New focus in the Wuhlheide: A World for Children

Entrance portal of the Pioneer Park "Ernst Thälmann" with a group of Bulgarian children on 31.07.1951, Photo: Hans-Günter Quaschinsky (Federal Archives, picture 183-15682-0006)
Entrance to the Pioneer Republic Ernst Thälmann in Wuhlheide, by Herbert Hensky (bpk Bildagentur, Nr.30037964)

Shortly after the end of the war, the staff of Colonel General Bersarin, the first Soviet City Commander of Berlin, developed plans to build a park for the Berlin school youth. Walter Ulbricht, Klaus Herde and Margot Feist (later Margot Honecker) took part in the search for a suitable location. They initially looked at the Müggelsee, but did not find what they were looking for, as the location should provide both water and a favourable traffic infrastructure as the main requirements.

Wuhlheide – Location with Potential

On the way back from this excursion, the search team drove along the road An der Wuhlheide and decided to have a look at it again. The area at the level of the former main entrance to the Pioneer Republic was overgrown and criss-crossed with trenches from the war, reports a contemporary witness. Margot Feist recognised the potential and so the 4th meeting of the Central Council of Free German Youth (Zentralrat der Freien Deutschen Jugend) decided in December 1949 to set up a Republic of Young Pioneers in the Wuhlheide on the occasion of the FDJ’s 1st German meeting at Pentecost 1950. The 2 km²  tent city was the hour of birth of the “Ernst Thälmann” Pioneer Park.(Literatur: Die Wuhlheide, Dokumentation der Projektgruppe „Stadtmaler“ 1996/97; Edition Motiv der ARBLI GmbH, S. 22)

The article “Pionierpark Ernst Thälmann” by Sylvia Butenschön, published in: Parkanlagen und Stadtplätze, in der Reihe: Gartendenkmale in Berlin, hrsg. vom Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Michael-Imhof-Verlag Petersberg, S. 468 f.

Bathing Lake with sandy beach in the Pioneer Park on 24.07.1951, Photo: Heinz Funck (Federal Archives, picture 183-11453-0007)
Forest Park game in the Pioneer Park with Monument, 1951 (Federal Archives, picture 183-19000-0293)
The open-air stage in the main axis of the Pioneer Park with a lateral, mountain-like planting and stone formations, 24.07.1951, Photo: Heinz Funck (Federal Archives, picture 183-11453-0001)

Pioneer Park Ernst Thälmann

In 1950, the Pioneer and Cultural Park “Ernst Thälmann” was established in the eastern part of the Wuhlheide Public Park. This part of the park was to serve as a Pioneer Republic for the children’s organisation of the socialist youth association Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend) FDJ. Such parks were built in the entire GDR according to the Soviet model, but of course a particularly high standard was applied to the complex in the capital. The design contained all the important elements of this type of park, sports facilities, a school garden, which was called the Mitshurin Garden in honour of the Russian botanist, a lake and a festival site in the form of a grandstand. Probably the planning was in the hands of the Landscape Architect Reinhold Lingner (1902-1968), who until May 1950 was head of the Office for Green Planning (Amtes für Grünplanung) of the municipal authority and was thus responsible for important open space planning.

 

Although at the end of 1950 the financial resources for the design of the park were drastically reduced, the Pioneer Park could be completed with the help of volunteers before the third World Festival of Youth and Students in the summer of 1951. The Office for Green Spaces of the District of Köpenick (Grünflächenamt des Bezirks Köpenick) was responsible for the technical management, the detailed planning and implementation was the responsibility of the United Horticultural Companies Baumschulenweg (Vereinigte Gartenbaubetriebe), which emerged from the well-known tree nursery Späth.

A large bathing lake with a sandy beach enormously expanded the possibilities of use in the Wuhlheide forest, especially for children and young people. The lake was not only a popular place for the participants during the World Festival. Since 1951, swimming lessons have also been given here regularly, so that many Köpenick students have learned to swim in the Pioneer Park. As a central element of the Pioneer Park, a large horseshoe-shaped open-air stage was created. The grandstands were layered from debris, which was then covered with the excavated soil from the nearby lake. The stage complex accommodated 20,000 spectators and was thus able to hold a good three quarters of all participants of the 1951 World Festival, who had travelled from over a hundred countries. The stage space facing the southern entrance of the park was bound to the side by the embankments ascending to the stands. These were designed like a small mountain landscape with stone settings and little limestone walls as well as a planting of various conifers, such as junipers, yews and false cypresses. In the following decades, the open-air stage continued to be used for cultural and sporting events as well as political demonstrations, among other things as part of regular holiday camps for children and young people. Around the grandstand, the Wuhlheide forest was turned into a forest park. The creation of grass borders along the paths and the planting of shrubs and deciduous wood under the older tree population gave the forest an upgrade in terms of garden art, which was further enhanced by sculptures. The sculpture of a group of young people and children points to the function of the pioneer park as a place of friendly encounters, exchange and learning from and with each other.

The main access to the stage was from the south via a representative path axis, which originally consisted of a central promenade flanked by flower beds and narrower paths. The square in front of the entrance was marked by a shallow rectangular water basin with a fountain in the middle. At the end of the 1970s, the Pioneer Palace was built east of the open-air stage, which is now known as the FEZ Children’s, Youth and Family Centre. This shifted the flow of visitors to the east, so that the importance of the entrance axis decreased and therefore a design simplification was made turning it into a wide lawn strip.

Nevertheless, the main road axis still forms a unity in terms of content and design together with the open-air stage and the neighbouring bathing lake, which reflects its time of origin in the early GDR both through the specific building materials and plants used and through a certain monumental character.

Reference:

  • Landesdenkmalamt Berlin (Hg.): Denkmale in Berlin. Bezirk Treptow-Köpenick. Ortsteile Nieder- und Oberschöneweide (Denkmaltopographie Bundesrepublik Deutschland) Petersberg 2003

 

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