In the 19th century, the Wuhlheide, whose name refers to the small river Wuhle, was an extensive forest area. It included today’s Treptower Park, the Plänterwald, the Köllnische Heide and the Wuhlheide, and extended into the Cöpenick and Friedrichshagen forests. Due to the rapid expansion of Berlin in the last third of the 19th century, urban development also advanced in the direction of these forest areas. Gradually, forest land was designated for development and released. In addition, the future development as an industrial location became apparent due to the settlement of industrial plants and facilities in the Wuhlheide area.
The longing for the forest
At the turn of the century, the growing population in the eastern Districts of Berlin also made itself felt in the Wuhlheide. The Forestry Department even decided to create new routes to better regulate the traffic of the masses. Apart from forest paths, however, there was nothing here. In order to offer people more opportunities for recreation, it was decided that a part of the Wuhlheide should therefore be converted into a public park (Volkspark). This plan was given new impetus by the construction of a waterworks in the Wuhlheide, which was needed to satisfy the increased drinking water demand for Berlin. When the 527.3 ha Wuhlheide site was purchased by the Forestry Treasury, the city undertook to create a public park in an area of 125 hectares. While the waterworks could be put into operation before the First World War, the public park plans were postponed due to the war.
First plans for the Public Park (Volkspark) Wuhlheide
When the city, or more precisely the Treptow Garden Administration (Treptower Gartenamtverwaltung), addressed the project again in 1919, nature in the Wuhlheide made a worrying impression. This was due, among other things, to air pollution from the surrounding industry, the lowering of the groundwater level due to the new waterworks and the use of forest clearings as a waste dump. From then on, everything went very quickly. In 1922, the City Council decided to build the park and a year later the Treptow Garden Director, Ernst Harrich, presented a first plan. This was supplemented and elaborated in detail several times before the start of construction in 1924. Nature conservation also played a major role in this. Ernst Harrich did not want an ornamental park, but a forest park with trees and shrubs as they also occur in the wild. Embedded in this, he planned facilities that should serve recreation and public health.
Implementation in difficult times
The commitment of Berlin’s mayor, Böss, played an important role in the implementation of the plans. In 1921, he founded the “Park, Play and Sport” Foundation (Stiftung „Park, Spiel und Sport“), which, despite its small budget, oversaw 43 projects in a relatively short period of time, including the Wuhlheide Public and Forest Park (Volks- und Waldpark Wuhlheide). Many unemployed people were recruited for the work itself as part of the unemployment assistance. Nevertheless, conditions after the war were difficult and there was a lack of manpower and materials. Again and again, there was a need for improvisation, which led, among other things, to the use of the rubble and waste deposits in the Wuhlheide as “building materials”, e.g. in the construction of the Terraced Gardens and the Toboggan Hill (Rodelberg). In total, the expansion of the park took 13 years.