The history of open space development in Berlin

General open space plan of 1929

General open space plan of 1929

From Berlin's beginnings to the 19th century

Berlin grew out of a large number of settlements which slowly developed in the glacial valley along the River Spree and on the edges of the Teltow and Barnim plateaus. Initially, forests were planted in the less fertile areas, while meadows or fields were created on better or wetter soil. The location of the settlements was generally defined by the natural environment and the shipping lanes on the Spree. Originally, the town developed in the valley, radiating equally in all directions from the villages Berlin and Cölln, which formed the core of the settlement on the Spree islands. Development in Spandau and Köpenick, the nearest urban settlements in the Spree Valley, was mostly independent. The Berlin urban area was still limited to parts of the valley plain right into the last third of the 19th century. Weißensee, Pankow, Lichtenberg and Schöneberg were all still independent villages.

German Empire

The growth of Berlin in the German Empire was determined mainly by economic considerations. Suitable sites were built upon without any regard to distinctive landscape features. The city sprawled into the surrounding countryside. Prestigious ornamental squares, promenades and smaller parks grew up in the »better areas«, and several public parks were also laid out in the working class districts. Today these parks, together with the palace gardens and the former Electoral hunting reserve in the Großer Tiergarten, still rank among the most important green areas in the heavily built-up inner city.

1910 – The »Jansen-Plan«, the first comprehensive plan

The first comprehensive plan for Greater Berlin, in which the development of open space played a crucial role, was developed as part of the Greater Berlin competition of 1910. The award-winning »Jansen-Plan« not only made building suggestions, but also included a sophisticated open space concept. Berlin was to be structured by a smaller inner ring and a large outer ring of forests, parks, gardens and meadows. Radial green corridors were planned between the two rings, extending into the heavily built-up inner city. This plan influenced urban development considerably and was used as a basis for the aggressive safeguarding of open spaces. A great many town manors and permanent forests were bought both within and without Berlin, and a large number of public parks and allotments were created.

1929 – The general open space plan

The »Jansen-Plan« was also the model for the general open space plan of 1929 submitted by the government building officer Martin Wagner, who was also the first Stadtbaurat (municipal building adviser) to formulate minimum requirements for the provision of open space. It is thanks to these far-sighted plans that the city has its ring of parks, allotments and cemeteries and the extensive forests and agricultural areas on its periphery.

The post-war years and the »Scharoun-Plan«

The »Scharoun-Plan« was put forward in the post-war years. It involved a comprehensive urban renewal concept which would have emphasised and brought back to life the natural characteristics of the Berlin landscape, but at the same time would have completely destroyed the structures which had evolved over the centuries. However, the reconstruction which took place in the 1950s focussed mainly on the existing structure of the city. Additional green spaces grew up only on the mounds built of rubble from the destroyed buildings of Berlin, examples being Insulaner and Teufelsberg, or the Kippe in Friedrichshain and Oderbruchkippe in the Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg.

The 1960s and 70s

Development in the 1960s and 70s in both East and West Berlin was concentrated on the needs of motorisation and a marked reduction of open space. Green space planning in this period was transferred to a higher planning authority – the 1953 Regional Development Plan in East Berlin and the 1965 Land Use Plan in West Berlin – and was limited to improving the interconnection of existing green areas.

The 1980s

It was not until the Federal and Berlin Nature Conservation Acts came into force that the foundations were laid for the creation of a Landscape Programme including Nature Conservation and for the landscape plans. Considerable effort was put into gathering the basic information necessary for an inventory of nature and landscape and into developing suitable evaluation methods and processes for the first time. A review of the environmentally relevant base data and additional surveys together with data from the Environmental Atlas resulted in the formulation of the first Landscape Programme including Nature Conservation (Landscape Programme).

This was agreed in 1988 for West Berlin and was divided into four sub-programmes:

  • The Ecosystem and Environmental Protection,
  • The Protection of Biotopes and Species,
  • The Landscape Scenery and
  • Recreation and the Use of Open Space

At the same time the Land Use Plan was revised. It defines the ways in which land may be used and how much may be used for any one purpose at the same planning level as the Landscape Programme.

The 1990s

Almost a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, on 27th October 1990, the West Berlin Senate Department for Urban Development and Environmental Protection and the East Berlin Municipal Authority for the Environment and Nature Conservation passed a resolution to extend the Berlin Landscape Programme including Nature Conservation and the Land Use Plan to apply to the whole city.

A rapidly expanding metropolis with up to 300,000 new inhabitants in the city and 1.5 million inhabitants in the region were expected, with an additional 550 hectares of new building land required for commercial businesses, offices and retail.

In the process, it was possible to ensure that essential environmental aspects were taken into account, including the safeguarding of the open space system, climatically important ecological mitigation areas and local recreation areas.


The Landscape Programme including Nature Conservation was passed by the Senate of Berlin on 15th March 1994 and approved by the House of Representatives (Abgeordnetenhaus) on 23rd June in the same year.

The intention is to implement the development goals and provisions of the Landscape Programme including Nature Conservation at all planning levels, including town planning, urban and district development planning and regional planning, in coordination with the neighbouring state’s planning schemes, and including individual projects, competitions and the development of general principles. The responsibility lies with all of Berlin’s public departments and authorities and ranges from the initiation and planning of a project to its implementation. The corresponding legal instruments for the conservation of nature are the landscape plans, the fulfilment of the Impact Regulation, landscape planning concepts, protected area regulations, programmes for the support of individual species, nature conservation approvals, etc.

In 1999 the Impact Regulation was made more flexible for town planning, resulting in an alteration to the Federal Building Code. This in turn led to the introduction of the General Urban Mitigation Plan, the first major amendment to the Landscape Programme including Nature Conservation.
The Programme is updated on a regular basis, as and when required by alterations to the Land Use Plan.


With the decline in building activities in Berlin and the simultaneous financial crisis faced by the City of Berlin, new planning priorities must be set. The Urban Development Concept 2020 was therefore drawn up, setting three priorities for the development of green and open space:

  • The General Urban Mitigation Plan (House of Representatives resolution of 2004),
  • The closing of gaps in Berlin’s 20 major green routes, linked together by a network of biotopes and
  • Strategies for interim “green” use.

The intention is to hold public debates on the Urban Development Concept, particularly in the Stadtforum Berlin, which could be described as a “parliament of planners”.