A month ago when I was in Berlin I visited the Gärten der Welt, or "Gardens of the World", a large park in the borough of Marzahn-Hellersdorf at the northeastern edge of the city. Marzahn itself is somewhat infamous for its massive, forbidding-looking socialist-era apartment blocks and social problems. The national notoriety of the area has probably only grown in recent years with the success of Cindy aus Marzahn, the purposefully and often hilariously crass and crude on-stage persona of comedian Ilka Bessin. In contrast to these surroundings, the Gärten der Welt are a lavishly designed and meticulously maintained assemblage of numerous theme gardens set amongst spacious lawns and groves. A number of these individual gardens represent the garden design traditions of different cultures and time periods. These "Gardens of the World" proper include Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Balinese gardens as well as a walled garden that represents the landscape design traditions of North Africa and one inspired by the Italian renaissance. Apart from these, however, there are also a hedge maze, various perennial gardens, beds of roses, and sweeping displays of annuals, and the plantings continue to be expanded further.
Look into the North African-inspired Orientalischer Garten
Arches and tile work
Beds filled with roses
Rose de Rescht (Rosa 'Rose de Rescht')
The first of the theme gardens we toured was the Orientalischer Garten, located just to the right of the main entrance. Unlike its English cognate, the German adjective "orientalisch" usually connotes not an East Asian but a Middle Eastern origin. Moreover, it is somewhat less laden with negative historical associations. The Orientalischer Garten, then, is a "Middle Eastern Garden", though in actuality it reflects primarily the architecture and garden design traditions of northwest Africa, particularly Morocco. Rectangular and completely walled in, it is divided into four sections by two rills lined with spurting fountains which run perpendicular to each other and intersect in the center of the garden under an ornate wooden pavilion, the intersection being further adorned by a raised marble fountain at the center of the pavilion. The walls surrounding the garden are tiled with the ornate tile patterns known as الزليج az-zillij or, in the more common French transliteration, zellige, and rows of arches shade cool verandahs of sorts on two opposing sides of the garden. As for the plantings, each of the four quarters of the garden forms one huge bed, edged with box and planted with a lush mixture of roses in both shrub and standard form, fruit trees like peaches (Prunus persica) and quinces (Cydonia oblonga), Chusan palms (Trachycarpus fortunei), cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) mock oranges (Philadelphus sp.) and various perennials and annuals. Also scattered around the garden are various tender container plants that fit the theme, from large Citrus trees and oleander (Nerium oleander) to pots of geraniums (Pelargonium cv.). With the obvious exception of the fruit trees virtually everything was in flower at the time of our visit, so we were probably quite lucky with our timing.
One scene in the Chinese Garden
A white waterlily (Nymphaea alba) in the Chinese Garden
Rocks and waterfall
Rosa multiflora at the edge of the water
Another scene by the waterside
Next we headed to the Chinese Garden, mainly because we were hungry and thus looking for the Chinese tea house located there. We enjoyed our tea and snacks on a terrace by the side of winding lake around which the garden is arranged and then continued to explore. The first of the theme gardens to be built at the side, the garden's official name is Garten des wiedergewonnen Mondes or "Garden of the Regained Moon" and it is purportedly the largest Chinese garden in Europe. Compared to most of the Chinese gardens in the West which are closely modeled on the famous Ming and Qing dynasty gardens of Suzhou with their dense concentration of architectural conceits and highly stylized plantings in a relatively small space, this garden is more open and spacious and its effect more understated. There are a series of pavilions - including the large one housing the tea house - and bridges, a rockery with an artificial waterfall, and lots of pines, bamboo, and peonies but on the whole the effect is still more naturalistic and park-like than in most of those gardens based strictly on Suzhou models.
View down one side of the stylized cloister of the Christian Garden
Some of the plantings
View across the center of the garden
Next we passed by the Christian Garden. I have some issues with this particular part of the park, since I do not see why there needs to be a theme garden explicitly predicated on a specific religion. At the same time, given the presence of such a garden to represent Christianity, it then seems rather problematic that other religious traditions are not similarly represented but are assumed to be inherently expressed in the other cultural gardens. In a stupidly - even offensively - simplistic conflation of religion and culture with regard to non-Western civilizations, the Orientalischer Garten is taken to be an "Islamic" garden, the Chinese garden an expression of Daoism, and the Balinese garden an explicitly Hindu space, but the Italian Renaissance garden somehow cannot stand for Christianity. Even apart from the fact that the role of religion in the landscape design traditions of many cultures is, in my opinion, tremendously overstated most of the time due to generations of essentializing Orientalist scholarship, and that the continuing influence of Christian attitudes and worldviews in the dominant designs and practices of the Euro-American World is continually underplayed, there is simply no such historical artifact as a "Christian Garden". That makes this garden a rather odd fit among the other themed gardens based on long-standing regional - rather than religious - gardening traditions. Quite apart from my discomfort with this garden as an idea, however, I have to say that it is actually quite pretty. Tunnels of golden-ochre lattice work composed of Biblical quotations surround a central rectangle filled with low yew hedges and elegant beds of white-flowering perennials, and in the sunshine the lattice work casts charming shadows.
A side path lined with lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
Another view in the same garden
Rosa 'Complicata' entangled with a lovely pale purple clematis
I loved this flag stone path
Great ornamental grass usage
We continued on to a more traditional perennial garden, consisting of a more formal area of lush borders filled with blues, purples, and chartreuse and surrounded by a light blue pergola bearing pink roses and blue clematis and an adjacent portion of meandering flag stone paths, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and drought-tolerant ground covers. From there we looped back past a small garden that is meant to pay tribute to the bourgeois urban gardens of old-time Berlin, with lots of red hybrid tea roses, lavender, and bright purple-blue bell flowers and then continued past the large hedge labyrinth and a huge meadow adorned with several sweeping, irregularly-shaped panels of annuals to the Renaissance Garden. Almost hidden away in a far corner of the park, this garden on a hill is based on the villa gardens of Tuscany and features honey-colored walls, classical statuary, fountains, parterres of geometric hedges, and more roses and perennials.
Roses, bell flowers, and a bench in the garden meant to evoke the traditional city gardens of Berlin
The sweeping lawn with its massive beds of annuals, freshly planted
In the upper portion of the Renaissance Garden
One of the statues acting as focal points
The central fountain
View over the lower section of the garden
Boxwood, roses, and perennials
From the Renaissance Garden we walked back over to the other side of the park - there is probably a more strategic way of touring these gardens but then I like to wander and linger somewhat aimlessly - to visit the Balinese garden. This is the only one of the themed gardens in the park which is not open-air but is instead contained in a heated greenhouse. Meant to evoke a traditional Balinese homestead, this garden features a small thatched house and temple nestled among lush tropical vegetation. It is also titled Tri Hita Karana or "Garden of Three Harmonies".
The gate to house and temple
In the courtyard of the compound
A lovely plumeria
The verandah of the little house
Flowers in a tiny shrine by the entrance
A little further along the path from the greenhouse containing the Balinese Garden lies the Korean Garden. This is perhaps the most architectural garden in the park, for not only does it feature a whole complex of impressive traditional Korean domestic structures and sculpture, but much of the planting is understated to the point of being downright sparse. After entering through an imposing wooden gate, one proceeds up a small hill through a series of rectangular courtyards surrounded by thick walls of amber clay and black tiles. The courtyards themselves are largely bare expenses of rammed earth, with some plantings and traditional sculpture strategically positioned in a few places. At the edge of the top-most courtyard stands a timbered dwelling, which overlooks a naturalistic landscape composed of a rocky creek surrounded by groves of pines and other trees. Going out through a small door next to the house, one then descends back down through this little woodland.
The gate to the Korean Garden
Sculptures in the first courtyard
One of the lusher corners
In the uppermost courtyard
View across the creek back towards the house
Finally we reached the Japanese Garden, also entitled Garten des zusammenfließenden Wassers or "Garden of the Converging Water". This section in a way contains not one but several landscapes. Upon entering and turning to the right, one first ascends up a hill through a woodland garden of sorts, at times full of maples, ferns, and various ever greens springing forth between rocks and low bamboo fences edging the path, and then again more formal with with ground covers and neatly trimmed hedging. At the top there is a spring nestled amongst ferns and rhododendrons from whence a small stream tumbles down through another section of woodland before calmly flowing in a stone-lined bed through a sunny meadow spread out before one side of a simple pavilion. On the other side of that little garden house, hidden by the structure itself as well as tall conifer hedges, lies a Zen gravel garden to be viewed from a gallery within the pavilion.
A section of the initial ascent in the Japanese Garden
The beginning of the stream's journey
The pavilion as seen across the meadow
The gravel garden
All in all, the Gärten der Welt make for quite an impressive world tour why also displaying plenty of topnotch horticulture. It should be exciting to see what other features might be added in the future. For lots more information (in German) or a bit more information (in English), you can visit the page of the Gärten der Welt on the website of their parent company Grün Berlin here.