Berlin’s Cherry Blossoms [Sakura]

Joep de Visser traces the history of Berlin’s abundant cherry blossom trees…

Kirschblütenfest in den Gärten der Welt. Image courtesy of Grün Berlin

Cherry blossoms are more associated with the Far East than Berlin: particularly with Japan, where the annual hanami (‘flower viewing’) is held to celebrate the beauty of these flowers.

While hanami dates back to the 8th century in Japan, in later centuries the blossom from the Japanese cherry trees – Prunus serrulata – also known as called Sakura, became the tree that indicated if hanami should be organised. Nowadays there is even a blossom forecast that predicts how the blossom front will develop.

In Japan, cherry blossoms usually open around the end of March, though they can sometimes open up to two weeks earlier in the south than in the northern island of Hakaido, for example.

During the 20th century, the Japanese cherry trees were exported to countries such as Brasil and the U.S.A. The first American hanami was celebrated in Washington D.C. in 1935, with subsequent events like the International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Georgia – the self-declared Cherry Blossom Capital of the World.

In 1990, a Japanese television show on the Asahi channel asked Japanese people to give donations to plant cherry trees in Berlin, in order to bring peace and rest in the hearts of the newly reunited citizens. Since the process of German unification was widely followed in Japan, about 140.000.000 Yen (€1.000.000) was gathered via the television show.

Over the next twenty years, 9,000 trees were planted in Berlin. The first ones were planted in November 1990 at the Glienicker Brücke, one of the city’s key symbols of division and reunification. Another 1,100 were planted at the former Totestreifen (death strip) at the border of Teltow-Sigridshorst and Teltow-Seehof, which was renamed TV-Asahi-Kirschblütenallee in April 2012 and where hanami has been celebrated since 2001.

At the Landschaftspark Nord-Ost, at the border of Lichtenberg and Brandenburg, the most cherry blossoms were planted—a total of 1,434 trees. Closer to the city centre, cherry blossoms were also been planted at the Lohmühlenbrücke (45 trees) at the border of Alt-Treptow and Neukölln; in addition, a memorial stone was erected at this location to thank and remember the Sakura campaign.

A similar memorial stone is also erected at the pathway underneath the bridge of the Bornholmer Straße, where one can find 215 Japanese cherry trees. The last trees planted to date, in November 2010, are the ones at the Platz des 9. November, where the first East Berliners broke through the borders and where the Wall basically fell.

All told, Berlin’s former “death strips” are filled with 9,000 cherry blossoms – all thanks to a Japanese television broadcast. And there are lots more too in public places such as parks, childcare centers, houses for the elderly and graveyards. Outside Berlin, yet more have been planted at ‘innerdeutsche Grenze’ (inner German border) locations between the GDR and the FRG.

And the only place you have to pay to view any of them, is at Marzahn’s Gärten der Welt, where eighty trees can be found in the splendid Japanese garden, alongside plenty more beautiful, blooming specimens.


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