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Municipal Development of Urban Green Space, 1920 to 1948

1920 to 1925

The defeat in World War I and the revolutionary events of 1918 brought an end to the monarchy and led to the formation of the Weimar Republic in 1919. In 1920, on the basis of the law of April 27, the new municipality of Greater Berlin was established, with 3.8 million inhabitants.

Director of city public gardens Albert Brodersen now served as head of the Parks and Cemetery Systems Division, until leaving office as city public gardens director in 1925. Borough departments of public gardens were set up in the twenty boroughs. The director of city public gardens was responsible for the general guidelines for the care and maintenance of all public facilities and planting, including the cemeteries, as well as for the supervision and management of all municipal plant-raising facilities, the procurements of materials and the regulation of basic labor issues. He also had to check the designs submitted by the borough departments of public gardens for new facilities, especially their cost estimates and budgets. With the exception of the Großer Tiergarten, which remained under its own Tiergarten Inspection Agency until 1954, responsibility for the care and maintenance of all parks and green spaces was transferred to the boroughs.

In 1921, there were 1,339 ha of parks, green spaces and decorative squares (1.5 percent of the Berlin city area).

In order to find jobs for the large number of unemployed people after the defeat in World War I and the subsequent disbanding of the army, the influx of many refugees and especially the worldwide economic crisis, Berlin’s Mayor Gustav Böss (1871-1946) in 1921 established an emergency program at the level of 45 million RM, jointly funded by the national, state and municipal governments. The program included the construction of forty-three major projects for playgrounds, sports fields and parks. By 1924, the twelve largest projects had been completed.

From 1920-1923, the 160 ha Volkspark Jungfernheide (Maiden Heath Public Park) was created, as designed by Charlottenburg borough public gardens director Erwin Barth.

Treptow borough public gardens director Ernst A. Harrich (1886-1941) created the 175 ha Volks- und Waldpark Wuhlheide (Wuhlheide Public Forest Park; in German), the largest public park in Berlin. In addition, the 13 ha Volkspark Mariendorf (1923-‘24) and the 30 ha Volkspark Tempelhofer Feld (Tempelhof Field Public Park), (1921-‘27) – the latter only existed for a few years – were also created.

The public parks were distinguished by a large variety of use opportunities. All strata of the population were to be provided with the space and the opportunity to spend time in the public parks at any season of the year. They were to be able to enjoy games and sports there, but also to find space for tranquil resting. Instead of “decorative value,” the public parks were to provide “use value.”

An additional 35 million RM were appropriated to continue the emergency employment projects between 1924 and 1927. Up to 8,000 unemployed persons were employed at times.

In addition to the public parks, many smaller parks were also built during this period: the 10 ha Lietzenseepark (Lietzen Lake Park) (1912-‘20), by E. Barth; the 2 ha Brixplatz (1919-‘21) by E. Barth; the 7.5 ha green spaces with bathing facilities at Plötzensee (Plötzen Lake) (1923), by R. Germer; the 6 ha Südpark South Park in Spandau (1923), by R. Woy; the 9 ha Fischtalpark (1925-‘29), by M. Dietrich; and the 5 ha Schulenburgpark in Neukölln (1924), by O. Wagler.

Since 1920, Berlin’s public green spaces have been expanded by 1,300 ha.

1926 to 1935

In 1926, Erwin Barth (1890-1933) succeeded to the office of the city public gardens director. Barth had served in that office in Charlottenburg since 1912, first as public gardens director and after 1920, when the town became a borough of Berlin, as borough director. In his almost four years of service as Berlin city public gardens director, Barth redesigned several city squares in the central boroughs, and planned the green space on the landfill site of the former Luisenstädtischer Kanal (Luisenstadt Canal; in German) in the boroughs of Mitte and Kreuzberg. On June 22, 1929 he was able to turn over the completed Volkspark Rehberge to the public; it had been under construction since 1926. On October 1, 1929 Barth was offered a professorship at the Berlin University of Technology, and thus joined the university’s agriculture department, occupying the first university chair in horticultural studies/ garden design in Germany.

The Law for the Conservation of Trees and the Opening of Riverside Pathways in the Interests of Public Health of July 22, 1922 set new standards for spatial policy in the Weimar Republic, providing legal protection for parks.

In accordance with the new construction code of 1925, the Urban Planning Department, headed by Councilman Martin Wagner (1885-1957) from 1926 to 1933, drafted a general development plan for the city, which provided the basis for a number of projects, including the 1929 design for a general open-space system by Koeppen and Wagner. The calculation foundations for this were provided by Wagner’s 1915 dissertation at the Royal Technical College of Berlin: “The Sanitary Green Spaces of Cities: A Contribution to the Open-Space Theory.” The General Open Space Plan tried to apply an ideal open-space system to Berlin. A greenbelt and major green strips formed a large networked system of forests, heaths, sewage farms, meadow hollows and parks. Green connections created cohesion between allotment gardens, cemeteries, river valleys and greened streams, and chains of lakes, with major consideration given to the natural conditions.

1935 to 1945

On December 15, 1935, after a six-year vacancy, the office of the city public gardens director was once again occupied with the appointment of Joseph Pertl (1899-1989) from Mannheim. In 1940, Pertl was promoted to councilman and head of main department. In that position, he oversaw not only the public gardens administration and the cemetery system, but also the administration of the forests and city properties. The office of city public gardens director remained unoccupied after 1940. During this period (1936), the “Grove of Honor” was built (later Volkspark) Hasenheide (1936), Unter den Linden was planted with silver lindens, Hochmeisterplatz was redesigned, and the green space on Halensee was newly built.

During the war years after 1941, air raid shelters were built in green spaces (e.g., the surface bunkers in the Humboldthain and Friedrichshain). Throughout the war, from 1939 to 1945, the work of the borough departments of public gardens was impeded by lack of manpower, vehicles, appliances, materials and money. The “war measures” included production of vegetables and fruit in the garden centers and tree nurseries. Because of his enthusiastic membership in the National Socialist Party, Pertl was dismissed in 1945.

On January 30, 1937 Adolf Hitler appointed Albert Speer as general construction inspector for the reconstruction of Berlin. The main project was the 120 m wide east-west axis and an equally wide north-south axis, at the intersection of which a large basin, 1,200 m x 400 m, was to be installed, and beside it a “Great Hall of the People,” with the gigantic height of almost 300 m. Other than the razing of some lots, none of this huge project was ever realized. The office of the general construction inspector also issued the Natural Green-Space Plan for Berlin, developed by Hentzen in 1937, under which the beautiful natural landscapes were to be interconnected, and a coherent green system created. The Grunewald Forest was to be redesigned as a scenically landscaped recreational park.

1945 to 1948

As a result of World War II, 338,000 apartments were totally destroyed (one third of the total stock), one hundred thousand dwellings were damaged considerably, and 80 million cu.m of rubble lay in the city. Of the former population of 4.4 million, only 2.8 million inhabitants were left. That part of the green spaces and parks that had not already been destroyed by construction of bunkers, trenches and barricades, or by bombs and shells, or, finally during the battle for the city, were clear-cut by the people afterwards for fuel. Some 2,200 ha of green spaces were devastated. During that period, 110,000 street trees were lost in the western part of the city alone. Berlin also lost its function as the capital. As a result of World War II, Berlin’s parks system suffered the greatest setback in its history.

In the summer of 1945, the Main Department of Green-Space Planning and Horticulture/ Landscape Gardening was established, with Reinhold Lingner (1902-1968) as its head. First, the immediate war damage had to be repaired. The clearing of the rubble created “rubble mountains,” in some cases in the green spaces, such as the Humboldthain, Friedrichshain and Hasenheide. In 1948, the unity of the city was destroyed.