by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Blog
In 1897, construction began on 43 hectares in southwestern Berlin. The space is bordered by the Unter den Eichen, or Under the Oaks, a road that forms part of the federal highway joining Berlin to neighboring Potsdam. Many of the ancient trees on the adjacent boulevard to the Unter den Eichen had to be uprooted when, in 1934, the Unter den Eichen was expanded to create four lanes rather than its original two. Perhaps, when one drives over the Unter den Eichen road, one might hear the ghostly rustle of oak leaves long felled.
Bordering the Unter den Eichen to the northwest are the Berlin Botanical Gardens, lovingly curated by a Heinrich Gustav Adolf Engler, known as Adolf Engler, a German botanist and creator of the Engler System for categorizing plants. Over the 43 hectares of the gardens are spread 22,000 different species of plant. This is a glorious place.
To facilitate the sheer disparity of plant varieties in this garden, Engler proposed the creation of an assortment of ecosystems that would create the optimal circumstances for certain flora to thrive. There is a Karpfenpfuhl, or carp pond, and a second pond that extends from this moraine-filled pond to allow waterside plants to flourish. These large ponds are what one first sees to the left if one enters from the Unter den Eichen road. If one peers into the ponds themselves, one might sneak a glimpse of the furry tendrils of Aldrovanda vesiculosa, or the vibrant greens spines of Acorus gramineus (Japanese rush). One might even see, poking out of the cold clear waters, the fern-like sproutings of Aeschynomene fluitans, or the leathery leaves of Alternanthera aquatica (Hassler’s Alternathera).
If one enters from the Königin-Luise-Platz, one will wander past the Botanical Museum on the left, which offers an insight into botanic themes and subjects which are not possible to witness within the gardens themselves. Straight ahead from the Königin-Luise-Platz entrance are the glowing glass domes of the greenhouses, most prominently the 25-metre tall Great Pavilion (Großes Tropenhaus), home to a vast array of enormous tropical plants, some extending all the way up to the steel-glass roof of the space. Beyond the Great Pavilion is a symmetrical preened lawn full of colorful native flowers and trimmed spherical bushes. A note of caution: would be wise to bring along a t-shirt and shorts to this particular greenhouse; so as to ensure the happiness of all resident tropical flora and the like, the temperature of the Great Pavilion is maintained at 30 degrees Celsius. One of the most famous features of the Great Pavilion is its giant bamboo plants which loom over visitors on their thin leaning trunks. It is a marvel to look into the glass windows of these greenhouses to see the jewel-like flowers and strange, malevolent swirls and curls of foreign plants looking back at you. These greenhouses are like zoos of sorts; many carnivorous beast-like plants, large beguiling poisonous flowers (including numerous orchid varieties), and prominent cactus spines lurk within the Cactus Pavilion and Pavilion Victoria.
Over the grounds of the Berlin Botanical Gardens, one will walk between a plethora of diverse ecosystems, each more tenderly and meticulously arranged than the last. The gardens take us on a journey through Italy and the Mediterranean (where one may discover the fuchsia poppy-like succulent Rock Purslane, or the shrubby sharp-ended stems of Colletia Paradoxa (or Anchor Plant)); to the Swiss Alps (where one might spot the dainty lilac clusters of Bird’s Eye Primrose, or the joyous Bear’s Ear (or Mountain Cowslip) with its bell-like yellow flowers); to the Middle East with its hardy, sweet-smelling Date Palms, or Phoenix Dactylifera; to Asia, where one can walk through the delicate-leaved Acer Palmatum ‘Katsura’ (Japanese Maple), and the slender-trunked Aralia Elata (Japanese Angelica/Devil’s Walking Stick) with its large almond-shaped leaves, angelic white bunches of flowers, and massive bunches of dark purple berries. This place is at once a garden, and a theme park, where one can dwell in each continent’s vibrant habitats as one wanders about the expansive grounds.
This year, from November 19th until January 9th 2022, make a date in your calendar to visit the gardens when dusk falls. The circular walk around the grounds will be lit up once again after a year or two of darkness during the pandemic, and the plants and bodies of water, illuminated by the colorful spectres of electric lights, will guide your way through the cold and frosty night. This will be the fifth year of the Berlin Christmas Gardens, and here’s to hoping this tradition carries on for many years to come. Away from the habitual spectacles of Christmas noise and bustle, you can find solace in the darkness and peace that the botanical gardens offers, ended by a steaming hot mug of mulled wine and delicious traditional German Christmas treats (all I’m saying is, if there’s stollen, I’ll definitely be there).
It would be easy to spend an entire day in these gardens. This is not simply a garden to be walked into and out of on one’s way to elsewhere; this is an experience to be breathed in and cherished, a walk that one must ensure is slow and considered – meditative, if you will. This garden is one of the most glorious feats of ingenuity, and its aim is to encourage biodiversity and a renewed interest in the natural world to generations of young and old visitors. Such joys as these are not to be left until another day; who knows how long we will be able to sustain beautiful gardens like these on earth. Perhaps, during the run up to the infamous COP26, a visit to the Berlin Botanical Gardens might fire up something within you, some urge to preserve and protect that which is so wonderful about our world, that which is disappearing year upon year. There is a certain poetry about plants; their silence reminds us to reflect, and their stillness urges us to slow down, a feat in our otherwise speed-fixated world.
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Other articles by Hazel Anna Rogers include SETI Talks Summary, Antivaxxers, and Spring Equinox and Eggs.
Check out another glorious botanic gardens, this one in Miami: The Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens and its Mango Days.