We took a stroll in the park today, a green and lovely oasis in the middle of Berlin.
Der Großer Tiergarten is a huge city-centre park, at 210 hectares comparable in size and function to London’s Hyde Park (125 hectares) or New York’s Central Park (335 hectares), and with a fascinating history.
In the 17th century, the Tiergarten was originally an area set aside as the royal court’s hunting ground, stocked with deer and wild animals for the Electors of Brandenburg and their guests.
In the early 18th century, Frederick II commissioned Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff (1699-1753) to convert it into a public park – turning it from a Tiergarten (animal garden) to a Lustgarten (pleasure garden) in the baroque style. Flowerbeds, borders, mazes, water features, ornamental ponds, and dozens of sculptures were added to the grounds.
In the 19th century, Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm III added foot and bridle paths, and commissioned even more sculptures – before World War II there were more than 70 of them in the park, dedicated to various philosophers, musicians, and writers. Many were destroyed in the war; others were buried by the citizenry in order to protect them, and not unearthed until the 1990’s.
After World War II, the starving and freezing populace of Berlin chopped down almost all of the trees for firewood, and the grounds were dug up to plant potatoes vegetables, in over 2500 garden plots, under orders of the occupying British troops.
Reforestation took place between 1949 and 1959, when around 250,000 young trees were planted. The statues, many of which had been hidden, buried, disassembled, or damaged during the war, were not originally replaced; many of the monuments have only been restored since Berlin’s reunification.
Walking through the park now, you’d never guess at its history, unless you stopped to read the interpretive plaques, which is a big part of why I’m such a fan of signage beside statues and at park entrances.
For instance, we learned everything below about the monument whose pictures follow – the Beethoven/Mozart/Haydn monument – from the sign beside it! The text on the sign was much more detailed – I’ve paraphrased the parts I wanted to remember.
At the end of the 19th century, a monument to the composers Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart was commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II on the site of a former statue of Venus, beside what is still called the Venus Pond. Sculptor Rudolf Siemering (1835-1905) created the 10 metre high monument using Greek and Tirolean marble in 1892-1904. The gilded metal decorations were produced by bronze casting and copper galvanoplasty – they look like gold, but aren’t.
During World War II, the monument suffered considerable damage. The original metal masks and garlands as well as the marble swans necks were lost. In the following decades, when the city was divided, the monument was in a fairly isolated location until the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1996, the monument was completely disassembled to avoid damage during construction of the Tiergarten tunnel, and the pieces put into storage. In the end, more than 90% of the original components were used in the statue’s restoration, which took more than 2 years, and it was placed back into the park in 2007.
Some damages, such is the bullet scars from World War II, were not repaired.
(Below) One small area of the park, with radiating spokes leading out from a central parkette, is called the Floraplatz, and originated in the eighteenth century when the Tiergarten Park underwent that transformation (by Royal Decree of Frederick the Great dated 30.11.1741) from royal hunting ground to public park and pleasure ground of the Royal Seat of Berlin. Based on the eight figures of animals that the Berlin sculptor Rudolf Siemering (1835 1905) had created for the George Washington Monument in Philadelphia USA, Kaiser Wilhelm decided that copies should be made for the Floraplatz in 1906. His predecessor’s Baroque statue of Flora was removed and replaced with a replica of the bronze equestrian statue Amazone zu Pferde (Amazon on horseback) by Louis Tuaillon (1862-1919) that stood in front of the National Gallery. When the Tiergarten Park was restored in the early, 1950s, six of the eight animal statues which had suffered varying degrees of damage during the Second World War were installed in random sites around Tiergarten. The bull and the bear went missing entirely, probably looted and melted for their metal value, recreated from the molds that still exist in the USA. Only in 2020 were the 8 animals put back into their original 1906 positions.
In 1849, the monument to King Friedrich Wilhelm II (1770-1840) was erected opposite Luiseninsel (“Luise Island”). The Carrara marble statue for his wife, Queen Luise, was not erected until 40 years later, although a monument to her that was not a statue had been erected in 1808. The two matching monuments surrounded by low wrought iron fences stand on landscaped areas, but Queen Luise’s area has a beautiful flower garden. Both monuments survived the Second World War without any major damage, but with numerous bullet holes.
In addition to composers, royalty, and animals, there are also statues of both cultural and military personages from German history.
One of the largest monuments to an individual, located between the 2 sides of the Tiergarten, is that of Otto von Bismarck, who was the first Chancellor of Germany after Imperial rule ended.
We didn’t walk even a fraction of the network of pathways in the Tiergarten, although we were in the park for over 3 hours, walking non-stop before taking a quick coffee/beer break.
A bonus of walking through the Tiergarten is this perfect view of Schloss Bellevue, the official residence of the German President.
En route home, we followed the bank of the Spree, on the side bordering the park, and came across the Grand Duke Square – another of the small dedicated areas within the Tiergarten – named in honour of the betrothal of Grand Duke Paul, heir to the Russian throne, and Princess Sophie Luise of Württemberg, which was celebrated here in July 1776.
In 1880, four allegorical sandstone sculptures were installed on the square, representing four rivers: the Rhine, Elbe, Oder, and Vistula (Weichsel). Each group of figures features a seated central figure, which represents the river, flanked by two figures of children with artefacts characteristic of the particular river.
In 1888 the marble Triton Fountain (below) in Neo-Baroque style was added. All the sculptures were damaged in WWII; restoration happened in 2014.
In the end, we walked a “monumental” 13,000 steps/8.4 km/5.2 miles and got at least a small idea of why the Tiergarten is so popular with walkers and bicyclists.
Reward at the end of our walk: hand-made ice cream from DER EISLADEN (“the ice cream parlour”), just around the corner from our apartment.