The Municipal Development of Urban Green Space, 1870 to 1920

1870 to 1877

In June 1870, the Berlin City Council approved the establishment of a special “Park Deputation”, and the appointment of a city public gardens director. On July 1, 1870, the royal court gardener Gustav Meyer (1816-1877) assumed that office. This marks the real beginning of the history of the Berlin public gardens administration.

The responsibility of the city public gardens director included the overall technical management of the entire urban gardens system, the direction of the care and maintenance of all parks and green spaces and of the 3-ha tree-nursery facility, as well as the planning and implementation of new park projects.

The expenditures for the urban green spaces amounted to 16,800 marks (RM) in 1870. This covered the maintenance of the Friedrichshain, of tree plantings near Treptow, of the tree nursery, and also of nine decorative squares, of which seven were merely gravel surfaces surrounded by planted trees, and the other two were lawns. Moreover, there were twenty-four streets and avenues with tree plantations, twenty-five schools and gymnastics facilities, and three institutions with bathing facilities.

Gustav Meyer’s term of office, which lasted until 1877, involved mostly the completion of park facilities already planned or initiated before 1870. In 1874, the Friedrichshain was enlarged northward, to compensate for area losses due to the construction of a hospital. As at the Humboldthain and later in Treptower Park, an oval playground 250 m long and 100 m wide was built here in the shape of a hippodrome.

The urban green spaces of that era, called “people’s gardens, were to be places of exercise, recuperation, of sociable conversation, and also of the enjoyment of nature, as well as the formation and refinement of manners. Physical exercise in the open did not yet play a significant part here.

In 1876, Berlin received 550,000 RM as an “annuity” from the Prussian treasury for the care and maintenance of the urban parks and green spaces and also the streets and squares, including plantation, as well as for the construction of new green spaces.

In 1877, Berlin’s population reached the one million mark. The criticism of the social, sanitary and urban-planning problems of the housing structure led to proposals for improvements in all areas of urban planning. For the health of the resident population of the city center, recreational facilities were demanded. Moreover, the city government was called upon to take over the responsibility for all streets, squares and green spaces from the state government.

1877 to 1909

In 1877, Hermann Mächtig (1837-1909), an associate of Gustav Meyers’, succeeded to the direction of the City Public Gardens Department. He too represented the tradition of the Lenné-Meyer school, and of its landscape-gardening style.

The construction of the Treptower Park was completed in 1888 (construction costs: 1.2 million RM), and the preparatory work for the neighboring Plänterwald was initiated (1873).

In 1888, Mächtig began construction of the Viktoriapark on the Kreuzberg literally, Cross Mountain, for which he had himself drawn up the plans. The Prussian treasury had transferred the land free of charge to the city, and subsidized the project with 134,000 RM. In 1894, the park was completed for an expenditure of 2.8 million RM.

In 1882, there were only five urban playgrounds in Berlin. Demands for more sports fields and playgrounds expanded the tasks of the City Public Gardens Department.

1910 to 1920

Hermann Mächtig died in 1909. In 1910, Albert Brodersen (1857-1930) was appointed to succeed him as director of city public gardens.

Especially in order to counteract the social and sanitary problems in housing, a citywide urban planning structure was demanded for Berlin, with functional zoning, structured construction zones, a citywide traffic plan, and a citywide open-space plan. In 1909, these demands led to a competition for the establishment of a land-use plan for Greater Berlin.

The works of Hermann Jansen, of Eberstadt, Möhring and Petersen, and of Brix and Genzmer, won awards, and in 1910 they were publicly displayed in a general urban planning exhibition.

The establishment in 1911 of the Administrative Association of Greater Berlin meant the creation of the first planning organization for the capital, which could now be involved in the establishment of building lines and construction plans, the regulation of traffic conditions and the preservation and acquisition of plots to be kept free of development.

The reform movements caused a rejection of the largely representative “decorative green spaces” in favor of “sanitary” and social green space in the cities. An example of this functional change was the prize-winning competitive entry for the design of the Schillerpark by Magdeburg garden architect Friedrich Bauer (1872-1937), which was built in the thickly populated borough of Wedding between 1909 and 1913.

By contrast with the “people’s gardens” built by Lenné, Meyer and Mächtig in the style of landscape gardens, the modern garden architects tried to create space functionally designed to permit popular possession of parks for exercise, play and sports, and also for cultural performances (music, theater, etc.).

In 1910, the Committee for the Support of Physical Exercise in Greater Berlin published a memorandum on the dearth of playgrounds. Only a few municipalities in Greater Berlin had provided playgrounds up to that time, which were however too small, and hence overcrowded. This was also true of the too-small playgrounds in the Humboldthain and in the Friedrichshain. The only larger playground was in the Treptower Park .

In 1914, two playgrounds were built on the expansion areas of Viktoriapark. Starting in 1912, Erwin Barth (1890-1933), the public gardens director of Charlottenburg (which was still a separate city) had restructured existing, usually representative city squares as “garden squares” with integrated playing areas, or built such squares anew.

But not only numerous green spaces and parks in Berlin were planned and built during this period. On March 27, 1915 the so-called permanent forest contract was also concluded. The Zweckverband Groß-Berlin thereby undertakes not to build on or resell the acquired land (10,000 hectares in the Grunewald, Tegel, Grünau, Köpenick and Potsdam), but to maintain it as a recreational area for the citizens in the long term.

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