The Berlin Tiergarten, from England with love?

ImageThere are some obvious similarities between Berlin’s Tiergarten and London’s Regent’s Park. They were former royal land (indeed, Regent’s Park is still owned by the Crown) which were later landscaped into city parks, and today they are both home to zoos. But whereas there are no horticultural echoes of Germania in Regent’s Park, there is a little piece of Albion in Tiergarten: the north-western corner of the garden is home to the Englischer Garten, a 40,000 square meter area sporting classic English designs such as a pond of with grassy bank and weeping willows, a rock garden, a bridge of folly-like design and a wilder nature garden for exploration, all within the safe confines of the big city. There is also a formal garden with small fountains, flowers, and lawns laid out in symmetrical patterns, but the less said about that the better.

This is not, as you would perhaps suspect, a nineteenth century German version of the English style of garden design that was the height of fashion in that era. Inaugurated on May 29, 1952, it first acquired the nickname ‘The Garden of Eden’, after Sir Anthony Eden, the British foreign minister, who was present at the opening ceremony. The garden itself was the brainchild of General Bourne, the British commander in Berlin after 1945. Seeing the devastation the war situation had wrecked on the Tiergarten, he found garden enthusiasts in England who shared his dream to re-build the park in a vision he felt appropriate. Over 5000 trees were sent from the English towns, gardening organisations and private donors, with some trees and plants coming from the royal gardens and forests of George VI, the father of Elizabeth II. The royal connection was sealed when Elizabeth II planted an oak tree from the garden at Windsor Castle in 1965. The design of the garden was thanks to Willy Alverdes, a German garden planner, and the place stands to this day as a symbol of how the Germans and the British managed to work together through the blockade of the city in 1952.

The name should be seen in this context, I think, rather than as a home away from home for the English with green fingers. The garden, while picturesque is as well-kept as the rest of Tiergarten, which means it’s neater than most other parks in Berlin. But perhaps the biggest disappointment is the Teehaus (tea house): here there is even less of England than in the surroundings. The menu is one of those intent on ensuring that no one will go uncatered for: everything from matjes filets, to pasta and New York cheesecake. The only English item is fish and chips, which would not make it onto the menu of many tea houses west of the White Cliffs of Dover. The indifferent collection of tea sachets are served in glass mugs. There are no cream teas, no English teapots and no cucumber sandwiches on china side plates.

Maybe it’s just me. The Teehaus is well visited, and on sunny days the lawn by the pond is a popular picnic spot. I guess you can take the Engländer out of England, but you can’t take England out of the Engländer; what remains is an irrational love of lawns and foods only ever enjoyed vicariously (when did I last eat a scone?). Anyway, an almost-English garden is certainly better than no English garden.