An Ode To Mauerpark

David Wagner writes a personal ode to Berlin’s Mauerpark…

mauerpark 4
Image by Paul Sullivan

Oh, Mauerpark, I do love you. Even though you’re often ugly. Even though today, on a Sunday, you’re probably still strewn with yesterday’s rubbish. And even though there’ll surely be even more rubbish this evening and you’ll be overcrowded as usual, I do like you, Mauerpark. And I’m not alone – thousands love you and flock to you, to the flea market, to the Mauerpark karaoke sessions, or just to lie on the grass.

Mauerpark, I enjoy the state of emergency every Sunday, the crowds of people, I like the way it’s Woodstock every week, I enjoy all the people getting high on themselves, dancing on the grass, filming and photographing themselves and posting it all instantly. And yes, I like the fact that they all come, from all over the world; doesn’t that tell me I live in an attractive city?

Image by Paul Sullivan
Image by Paul Sullivan

Mauerpark, I like the steps made of rough-hewn granite blocks leading up from Bernauer Straße to the site of the former freight station, upwards as if to the pedestal of a Greek temple, behind it a loosely spaced grove of trees. Oh, Mauerpark, I like the fact that the Wall’s not here any more, not a single metre, which confuses some visitors.

They ask after it or they think the stretch of hinterland wall on top of the stadium hill is the real thing. In fact, the topography of Berlin’s division is still clearly visible: the Mauerpark is only a park in the former East, where it was laid out on the former death strip after the Wall fell.

The landscape architect, a man called Gustav Lange, created a wonderful garden with poplars and pedunculate oaks, with the old cobbled Schwedter Straße leading across it, alongside it the slope piled up out of bombsite rubble in the days of East Berlin to build the Friedrich Ludwig Jahn Sport Park – an opportunity for daredevil sledging in winter.

Image by Paul Sullivan
Image by Paul Sullivan

Mauerpark, I like your big swings up on the hill, perfect for swinging above the melancholy landscape of sheds and coal yards towards the former free West, swings of desire above Berlin. And I like the hinterland wall up against the stadium, the spray-paint on this legal graffiti canvas stuck to the concrete in layers like flaky pastry.

Mauerpark, I like you even better on weekdays, you’re so empty on weekdays. Mauerpark, I love your blue and violet scrub covering the slope down from the stadium in the summer; no, sadly not lavender, it doesn’t have a scent, only looks like lavender from a distance, but wouldn’t it be nice? It’s a type of sage. And Mauerpark, I love the evenings, one or two every year, when the June bugs hatch out and fly around, thousands buzzing around and mating. And the park’s visitors do the same, in the dark, under the unlit floodlight masts guarding the place like two slim giants.

I like the boulders that children climb on, and I like all the things mothers and fathers have to do with their children: play Frisbee, kick balls, practice rounders, fly kites or often – the children crying with frustration – not fly them. And I like the battalions of buggies on the cobbles, which aren’t so good for cycling.

Image by Paul Sullivan
Image by Paul Sullivan

Mauerpark, I like your entrepreneurs, the bottle collectors scouting for deposits, the cake girls who sell home-baked produce on Sundays, the mini-kite salesmen, the soap-bubble man with his giant bubbles and the hula-hoop promoter with his dancing girls. And I like all the different musicians who play folk or anti-folk behind propped-open suitcases – Mauerpark, at times I even love your drummers, who drum halfway through the night, so wonderfully annoying – that’s just the way it is in a big city.

Mauerpark, I like the fact that your amphitheatre, having slumbered unnoticed for years in the side of the slope, has been the site of the now world-famous Mauerpark karaoke sessions since 2009. Thousands sit there on Sundays, listening and watching. From the grass, it looks as though a gigantic colony of birds were nesting on a cliff. A promotional film for Berlin couldn’t come up with a better image; the city ought to pay the organizer Joe Hatchiban.

Image by Paul Sullivan
Image by Paul Sullivan

I like the fact that the Mauerpark creates an international public space, an audience European politicians can only dream of; this is where the youth of the world comes together, and it seems they simply leave behind a lot of rubbish. Burnt-out disposable barbecues, Tetrapaks and plastic bags. There are Sunday evenings when barbecue smoke drifts above the grass like a bank of fog, even though barbecues are actually banned in the Mauerpark, but Mauerpark, oh, I love your big grey crows that live off the leftovers. They’ve grown so fat they can barely fly.

Oh yes, I like the seething Mauerpark scenery and the way people act out Berlin, and it doesn’t matter that most of the people playing at Berlin perhaps don’t even live in Berlin, it’s irrelevant – here, they too are Berlin.

I like the big climbing frame made of whole tree trunks, its rainbow colours long faded until it was repainted recently, this time with abrasion-resistant paint, let’s hope. And I love the birch copse extending to the roof of the Gleimtunnel, a tiny slice of Siberia where girls lie on blankets and read or simply sunbathe. Or smoke joints. Or swing in a hammock between two trees. People like having children’s birthday parties in the stoners’ copse; someone’s always holding some kind of party, sometimes with generators and sound systems.

Image by Paul Sullivan
Image by Paul Sullivan

I like the fenced-in dovecote in the former no-man’s-land, I like the two sad-looking horses at the children’s farm, its goats and rabbits. I like the high climbing wall that looks like it might fall over at any moment. And I like the amazing view of the freight-station wilderness only accessible to foxes and trains.

And, Mauerpark, I like how many people care about you being completed, because you’re still not actually finished, in fact at least ten hectares of extra parkland ought to have been laid out by 2010, so now the city has to pay millions in compensation one day. And I like the way the new World-Citizens-Park Foundation is fighting for a Mauerpark without new development projects.

And oh, Mauerpark, I’d like it if someone came along and hotwired one of the machines standing around on the luxury loft construction sites one night and took care of the long-overdue park extension in one fell swoop. All they’d have to do is steamroller the fences and storage yards and the sprawling flea market. Wouldn’t that be wonderful – for isn’t it a political embarrassment that there’s still no access to the Mauerpark from Wedding in the West, almost twenty-five years after the Wall fell?*

Image by Paul Sullivan
Image by Paul Sullivan

Oh, Mauerpark, I love your grass, that isn’t grass at all at the end of summer, hardly a neat English lawn. Mauerpark, you’re a miniature steppe, a piece of Berlin prairie; it looks as though buffalo herds had stampeded across you.

And, Mauerpark, I can’t help laughing when I read that there were similar arguments over your historical predecessor, the old parade ground slightly further East (in the place where the stadium and its grounds are now). Anyone had access to the highly frequented area, neighbouring residents complained. They found the conditions unbearable, and around 1900 they called for a wall to be built.

*Wonders never cease. Since late June 2013, an asphalt path has led from Lortzingstraße to the Max Schmeling Hall, finally opening up a passage from West to East.

Translated by Katy Derbyshire. You can read more of David Wagner’s writings on Berlin in Berlin Triptych, available from Readux Books.

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