Südgelände Nature Park: Urban Regeneration
Updated: Jun 21
The Südgelände Nature Park is not only a delightful place to visit, but also an evidence that industrial areas can be successfully renaturalised. Here, you'll find an extraordinary intersection between nature and culture.
A Visit Is Optional. It Is Also a Personal Favourite.
In 1988, West Berlin embarked on a landscape planning and species protection program, marking a significant departure from the 1970s policy that favored motor vehicles and intensive use of open spaces.
Since Reunification, the conversion of abandoned industrial wastelands and climate discussions have propelled the German capital to bolster its environmental policy. This policy reestablishes zoning rules for land use and puts forth a forward-thinking urban planning project. In essence, the protection of the environment and biodiversity has become a social issue, as nature can foster better community living.
This concept is at the core of sustainable development, where culture, ecology, economy, and social life potentially intersect. However, these areas often coexist within distinct spatial boundaries, generally evolving independently of one another.
The Südgelände Nature Park aspires to spark a new dynamic by synergistically combining these factors. Located on the former Tempelhof train yard, the railway area was abandoned since 1952, rendered obsolete by the city's division. For several decades, flora and fauna in the area flourished in a wild, unplanned state. Thanks to citizen initiatives, this unique experiment was continued, and in 2000, a nature park was inaugurated.
Industrial Conversion, Biodiversity, and Cultural Diversity
The park, nestled between two railway lines, is conveniently accessible via public transport. Once you've paid the entrance fee, you're immediately struck by the vibrant reinterpretation of the old marshalling yard installations.
Contemporary art merges with industrial heritage, transforming and repurposing it. It prompts a fresh perspective on relics and vestiges of industrialization, such as machinery, metal, and railways. The "Giardino Segreto" or Secret Garden, with its scattered metal works throughout the park, guides visitors toward rediscovered nature on a circuit spanning several kilometers.
Worthy of note is the beautiful amphitheater, a modest open-air replica of London's Globe Theatre. Here, the Berlin Shakespeare Theatre regularly performs amidst a romantic, old-world ambiance.
However, as you stroll through the verdant alleys, this somewhat elitist culture gives way to graffiti and tagging culture. Street artist frescoes adorn the pylons of railway installations.
Along the way, you'll encounter a massive water tower turned restaurant, an old steam locomotive delighting children, steel workshops hosting various events, and a mysterious turntable for flipping locomotives—one of the oldest in Germany.
This one and a half hour walk takes you through preserved flora, hosting over 350 varieties of plants and fungi, numerous insects (bees, spiders, locusts, etc.), and 30 species of birds. Of the park's 18 hectares, two-thirds are blanketed with trees and plants.
The Renaturalisation of Industrial Areas is Possible
A visit to the Südgelände Nature Park is an extraordinary and promising environmental experience. The former railway and industrial area has been transformed into a modern-day Noah's Ark—a natural oasis. Nature gradually reclaims the installations and railway tracks. Roots intertwine with metal rods, persevering against all odds.
Sixty years ago, the ground was entirely covered with railway ballast. It takes time for nature to reclaim its dominion, but with sufficient time, renaturalisation of cleared areas is possible. It's not merely another park; it's a fascinating experiment demonstrating feasibility.
One of the most crucial rules is not to touch any fallen branch or leaf, so as not to disrupt the natural regeneration process. Only the meadow is regularly maintained to preserve the specific biotope: wild sheep are brought in to graze on the young tree shoots.
What unfolds before us is unadulterated nature without human interference or maintenance. Still, people learn to live and socialize in it, thanks to a rich and diverse cultural offering, where classical and alternative cultures intersect. City living in harmony with nature promotes better community living. It's an experience best savored from May to September. But remember, this is not a museum, and the space doesn't have any educational objectives.
Reasons to Visit
An unspoiled and preserved forest in the city's heart
An exotic walking route with many attractions
Empirical proof that industrial renaturalisation is achievable
Reasons to Skip
A conventional cultural offering with non-democratic prices
The lack of any onsite personnel