From idea to the Wuhlheide Public and Forest Park

Plan for the Wuhlheide Public and Forest Park by Ernst Harrich, Public lawns and Terrace System, 1924, colour (Archive Treptow-Köpenick Museums)
Hedge garden with living wall, Wuhlheide, about 1940 (Archive Treptow-Köpenick Museums)
Hedge garden with open-air stage, Wuhlheide, around 1938 – view of the lower terrace levels with sculpture in the foreground (Archive Treptow-Köpenick Museums)
Giant slide in the Wuhlheide Public and Forest Park 1937 (Archive Treptow-Köpenick District Office)

Extensive information and particulars on the history of the creation of the Wuhlheide Public and Forest Park can be found in the article “Volkspark Wuhlheide Köpenick/Oberschöneweide” by Sylvia Butenschön, published in the series: Parkanlagen und Stadtplätze, in der Reihe: Gartendenkmale in Berlin, hrsg. vom Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Michael-Imhof-Verlag Petersberg, S. 464 – 467

Treptow-Köpenick/Oberschöneweide

In the western part of the large forest of the Wuhlheide, a park-like design can be found in various places, which dates back to the construction of an extensive public park in the 1920s. An area of about 80 hectares of the park, which in those days was more than twice as large, where the historical structures can still be read, is now designated as a protected garden monument.

The large wooded area northwest of Köpenick was purchased by the Partnership of Convenience Greater Berlin (Zweckverband Groß-Berlin) in 1911 in order to build a waterworks here to ensure the supply of drinking water to the growing district of Oberschöneweide. This went hand in hand with the obligation to preserve the forest and to develop it as a recreational area for the residents of the neighbouring districts. After the completion of the waterworks in 1914, park planning took a back seat due to outbreak of the First World War. Only a first holiday playground for city children was built north of the waterworks site in 1916. The forest park project was only resumed after the end of the war by the Treptow Garden Administration (Treptower Gartenamtsverwaltung). In 1923, the Gardening Director Ernst Harrich (1886-1941) presented a design for a public park in Wuhlheide covering around 200 hectares. In his park concept, he took up the existing relief and vegetation structures and designed a contemporary public park with both formal and landscaped areas, which is comparable to Erwin Barth’s designs for the Rehberge or Jungfernheide. The plan was implemented for the most part by 1932 with the support of the Berlin Foundation “Park, Play and Sport” (Berliner Stiftung “Park, Spiel und Sport”) with the involvement of the unemployed. However, the infrastructure programme had to be reduced due to the difficult economic situation at the time.

The basic structure of the complex is a main avenue running west-east, which is called the Eichgestell and had already been laid in the 18th century as a forest and hunting trail in this forest area. Predominantly north of this axis, Harrich created various park areas for contemplation and active outdoor recreation. In the lowlands of the Rohrlake stream, a sports meadow with the enormous dimensions of one kilometre in length and 120 metres wide was created, to the south of which a light and air bath with a swimming pool, a further stadium-like sports field and a large forest meadow in the form of a hippodrome, composed of individual trees and groups of trees.

Harrich then planned a hammock grove as well as a children’s playground with various play equipment. South of the Eichgestell, a natural terrain movement was used to create a toboggan run for children. In the spatial context, a hedge garden with an open-air stage in front of it was created. This was intended for performances of folk dances and concerts. In the area between the waterworks and the Oberschöneweide Forest Cemetery, Harrich shaped the Rohrlaken lowlands into natural-looking meadows on which to camp. The brook was diverted along the northern edge of the meadow and extended to a paddling pool in a transverse axis between the water tower on the waterworks site to the north and a planned terraced garden with a restaurant to the south. This paddling pool had a sandy beach and an artistically designed inlet from the waterworks, which supplied this area with fresh water at all times. The water tower formed a central focal point over the adjacent flower meadow, which was sown with lupins, for example.

To the east, the meadow plain continued and ended in an area that, as a nature reserve, was to be excluded from human use and serve as a habitat for the local bird population as well as deer and other wild animals. In this area of the forest, the conversion of a forester’s lodge into an agricultural farmstead with adjoining orchard and paddocks was also planned. Here, the aim was to give the city children an impression of an agricultural enterprise. All in all, the facility offered a wide range of opportunities for sports and physical activity in the forest air, which was considered to be particularly healthy, as well as for quiet recreation in a natural and partially rural scenic environment.

The general conditions for the creation of a near-natural forest park were not ideal for Harrich. Due to the intensive pumping by the waterworks, the ground water in the area had sunk, which had led to the death of many of the oaks present there. Harrich himself spoke of a “desolate desert”, which he had to turn back into a forest. To do this, it was necessary to use drought-resistant species for the new plantations. Nevertheless, Harrich tried to use mainly naturally occurring tree species and to create native vegetation patterns. His aim was a beautiful “permanent forest in which nature was allowed to develop unhindered”(* FN: Harrich 1929, p. 25.)

During the Second World War the park was neglected and devastated by massive logging. Since 1949, extensive reforestation and repairs have therefore been carried out. In the western part, however, large areas were used as military camps by the Soviet city commandant’s office and later as barracks, thus removing them from the park’s use. In this context, from the 1950s onwards the interest of visitors shifted more strongly to the eastern part of the Wuhlheide, which was designed as a cultural park based on the Soviet model. So many changes took place here that today only the western part of the former Public Park has been preserved in the basic structure of the 1920s. Here the forest park is still characterised by the alternation of scenic forest areas and open spaces in the form of meadows or lawns.

Some geometric structures are visible in the terrain. The FEZ Bathing Lake Wuhlheide is located in the far west, which was rebuilt after the Second World War in the tradition of the light and air baths opened here in 1932. The structure of the large forest meadow and the former children’s playground is also preserved. The sports meadow, which had long been used by CIS troops, is now a fallow area, which has been partly converted into forest by succession. The former separate sports stadium has now been converted into a model landscape, in which famous Berlin buildings can be viewed as miniature replicas.

The toboggan run south of the Eichgestell, which Harrich developed from a sand dune, was re-established in a slightly modified form in the early 1950s and still exists today as a winter attraction. From the upper plateau, framed by oaks, a view opens up to the Christ Church (Christuskirche) in Oberschöneweide. Only the basic structures of the former hedge garden still stand out. Three stairways with integrated bench seats connect several terrace levels, between which embankments are formed.

Only relics of the important spatial axis south of the water tower, where the horseshoe-shaped flower meadow, the Rohrlake meadows with a paddling pool and a terraced garden were located, have been preserved. The former paddling pool still exists as a natural-looking small pond in the Rohrlake meadow. The upper part of the water tower had to be removed due to severe war damage and was given a new tent roof. It still fulfils its function as a point de vue today. The terraced garden, which included flower gardens and seating areas, can only be discerned by means of a mound and the regular planting of the lime trees.

All over the entire park, the attentive visitor can come across traces of an earlier more intensive design and thus guess the intensity of use of Public Parks of the 1920s in today’s rather extensive forest stock. The forest park area is characterised by a wooded population of old oaks mixed with pines, beech, maple, lime and birch trees, but also various ornamental shrubs. The staging of native forest pictures, which Harrich once intended, can still be experienced in various parts of the park and continues the concept of offering the city dweller a natural environment for recreation.

Reference:

  • Harrich, Ernst: Volks- und Waldpark Wuhlheide in Berlin-Treptow. In: Die Gartenkunst 42.1929, S. 24-26
  • Landesdenkmalamt Berlin (Hg.): Denkmale in Berlin. Bezirk Treptow-Köpenick. Ortsteile Nieder- und Oberschöneweide (Denkmaltopographie Bundesrepublik Deutschland) Petersberg 2003
  • Neumann, C.: Neuere und neueste Volksparks von Berlin. In: Die Gartenwelt 31.1927, S. 514-517, 671-673
  • Weber, Klaus Konrad: Berlins Parke seit 1900. In: Architekten- und Ingenieur-Verein zu Berlin (Hg.): Berlin und seine Bauten, Teil XI Gartenwesen. Berlin, München, Düsseldorf 1972, S. 70-106.

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