Shaped by its history, Berlin

There wasn’t much debate about where Planit-IE Team London would go for their study trip – Berlin! The city is well known for its history and the landscapes that have been shaped by it. It had also been ‘home’ to one of our team, Antony Nelson. Tony’s Tours was established to make sure the team was immersed in the culture and history of the city.

Around one-third of the city’s area is composed of forests, parks, gardens, rivers, canals and lakes, so it was the perfect place for Landscape Architects to explore. Berlin’s appearance today has been primarily shaped by the key role it played in Germany’s history in the 20th century. The city was left in ruin at the end of WWII and the victorious powers divided the city into four sectors; the Western Allies (the United States, the United Kingdom and France) formed West Berlin, while the Soviet sector formed East Berlin; separated by a wall. The War and the Wall are two pivotal elements that affected the city and shaped its growth. The resulting development is fascinating.

After landing the team set off in search of breakfast before a day of cycling around three of Berlin’s post-industrial landscape parks: Park am Gleisdreieck, Natur-Park Schöneberger and Templehofer Park. On Friday, we visited the Berlin Wall Memorial before taking in the city’s sights: the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag (Parliament Area), Memorial to the Murdered Jews Of Europe and Spreebogenpark.

Park am Gleisdreieck, named after the 20th-century viaducts of the overhead railway, had been wasteland since 1945. Previously, the railway yards had been part of the German state railway for decades. Now, this area of land has been reintegrated into the urban fabric of the city. The design has been kept as simple as possible and uses fine details, materials from its previous use and vegetation, which combine with strong effect. The team particularly enjoyed the scales of spaces within the park and the emphasis on the importance of play, not just for children but for all ages.

Natur-Park Schöneberger, previously the Tempelhof switchyard, was a typical derelict railway site which was shut down in the 1950’s. In the 50 years since, a verdant, species-rich refuge developed in the heart of the city, that has now been opened to the public. The tracks and other railway elements have been preserved to exhibit the park’s post-industrial past. Raised steel walkways installed throughout the park convey the impression of the old switchyard’s transitional nature.

The lifeline for West Berlin during the cold war, Tempelhofer’s airfield, has become the Berlin’s biggest park. In a similar fashion to Natur-Park Schöneberger, Tempelhofer Park was opened to the public in 2010 after the airfield closed. It is now a community hub with a wealth of activities from community growing to wind-kiters and yoga enthusiasts. The team cycled the 600m runway which was a unique experience! The park’s vastness and views of the Berlin skyline make it truly unique.

The Berlin Wall Memorial commemorates the city’s division and the deaths that occurred following the Wall’s construction. The open-air exhibition runs along a section where the Wall once stood and uses a variety of installations to represent it. This was a particularly thought-provoking journey along a street and the team were drawn in to an understanding of the city’s history through the landscape.

Spreebogenpark is located adjacent to Berlin’s main train station along the River Spree, and was once the Capitol’s embassy district. Most Embassies and associated gardens were demolished during WWII and today only the Swiss Embassy stands. The park offers an interesting contrast of wide lawns and narrow paths, with seasonal planting. Its design acknowledges the site’s history, incorporating wildflower meadows and perennials reminiscent of the gardens of the Embassies that once stood there.

After taking in many more of Berlin’s sights, the team were left feeling inspired by the city’s approach to representing and respecting its history through Landscape Architecture.

Take a look at the highlights of our Berlin trip

Written by Sarah Harris, Graduate Landscape Architect