of a decade ago. (Answer: Third floor, second window from right when looking at the front of the hotel.)

But the hotel's history is one that is intricately interwoven with that of the German capital -- so much so that German public broadcaster ZDF is currently working on a three-part series devoted exclusively to telling the story of the luxury accommodations in the heart of Berlin. There are highlights aplenty. But, this week, a tragic chapter was added. According to the tabloid Bild, an ostrich being trained for a scene in the film collided with another large bird on a farm near the eastern German town of Gera. And died.

The ostrich, named Joschka, had been cast to portray the bird pulling US entertainer Josephine Baker in a two-wheeled carriage in the famous 1926 photo taken in front of the hotel. But during training at Maike and Jörg Probst's circus and animal farm, Joschka got into it with a South American nandu named Henry, according to the paper. Joschka fractured his skull during the tiff.

From Thomas Edison to Marlene Dietrich

"Yes, we had an accident. That is all I will say," said a circus spokesman when reached by SPIEGEL ONLINE. He refused to offer further details on the tragedy. The circus website notes that Joschka was named after former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and that he was a 20th anniversary gift from Jörg to Maike. The word for ostrich in German ("Strauß"), it should be noted, is the same as the word for bouquet -- the present, the website notes, was a product of the play on words.

Josephine Baker, of course, wasn't the only well-known personality to have stayed at the hotel prior to World War II. The hotel became an institution almost immediately after its opening, in 1907, and soon was one of the most famous hotels in Europe. Kings and emperors stayed there, as did prominent visitors from overseas, such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Charlie Chaplin and Herbert Hoover. Marlene Dietrich also stayed there frequently.

The hotel survived World War II, but a fire started in May 1945, shortly after the Russians had taken over the city. It quickly engulfed the building, destroying most of it.

The site of the hotel, adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate, was on the east side of the Berlin Wall, but its surviving wing was still kept open by the communists. After the Wall came down, the hotel was completely rebuilt and reopened in 1997. It has regained its status as the hotel of choice for the rich and famous, hosting Monaco's Prince Albert and his wife, Princess Charlene, this week.

There have, however, been no recent ostrich sightings on the square outside.

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