South from the city-centre of Berlin, a small pathway leads up to a curious mix of copper-colored buildings, a single-standing water tower, and birch trees, fighting their way through former train tracks. Upon arrival, the visitor is greeted by an engraved citation: “Wildness is the closest neighbor to art” – an idea which is taken literally in this multifaceted urban space.
The space I am referring to is called “Südgelände.” Until the 1950s, it was an important logistic site including a large switchyard for trains. But the stop to its industrial use also lead to a stop to any kind of use. It lay abandoned for decades, which resulted in the surrounding nature, bit by bit, re-conquering the land. When in the 1980s, a clearance and re-industrialisation was suggested, local initiatives revolted: Due to the rare circumstances of lying completely undisturbed, a flourishing natural environment was created, including a range of rare species of birds, plants, and mushrooms. The idea was to preserve Südgelände as a natural reservoir while at the same time respecting and conserving its industrial past. To visually and practically enforce this objective, a group of landscape designers developed a concept that combined the protection of nature, the accessibility of the entire space to the public, and re-use of the space ; including interesting sites of technical relics and modern art.
The park was officially opened in 1999. Walking through it today, the visitor is wowed with contrasts; untamed nature covering former train tracks and industrial art cutting clear paths through the wild forest. Metallic pathways guide the visitor through the nature reserve: carefully placed 50 cm above ground visitors are meant to see and experience its natural treasures without interacting – or potentially – destroying it. To attract a larger crowd of visitors to the park, a former engine hall today is re-used as an event space for theatre plays, concerts, artists, and other cultural or private events.
Hearing about Südgelände in Berlin – can you think of abandoned areas near you, that could be re-used and transformed into something new? What kind of development could you imagine to see there?
Credits: Data linked to sources. Photography Rights: Luise Letzner, Claudia Georgi.