Directly situated in the vicinity of Bernauer Straße, the park at the former Northern Station, and its historical remains, enhance the existing memorial site.
The park at the former northern station is also a good example of a paradigm shift during the development of a project.
We have been concerned with this area for 15 years. In 1995 we won, together with the Polish architect Romuald Loegler, the international town and landscape planning competition. The design resembled the idea of the “large meadow at the former Northern Station“ with large, open lawns. These were framed by woodland as well as a planned railway system. The wall or any other historical remains did not play any roll in the design. With regards to its content, the park could have been completed in any space.
We took the image of the large grassy area from a painting by the artist Manfred Butzmann from 1990. It was he who, together with some contemporaries, brought the idea of keeping the space along former course of the Berlin wall open through an art project into public discussion. Under the motto “Wall land lupines”, 10 tonnes of lupine seed were sown along the inner city line of the former wall by GDR border guards and members of the art initiative.
In the following years, the state of Berlin did not have the money to finance our concept to develop the park. It wasn´t until 2002, as a result of a newly developed concept, we had commissioned, that we were able to carry out our plans. The lack of finances awoke within us a new drive to be more resourceful, to use materials we found on the site, and a new sensitivity to preserve the traces of history.
The special initial situation
On the map, this area around the former Stettin station now called Northern station is easily recognisable as a distinctive gap in the town planning. It appears like a stretched sail and tapers out over almost a kilometre. The grounds also mark out the border between the West Berlin area of Wedding and the East Berlin area of Mitte. The uniqueness of the location allows direct views onto the city centre with its television tower and the Jewish synagogue. The area exposes the unique openness and breadth of the inner city, and yet as it is elevated 3 m above the ground, the noise and hecticness of the city seem far away.
Furthermore it is an area steeped in history, right in the heart of the city. There are three historical layers, whose traces you can feel everywhere and which combine with each other to spin one, unique, web.
One layer consists of the remains of the railway system of the Stettin station. The principal legacy of the Stettin station is its height. But to be found under the vegetation carpet covering the grounds, were also rusted platforms, former railway points, large scale plasterings, the foundation remains of buildings, tunnel remains, remnants of masts and markings.
The second historical layer is the former border construction, which once covered the complete area. For this most of the train station buildings had to be levelled. But some of the walls are still visible today as they formed part of the border construction. For example the former train station wall, part of the Berlin Wall, and the Kolonnenweg (in English maybe: patrol area) physically stand out against the city architecture. With close enough attention you can notice the renovations made to the wall over the decades. The most visible mark of the wall’s course, is a clearing through the wooded area. Even the former connecting tunnels to the Gartenstraßen show at least three fortifying layers. Because of all these traces, the area has become one of the most fundamental corner stones of the Berlin Wall memorial’s conception.
The third and most recent layer is the town wasteland, which has been reclaimed by the fast evolving urban nature. Since the fall of the wall, and up until 2002, this area had been forgotten. After initial hesitations (the area’s soil had been successively treated with pesticides) vegetation flourished. The existing woodland along the train station wall expanded, and billowing grassy areas and blooming tall carpets of flowers now cover the area. Piles of huge sandstone, chalk & granite blocks lie discarded around and provide a natural habitat for different kinds of birds and small creatures.
A new type of park- the close-to-nature urban park at the former Northern Station
We have added to these layers a fourth. From the initial concept of the „large meadow at the Northern station” a close-to-nature urban park on the area of approx. 5.15 hectare has sprung up, right in the heart of Berlin.
This transformation of these traces of history into a contemporary landscape design has developed a new type of park.
The park at the former northern station is a recreational space, which until now city spaces have not been renowned for. It is a park with a special atmosphere. It is a space which is open for new sensual experiences, invites you on historical journeys of discovery, allows inner city nature to expand, and which simply offers special, little places to pause and play.
First and foremost it was important to develop a design concept which was robust and flexible, and which could continually incorporate new traces of history. The unbelievable expanse of the (city-) countryside, the openness of the grassland and the view of the city, but also the enchantment of the place were to be preserved. The material used needed to be different to the material which was originally discovered on the site.
The historical layers should be respected, but not intrusively presented, instead casually placed so that attentive visitors may discover them for themselves. The sensitivity of the nature and it´s ecological importance should be noticeable to those who visit the site.
The challenge for the visitor to simultaneously discover history and nature, and to recognise and respect the special value of the place, requires a certain sensitivity. We wanted to achieve this through the layout of the entrances. As in classic garden landscaping, one steps in through gates, which protect the space lying behind. The entrances become narrower, and behind the gate a kind of „lost world“ opens out, in which one behaves and feels differently than in the surrounding city.
The existing open space, free of woodland, comprises mainly of approx. 80cm high, tuft like grass. This space gives the park its unique, distinctive atmosphere. This rolling „sea“ of grass stretches over an area of approx. 1.24 hectare. This uniqueness is emphasised by an enormous metal border. The openness, which is preserved by removing any tree saplings (also beneficial for conserving the nature) guarantees views of the silhouette of the city, long into the future.
Three trapezes measuring between 400 and 700 m2 have been set in this „sea“ of grass, in the way of three islands. They are reachable by bridges from the surrounding main paths. Walls which lift them approx. 1 m above the grassland area border these “islands” in the “sea of grass”. They are areas intended for active recreation; they offer opportunities to play and do exercise, but are also a place to recline and relax. Amorphous concrete-forms (so called “Bubbles”) accentuate by colour, and their artificiality – a contrast to the opulent nature.
The approx. 30 m wide woodland area alongside the Gartenstraße creates a shaded and contemplative area, in contrast to the mainly open lawn. In the middle of the woodland an existing clearing, which originates from the former course of the wall, is kept free and used for the so-called “Wall-trail”. Two uncovered tunnels allow two extra, narrow entrances into the park and a third acts as an „archaeological window“. This window gives us an unique glimpse of the underground border fortifications which were used.
Three 3 m cubes, built from found natural stone give the space an archaic feel.
The park stretches out to the north. It offers the possibility, in the next few years, to build a path over a length of approx. 7km, which could connect the various parks in the area in a circular route, such as „Mauerpark“ and the Berlin Wall memorial site.