Active recreation for everyone

Until the 18th century, parks were firmly in feudal hands. They served the nobility as a retreat for taking a stroll and as a means of representation. In the course of the Enlightenment, the parks were also opened up to the citizens. England was a pioneer, where the social problems, especially in the working-class cities, were particularly great. It was believed that gardening was a suitable means of improving the morale of the workers. Moreover, in the course of the 18th century, one began to merge public parks with an educational mission. Statues, monuments, instructive inscriptions and scientific visual material were intended for education, while exercise in the fresh air was to cure urban vices and preserve public health.

Volkspark Wuhlheide Plan 1924
Design of the Public and Forest Park by Ernst Harrich from 1924. (Archive Treptow-Köpenick Museums)
Bathing pleasure for everyone in the “Paddling Pool on the Beach” ("Planschteich am Strand") (See no. 14 in the plan) on the large forest meadow in the Public and Forest Park Wuhlheide. (Archive Treptow-Köpenick Museums)

Consequences of Industrialisation in Germany

This concept soon spilled over to the continent. In Germany, too, the founding of the Empire led to an explosion in industry. Cities grew rapidly, disease erupted, and male youth became increasingly unfit for military service. In order to satisfy the needs of the population for recreation and to prevent unrest, working hours were initially shortened. In 1891, the ban on Sunday work was introduced, which was associated with an increased use of urban green spaces. The suddenly available free time was spent by many workers in singing, sports, hiking and other clubs. In order to strengthen the military ability, sporting activities were particularly encouraged from 1891 onwards. This also required a new type of park: The Public Park (Volkspark).

The first parks for all

The first public garden modelled on Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London was built in 1789 with the “English Garden” in Munich. The first municipal park in Berlin was the Friedrichshain, which was designed in the middle of the 19th century under the direction of the Landscape Architect Gustav Meyer. A few years later in 1869, he developed Humboldthain, the first public garden, modelled on Central Park in New York. At the same time, the strengthening bourgeoisie created its own recreation areas. They strolled on the ramparts, took walks at the gates of the city and romped about on the grasslands. Little by little, privately financed, publicly accessible, civic parks, such as the Bremer Bürgerpark in 1866, were also created in the cities. By around 1900 there was a city park in every major city.

Key elements of the Public Park

The park design of the following period endeavoured to achieve a reformative, functional garden style. While in the bourgeois park the focus was on enjoyment, taking possession through activity was now propagated. A team of modern landscape architects, architects and artists came together to rethink the park in the spirit of a reform movement that covers all areas of life. The emphasis was on physical training and health. The “free romping in the meadows”, as some of these reformers had observed before on the popular meadows at the gates of the city, developed into the ideal of the Public Park. After it became known that nutrition, physical condition, fresh air and sunlight play an important role in the fight against tuberculosis, this development picked up speed once again. The determining element of the park was now the games and public meadow. Paths were reduced to a minimum, natural conditions were given a useful function: hills became toboggan runs, waters became paddling pools and ice skating rinks, pavilions became resting rooms or milk bars, and garden stages into places of culturing tradition with song and dance. All these elements were also reflected in the planning of the Volkspark Wuhlheide a short time later.


  • Hennecke, Stefanie: „Der Volkspark für die Gesundung von Geist und Körper – Das ideologische Spannungsfeld einer bürgerlichen Reformbewegung zwischen Emanzipation und Disziplinierung des Volkes“. In Buch: Gärten und Parks als Lebens- und Erlebnisraum: Funktions- und nutzungsgeschichtliche Aspekte der Gartenkunst in Früher Neuzeit und Moderne. Stefan Schweizer (Hg.), Worms: Wernersche Verlagsanstalt, 2008, S. 151-164.
  • Kämmerer, Christine, Sportparks: Großsportanlagen der 1920er Jahre, Marburg 2016, S. 77 – 91
  • Bert Beitmann, Gartenkunst:
Skip to content