Why Berlin is the Grünstadt

Someone ought to do a documentary on the parks in Berlin. Maybe me, with the exquisitely primitive video capabilities of my camera. We’ve spent the last few weeks exploring parks on the outskirts, the sub- or mid-urban swatches of green that sometimes feel as big as a small country, at least Monaco or San Marinito. It’s like wandering through different lobes of the city’s brain; here are stately old chestnut trees and the DDR’s presidential palace, here are still-visible bunkers, here are naked bodies and sun worshippers, here grills and bottles and weedy grass gone wild over hills of rubble.

Saturday we went north, into Pankow and further, first to the Schlosspark just north of Pankow proper. A tiny stream wanders here through enormous chestnut and maple trees; one end is walled off, with a 17th-century mini-palace (invisible under scaffolding today) which was apparently used as the DDR presidential offices. Next door is an abandoned Soviet-era monstrosity, all white corners and flagpoles, but everywhere else is green, grass and flowering bushes, colonies of summer garden houses that look like a professional arboretum, a shaded suburban idyll.

Just west is the Schönholzer Heide, a sprawling park that in just four blocks leaves behind any pretense of manicuring, a wilder forest with unmarked, ruined bunkers still visible at its margins, and little hills that can’t be anything here but rubble. At its edge is a Great Soviet Monument, breathtaking in its funereal transcendence of taste or humility, commemorating the millions of war dead in WWII, or the Great War for the Fatherland. Aimee has pics here.

Then yesterday to the odd Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg, a steep rubble hill in the middle of Soviet era Plattenbauen (the charmless, square-block housing of the DDR era), growing wild with trees and grass in a way that could easily be a hundred miles into the countryside. Even on a Sunday afternoon, a German park day if ever there was one, it was almost empty; we found a little rough-grass clearing in between stands of trees, and lay in the sun almost alone all afternoon, listening to manic birds, the city below us invisible and almost completely inaudible.