Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Die Gärten der Welt - Gardens of the World

Fountain and flower-beds just inside the entrance to die Gärten der Welt, Marzahn
Marzahn is not a district of Berlin oft frequented by your average tourist. The landscape of block after block of Plattenbau flats to the North East of Berlin Mitte can have a feel of, and the threat of, the Parisian banlieues about them. For many years after the reunification of Germany, Marzahn-Hellersdorf-Hohenschönhausen seemingly remained stuck in the East German mindset, their high-rise inhabitants generally too poor to take advantage of open markets and open borders. Indeed, the German word 'Trabantenstadt' to describe these satellite towns took on a new meaning, as these were areas where the Trabant car still ruled the streets. Older guide books even recommend that visitors should not venture here after dark, or if you look 'too foreign' (whatever that means).

Nowadays the only worry is that you might be stuck in a seat next to a 'Cindy aus Marzahn' lookalike on the tram. Irritating, but not life-threatening. (Cindy aus Marzahn is a larger than life character created by comedienne Ilka Bessin. A sort of  German Vicky Pollard, but with more pink. Lots more pink.)

So, there is no excuse to not travel a bit outside the tourist 'comfort zone' and visit the wonderful Gärten der Welt in Marzahn. This is a genuine Geheimnistip (secret tip) for visitors, but note that it isn't a secret from the 300,000 people in the surrounding housing estates, and it can get quite crowded on a sunny weekend or holiday. At only 3€ for a day ticket it is also very good value for money.

The site was first developed from agricultural land as the Berlin Garden Show in 1987 - a gift from the gardeners of Berlin to the capital of the DDR on the occasion of its 750th birthday. After the Fall of the Wall the land was developed small-scale as Erholungspark Marzahn (Marzahn Recreation Park), but it wasn't until the opening of the Chinese Garden (which took four years to construct) in October 2000 that things really took off.

We visited the gardens on a sunny day in May with temperatures touching 30 deg C. The first impact we got was from the blazing colours of the rhododendron bushes.

Rhododendrons in the Gärten der Welt

Winding amongst the rhododendrons is a Märchenweg - literally a fairy-tale path - with figures depicting well known folk tales. Quite charming, but I wonder how it will look when the flowers have died back?

The Emperor's New Clothes auf dem Märchenweg
The first Garden of the World we visited was the small Japanese Garden, named the "Garten des zusammenfließenden Wassers" (garden of water flowing together into one). An information board tells us that it was created by Japanese professor of garden design and 18th generation Zen priest, Shunmyo Masuno. The garden does have a Zen-like harmony and graceful simplicity about it, but it was a bit too busy with people shuffling along the (beautifully paved) paths to spend any time meditating on it.

If you are interested in Japanese garden design, then check out this video: 21st Century Garden Art - Episode 8: The Zen Gardens of Shunmyo Masuno (no mention of his Berlin garden though).

Next we attempted to go into the Korean 'Seoul Garden', a gift from that city. I say attempted, because it was closed for a private tea ceremony until 5.30pm. Ah well, something to look forward to on our next visit (which will definitely have to be on a quieter day). Here are some photos I took over the fence:

Was guckst du?

Next up, the Balinese Garden, or 'Garten der Drei Harmonien' (garden of the three harmonies), which has a large tropical glass-house protecting a typical Balinese housing complex and shrines. As with all the Gardens of the World, this was all constructed by gardeners and craftspeople using the traditions and materials - and plants of course - from their home country. There are some heavenly flowers and scents in the Balinese garden, but wow is it hot!

Hindu shrine

So, we have had Buddhist and Hindu gardens so far, and later there is a Muslim garden. But next up was a Christian Garden. This is truly original. You can see where the designers are coming from: it is very reminiscent of a square cloister garden surrounded by shaded walkways. Where it diverges is that the covered passage walkway is bounded by letters in gold-lacquered wood that spell out passages from the Old and New Testament, as well as Christian philosophers such as Blaise Pascal.

Christianity is sometimes described as a Religion of the Word, beginning with The Word, and spread by written scrolls and later the first printing press. This garden put me in mind of so many things, such as the liturgical chants whirling around the heads of monks as they walked around the cloisters; and the words as pathways showing where to travel; and Luthers treatises pinned to the church door; and the golden words in Celtic illuminated manuscripts; and closed-loop rosary recitals going round and round. Or indeed words as barriers to achieving 'enlightenment': you can clearly see the plants and water features of the garden in the centre of the courtyard, but the way to them is blocked by a wall of words.

This is not the kind of effect that gardens usually have on me!

Wordy Rappinghood

If going around in circles inside a giant word-puzzle was not enough, a short distance away were two mazes: one a hedge maze, as seen at Hampton Court Palace, England; and a labyrinth inspired by the one at Chartres Cathedral, France. We didn't go in the hedge maze. Well, we have seen The Shining.

The largest landscaped area, and the one that kicked off the whole Gardens of the World, is the Chinese Garden or  'Garten des wiedergewonnenen Mondes' (garden of the once-again-got-back-again (reclaimed?) moon - why do these gardens have such pretentious names?). It is apparently the largest authentic Chinese garden in Europe, and who am I to argue? Especially as it also has a tea-house serving dozens of varieties of Chinese tea!

Konfuzius he say 'Was du nicht willst, das man dir tu', das füg' auch keinen anderen zu'
(Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you)

Click to make bigger, and see if you can spot the mutant ninja turtle

Traditional Chinese guzheng, played at the tea-house whilst you sip your Chinese tea

At the far end of the Gardens of the World park is the Italianate Rennaisance Garden. This is the newest of the gardens, opened in 2008, and, um, not really up my Straße. If you want to see a Rennaisance Garden in Berlin, then the palaces of Charlottenburg and Potsdam have more historically authentic versions. Or maybe I was just pissed off because a nun with a wide-brimmed sun-hat managed to spoil most of my photos in the garden. Here are a few none-nun images I managed to snap:

Actually, no, the nun IS in this one.

Finally we got to what turned out to be my favourite garden, the Oriental/Arabesque 'Garten der vier Ströme' (garden of the four streams - yes, we are back to pretentious names again). You enter it through a reception hall (Empfangssaal) with wonderful carved wooden arches and large brass lamps hanging in the alcoves:

... then from the cool shadowed hall you enter a bright courtyard with streams of lively dancing water and brightly coloured enamelled tiling, plus wafts of fragrant scents and the sound of tinkling water echoing off the  walls. A total delight to all the senses.

So, that was the Gardens of the World park. I am sure we will return, but next time when it is not so busy.

They would have to build quite a few more gardens for die Gärten der Welt to live up to its name. It says in the literature that they are creating an English garden next, complete with thatched cottage, fruit orchard and vegetable plot. A Scottish garden would be easier (The Garden of the Three Heathers). Or how about an Antarctic garden? That would be a challenge, especially on a hot day like today.

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