Dr Julien Drouart
Südgelände Nature Park: The ultimate in urban regeneration
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
The Südgelände Nature Park is both a very pleasant place to visit and proof that industrial areas can be renaturalised. An extraordinary relationship between nature and culture.
A visit to the Südgelände Nature Park is optional. It is also a personal favourite.
In 1988, West Berlin adopted a programme of landscape planning and species protection, making a sharp break with the policy of the 1970s, which favoured the all-motor vehicle and made intensive use of so-called open spaces.
Since Reunification, the reconversion of abandoned industrial wastelands on the one hand, and the debate on the climate issue on the other, have led the German capital to strengthen its environmental policy, which reaffirms the zoning rule for land use and puts in place a forward-looking urban planning project. In other words, the protection of the environment and biodiversity is more of a social issue, as nature can be a guarantor of good living together.
This idea is that of sustainable development, i.e. a reflection on the possible interconnections between culture, ecology, the economy and social life. However, these areas coexist most of the time within clearly defined spatial limitations with development generally separate from one another.
The Südgelände Nature Park has the extraordinary ambition to create a new dynamic by combining all these issues in a symbiotic way. Located on the former Tempelhof train yard, the railway area was abandoned from 1952 onwards, having become obsolete due to the division of the city. For several decades, the flora and fauna of the area developed in a wild state, without any planning. Supported by citizens' initiatives, this unique experiment was continued and in 2000, a nature park was inaugurated.
Industrial conversion, biodiversity and cultural diversity
The park is located between two railway lines and is therefore very well served by public transport. Once the entrance fee has been paid, the visitor is suddenly struck by the vivid recolouring of the old marshalling yard installations.
Indeed, contemporary art associates itself with industrial heritage, diverting it and transforming it. It invites us to change our view of relics and other vestiges of industrialisation such as the machine, the metal or the rail. The secret garden "Giardino Segreto" and its metal works scattered throughout the park accompany the visitor towards nature rediscovered on a circuit of several kilometres.
The magnificent amphitheatre, an unpretentious open-air replica of the Globe Theatre in London, where the Berlin Shakespeare Theatre regularly performs in a romantic and old-fashioned atmosphere, is also worth a look.
But soon, as you walk through the green alleys, this somewhat elitist culture is replaced by the culture of graffiti and tagging, where the frescoes of street artists cover the pylons of the railway installations.
On the way, the visitor comes across a huge water tower that has been turned into a restaurant, an old steam locomotive on display for the enjoyment of children, steel workshops that now host various events, and an enigmatic turntable for turning over locomotives, one of the oldest in Germany.
This one and a half hour walk leads the visitor through a preserved flora where numerous varieties of plants and mushrooms, more than 350 in total, and thus numerous insects (bees, spiders, locusts, etc.), and 30 species of birds have found refuge. Of the 18 hectares of the park, two thirds are covered with trees and plants.
Renaturation of industrial areas is possible
Walking through the Südgelände Nature Park is an extraordinary and hopeful environmental experience. The former railway and industrial area has been transformed into a natural oasis and a modern-day Noah's Ark. Nature has gradually covered both the installations and the rails on the ground. Roots entangle themselves on the metal rods, finding a way to thrive no matter what.
Sixty years ago the ground was completely covered with railway ballast. It takes time for nature to regain its rights, but with the necessary time, the renaturation of cleared areas is possible. This is not just another park: it is an absolutely fascinating experiment that shows that it is possible.
One of the most important rules is not to touch a branch or leaf on the ground, so as not to interfere with the natural regeneration process. Only the meadow is regularly maintained in order to preserve the specific biotope: wild sheep are brought in to eat the young tree shoots.
What we have before us is true nature without human interference or maintenance. Nevertheless, people learn to live and socialise in it thanks to a rich and diverse cultural offer, where classical and alternative cultures meet. Living in the city in contact with nature to encourage living together. An experience to be enjoyed from May to September, but beware: this is not a museum and the space has no educational objectives.
Reasons to go
An intact and preserved forest in the heart of the city
An exotic walking route with many sights
Empirical proof that the renaturation of industrial areas is possible
Reasons to avoid
A classic cultural offer with undemocratic prices
Not enough explanations
The absence of any interlocutor on the spot