How green is Berlin?

Nature and Environment

Chill out by the Landwehr Canal

In winter, Berlin can seem like a cold concrete jungle. But with the first rays of sunshine, Berliners flock outside to occupy every scrap of green they can find - like the bank of the Landwehr Canal, which runs parallel to Berlin's Spree River. It's the perfect spot to sip a beer, play guitar and watch the swans glide by.

Nature and Environment

Take a dip in one of Berlin's 50 lakes

Berlin doesn't just have three rivers and eight canals, but also more than 50 lakes that invite a lazy day in nature and a refreshing dip. You'll find lakes in every direction, from the famous Wannsee in the south to Müggelsee's great expanse in the east. And if diving straight in isn't your bag, you can explore the waterways by sailboat, surfboard or canoe.

Nature and Environment

Swim in the Spree?

If you want an outdoor swim but don't fancy the journey out to one of Berlin's lakes, then Badeschiff, literally bathing ship, is the place to take a dip in the center of town. You can curl up with a good book in a hammock or dive right into the pool, which floats atop the River Spree. Be warned:on weekends, Badeschiff draws crowds of hipsters sipping gin-and-tonics to electronic beats.

Nature and Environment

Take a hike in Grunewald

If you need a break from Berlin's city buzz, head to Grunewald. The forest on Berlin's western edge covers 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres), making it the city's largest green area. If you're lucky, you might spot a deer or wild boar. Or check out the derelict former surveillance center on Teufelsberg, which was used by the Americans and Brits to spy on the GDR and Russia during the Cold War.

Nature and Environment

Barbecue at Tempelhofer Feld

What used to be a Nazi airport is now a huge recreational area in the middle of the city. Berliners come to the former runways to skate, fly their kites, walk their dogs, practice riding Segways, and barbecue with friends. While you're here, you can also give back to the community by pitching in with urban gardening or volunteering at the refugee center inside the former airport building.

Nature and Environment

Meet the peacocks on Pfaueninsel

Pfaueninsel - or Peacock Island - in southwestern Berlin is a nature reserve where the eponymous birds add exotic color to a picturesque landscape rich with native flora. It once belonged to Prussian king Frederick William II, who built a castle here for his mistress Wilhelmine Enke. Today, the island is part of the Palaces of Potsdam, and a Berlin UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Nature and Environment

Explore Brandenburg by bike

Berlin is its own state, but it's surrounded by another state: Brandenburg, famous for its pristine landscapes. The best way to explore Brandenburg's lakes, rivers and forests is by bike. Nothing clears the head faster than sweeping down avenues flanked by massive trees and sunflower fields with the wind in your hair.

Nature and Environment

Kayak through Spreewald

Spreewald, less than an hour's train ride from Berlin, is a picturesque network of more than 200 small canals that are best explored by kayak. The landscape is breathtaking - it was shaped during the ice age and designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. Pull your boat up at piers along the waterways to buy honey and the famous Spreewald gherkins, or small cucumbers, from friendly locals.

Nature and Environment

Stroll around Potsdam's palace gardens

Potsdam, Brandenburg's capital, is a 30-minute trip from Berlin, and well worth a visit for the luscious gardens at Sanssouci, whose name means "carefree." The Rococo palace was Frederick the Great's summer residence and is hailed as Germany's answer to Versailles. Its extensive grounds are littered with sculptures and follies that will whisk you a world a way from you worries.

Nature and Environment

Walk from Frankfurt Oder to Poland

If you want to get right out of the city - and perhaps out of the country - take a day trip to Frankfurt Oder. The city sits on the Oder River that separates Germany and Poland. Just wander across the bridge to enjoy a cold Polish beer in the country it was made. Back in Germany, you can chill out at one of the many lakes surrounding Frankfurt Oder - like the famous Helenesee.

The German capital is hailed for its green spaces, where Berliners flock at the first glimpse of sun. Check out insider tips for the best nature hangouts - and find out if Berlin really is as green as people say.

DW: You're a nature conservationist. How green is Berlin in comparison to other cities in the world?

Herbert Lohner: Berlin is often called a green metropolis. That's partially true - it may be so for Germany, but compared to other European cities, Berlin is rather below average, so to speak.

After reunification, it became much better for people in terms of green spaces, because lots of parks were built in the last 25 years on former protected border strips of the Berlin wall, which people hadn't previously had access to, such as the park at Gleisdreieck. 

Herbert Lohner Referent für Naturschut

Expert Herbert Lohner: Berlin could be much greener

At the moment there's a big movement in Germany, and also in Berlin, on improving green infrastructure. A government plan is being written on building green infrastructure in cities. Berlin's city government also has an agreement to protect its green spaces and trees, and that's a good instrument.

Nature and Environment | 09.03.2017

Have green spaces in Berlin been deteriorating?

There's a big problem with littering because of people intensively using green spaces - which is actually what they're also there for, for people to use them. Garden maintenance is inadequate, and there's a lack of resources with too few staff and too few trainee gardeners - many gardeners are retiring, and so more should be trained up.

Another issue is that while there's many protected green spaces, there's also many green spaces which aren't protected from being built on.

Unfortunately in the last few decades, important pieces of land, including brownfield sites - such as old railway tracks and train stations which are no longer being used - have been sold off. In Germany, that's a relatively new problem, because there's no protection for brownfield sites.

Deutschland Hallesches Ufer in Berlin

Urban greenery is vital for cooling down cities in the face of climate change

Aside from parks and gardens, what else is meant by "green spaces"?

The green spaces running alongside bodies of water, such as rivers, canals and lakes, like Müggelsee and Wannsee, are very important for the city as well. We are calling for watersides to not be privatized, so that small pieces of land can't be sold to private houses and shores or banks don't become shut off. Banks are for people to use but they're also important for a range of plant species.

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There is also one category of green spaces that is a bit quirky, but it is something rather special: around 20 years ago, the first street tree gardens sprang up, which encircle trees on the street and are around two square meters wide, where people plant flowers. It was actually an art project, but a movement grew out of it, and nowadays they are often cared for by nearby café owners or citizens.

Could you name good and bad examples of how Berlin's parks have been developed?

In Berlin, a good example of how a brownfield site has been turned into a park is the Natur-Park Südgelände in Schöneberg. It was formerly an old railway yard which was turned into a nature reserve several years ago. The old train structures have been integrated and nature has been carefully developed so that it's become a mixture between a kind of industrial area and a forest.

Der Park Gleisdreieck in Berlin

Most of the existing rail structures were removed when Gleisdreieck Park in Schöneberg was redesigned - too bad, Lohner thinks

A bad example is the development of the Gleisdreieck Park in Schöneberg, where most of the existing rail structures were removed and the park was completely redesigned.

But the people needed this park. There's a guideline that every resident in Berlin has a right to 6 square meters of green space, within a 500-meter distance from their home. That is the case in some areas of the city like Pankow and Prenzlauerberg, but in others this just isn't the case.

Another good example is the Nordbahnhof park - there, people succeeded in integrating the existing nature into the park's development.

How can Berlin become greener?

Green spaces need to be protected long-term and the existing spaces need to be better cared for. What would be best would be to have a green network in the city - that is, green infrastructure, just like grey infrastructure such as streets - for people and nature. We must transform grey infrastructure into green infrastructure.

Until now, people have been trying to protect green against grey, and have fought against creating more streets and buildings on green areas. But we have to reverse this direction and instead try to turn streets back into green spaces and introduce more greenery on building facades and roofs.

Deutschland Berlin Luftaufnahme

Berlin's large Tiergarten only cools down the climate as much as a small park

There are around 450,000 trees lining the streets in Berlin, but every year more are damaged than are planted.

In recent years, city greenery has gained more political traction because of climate change, as greenery cools down cities. That's why it's important to have trees on streets. A small park, for example, has a cooling effect that reaches a distance of 200 to 300 meters. A large park like Tiergarten or Tempelhof also only cools up to 200 to 300 meters, so we need more small parks.

What is your favorite park in Berlin?

The Schlosspark Buch, which are castle gardens and a European protected area. When I go to the train station on my way to work, I walk through the park and it's really relaxing.

Herbert Lohner is a consultant on nature conservation for the Berlin branch of the nongovernmental organization Alliance for the Environment and Nature Protection in Germany (BUND).

The interview was conducted by Melanie Hall.

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