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How Berlin Wall's Fall Increased Access to Green Public ...

How Berlin Wall's Fall Increased Access to Green Public Open Spaces

The wise Kermit the Frog once said, “It’s not easy being green,” and he couldn’t have been more right. “Why is that?” you may ask. The simple answer to your question: urbanization. According to United Nations forecasts, more than half of the world’s people now live in cities and that figure will increase to more

by Brittany Garcia December 19, 2017 No comments
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The wise Kermit the Frog once said, “It’s not easy being green,” and he couldn’t have been more right.

“Why is that?” you may ask. The simple answer to your question: urbanization.

According to United Nations forecasts, more than half of the world’s people now live in cities and that figure will increase to more than two thirds by 2050. It is believed that city dwellers make up 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and frogs, like Kermit, are just one of the thousands of species of wildlife threatened by the rapidly shifting climate.

North and South America are the most urbanized regions, with slightly over 80% of residents on both continents residing in cities, according to the German Green City Index, a research project conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Siemens. However, Europe is not far behind, at just over 70%.

In short, urban development expends arable land and vital green spaces. The inflating number of residents in cities collectively overexert energy, water resources, waste management, sewer systems, and transport networks thus, perpetuating the lethiferous environmental consequences globally. The only way to truly mitigate these problems and avoid lasting damage to vital ecosystems as well as to ensure the wellbeing of the billions of people on this planet is to face them on the municipal level.

Bridge connecting Wedding and Prenzlauer Berg districts in Berlin, Germany

Various cities throughout the world, especially in Europe, are becoming green to reduce the negative environmental impact associated with urban sprawl. One of the main players at the forefront of the Green City movement is Berlin.

Germany’s capital has outshined other German cities (except Essen, which was named the European Green City of 2018) and European cities in terms of urban environmental sustainability because environmental protection is not seen as a luxury in Germany — it’s a necessity. “Neither income nor historical development was shown to affect the environmental performance of German cities,” according to Emily Jackson, project manager at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Twelve German cities were analyzed using the German Green City Index and ranked in the ‘above average’ category, better than most of the 29 other major European cities surveyed. The nine factors analyzed were:

  • Carbon dioxide emissions,
  • Energy use,
  • Buildings,
  • Transport,
  • Water,
  • Waste,
  • Land use,
  • Air quality,
  • Environmental governance.

“Despite sometimes considerable differences among the cities in terms of income, population, geographical location and amount of industry – none of these factors have a measurable effect on a city’s ranking in the Index,” stated Jackson.

Green space surround by train tracks and residential buildings in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin, Germany

Though Essen may hold the official Green City title, German cities are overall the greenest in Europe. As stated in the German Green City Index, “Compared to the rest of Europe, German cities rank close together and are very similar in performance. This is partly due to legislation: the directing and implementing of sustainable urban development policies have a long history in Germany. In addition, Germans have a high degree of environmental awareness.”

Over the last 40-years, Germany has retooled policies to promote growth that is more environmentally sustainable at all levels of government. In view of that, nowadays being environmentally aware seems like a prerequisite to living in Berlin. The German capital is literally one of the greenest cities in all of Europe. According to, Berlin has more than 2,500 public parks, covering a total surface of approx. 6,400 ha (15,815 acres).

One of Berlin's best-known collection of ecological and social gardens are called the Prinzessinnengärten (Princess Gardens). Nomadisch Grün (Nomadic Green), a not-for-profit organization, launched Prinzessinnengärten as a pilot urban gardening project in the summer of 2009 at Moritzplatz in the heart of Kreuzberg. The plot site was a concrete wasteland for over 60-years but now is a lush, green paradise. Prinzessinnengärten is a place where locals can come together to learn more about organic food production, biodiversity, and climate protection. The space intends to educate people on how to adapt to climate change and learn about healthy eating, sustainable living, and a future-oriented urban lifestyle. With this project, Nomadisch Grün intends to increase biological, social and cultural diversity in the neighborhood and pioneer a new way of living together in the city.

Jugendfarm Moritzhof in Berlin, Germany

Moreover, Berlin, prior to 1990, was a barricaded concrete jungle. The concrete walls were the literal representation of division within the country from 1961 to 1989. The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, brought forth the emergence of large open spaces within Berlin. Over the past 27-years parks have been built on formerly protected border strips of the Berlin wall, which people hadn't previously had access to, such as the park at Gleisdreieck and Natur-Park Südgelände in Schöneberg, which is a former railway yard.

The densely populated district, Prenzlauer Berg, retrieved a lot of land when the wall fell and converted various green spaces to recreational areas for its residents. In February 1990, the Democratic Peasants' Party of Germany submitted a draft resolution to the municipal council of Prenzlauer Berg for the construction of a children's farm in the district. The proposal was approved and the farm was constructed. After 27-years, the farm continues to welcome families and educate children about environmental sustainability by working hands-on with the farm animals.

Horses on a children's farm in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, Germany

Foss Environmental Consulting created an interactive tour of 35 open spaces, parks and nature reserves that are located in and around Berlin. Check it out to learn more about the habitats and wildlife in each of the green spaces, as well as historic features and landmarks found throughout Berlin.

Berlin may be known as one of Europe’s greenest cities when it comes to its physical spaces, but it still has a lot of work to be done to properly support its natural environment and offset the detrimental effects of urbanization. There are a multitude of routes in which a city can take to go “green;” however, the most important thing that needs to be agreed on by all cities is that green spaces need long-term protection and the existing spaces need better treatment. Berlin has many protected green spaces, but the majority of them are not properly taken care of. The German capital has a huge problem with littering. People are utilizing the parks, but the garden maintenance is inadequate, and there's a lack of resources with too few staff and too few trainee gardeners to upkeep the lands. Food for thought: it would take one gardener to cut about 7 public parks every single day for one year (2,500 parks / 365 days) to maintain each of them. To give you perspective how large the parks are in Berlin, famous Mauerpark covers 15 hectares (37 acres). 

Train tracks leading into the Wedding district of Berlin, Germany

According to Herbert Lohner, a consultant on nature conservation for the Berlin branch of the non-governmental organization, Alliance for the Environment and Nature Protection in Germany (BUND), states “What would be best would be to have a green network in the city - that is, green infrastructure, just like grey infrastructure such as streets - for people and nature. We must transform grey infrastructure into green infrastructure. Until now, people have been trying to protect green against grey, and have fought against creating more streets and buildings on green areas. But we have to reverse this direction and instead try to turn streets back into green spaces and introduce more greenery on building facades and roofs."

Though investing in efficient green infrastructure can be costly for a city, the collaboration between the private and public sectors can pay for the up-front costs of going green. In Berlin, for example, the “Energy Saving Partnership” involves private companies retrofitting public buildings and then benefitting from the cost savings. The scheme has received more than €60 million ($70,495,200) in private investment and has brought carbon emissions down by more than 600,000 tonnes (661,387 US tons), according to the GGCI.  

Ultimately, the green agenda must be a necessary part of holistic, city-led strategies. In order to achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability, cities must learn from one another and work towards limiting their environmental impact they produce each year. 

What is your hometown doing to become more environmentally sustainable? What green policies have your local government enacted? Share your thoughts and your city’s stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Images by Brittany Garcia. Data linked to sources.

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Brittany is a Berlin-based graduate student with a penchant for environmental sustainability and urban planning. Her research focus centers on how urban agriculture revitalizes local economies. Follow her to discover why Germany's capital is a gritty...

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