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Tiergarten: Berlin’s Central Park Becomes A Home for the...

Tiergarten: Berlin’s Central Park Becomes A Home for the Homeless

Tiergarten literally translates to “animal garden” from German to English. The parliamentary, government and diplomatic district in the German capital is named after this so-called animal garden. Tiergarten is considered the largest and most known inner-city park in Berlin due to its centrality. It was originally used as a hunting ground during the 16th century;

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Tiergarten literally translates to “animal garden” from German to English. The parliamentary, government and diplomatic district in the German capital is named after this so-called animal garden. Tiergarten is considered the largest and most known inner-city park in Berlin due to its centrality. It was originally used as a hunting ground during the 16th century; the lush forests made it an ideal location to hunt animals, such as deer.

During the 16th century, the Elector of Brandenburg enclosed the land to prevent the animals from escaping this area, and it was then named Grosse Tiergarten. The royal sport’s popularity withered away as the city of Berlin began to expand; the hunting area was scaled down to accommodate the growth.

According to berlin.de, “The first avenues were arranged in the late 17th century, gaining increasingly refined touches under the influence of the French-inspired gardens for entertainment and leisure.” Friedrich the Great was not as keen on pursuing the royal sport of hunting as his predecessors were and instead decided to open the first public gardens in Berlin, throughout the hunting ground, in 1740. More avenues were laid out in the eighteenth century by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff, a Prussian architect, as the Tiergarten became a French-inspired recreational space and the central avenue took on a ceremonial role for the Hohenzollerns, the Prussian royal family. In 1818, Peter Joseph Lenné, a Prussian landscape architect, was commissioned to transform the grounds into a landscaped park. Soon after, the Zoological Garden within Tiergarten was established in 1844. 

Walking path surrounded by trees that leads to a lion monument in Berlin, Germany's Tiergarten Park

The main avenue that runs through Tiergarten was known as the Charlottenburger Chaussee because it ran from the city center (Mitte) to the Charlottenburg Palace (named after Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, Queen consort of Prussia) in the borough of Charlottenburg; however, in 1953, it was renamed as the Strasse des 17 Juni to commemorate the uprising of the East Berliner workers on June 17, 1953, when the Red Army and GDR Volkspolizei shot protesting workers.

Moreover, Tiergarten Park has been commonly referred to as the “Central Park” of Berlin because it is a green retreat in the heart of the big city.  Though you can find families picnicking, joggers along the trails, and people of all ages relaxing on the lawns of the park, Tiergarten has become a delightful hideout during the day and a homeless hotspot during the night. Homelessness is rampant in Berlin and poses a threat to the city. Tiergarten Park has come a long way from royal prestige —  the park has been in headlines for precarious reasons, such as prostitution, heaps of litter, and even a murder.

According to local.de, “in the area around the Victory Column - the Prussian war memorial that stands in the park's center - men have been meeting for sex for years.” In September of 2017, a 60-year-old art historian was murdered in Berlin's central park. All of her personal belongings were missing when her body was discovered, which led police to suspect that her attacker was “motivated by greed” states local.de.

Leafless trees surrounding a tan colored walking path in Berlin, Germany's Tiergarten Park

In spite of the fact that Berlin keeps no official statistics on the number of homeless people in the city, homeless charities speculate that the numbers have recently risen sharply. In view of that, with rising housing prices and fully occupied shelters, many people are camping out in the city parks, such as Tiergarten, and calling it their home. “While rising rents make it harder for the average Berliner to manage their monthly bills, people at the bottom of the city’s hierarchy are being pushed into far more desperate measures,” states Feargus O'Sullivan of CityLab.

Christian Vrangys, a social worker based in Brandenburg, that has worked in the Salvation Army for 4 years, stated: “Tiergarten always had a homeless scene due to tourists; it’s not news but a developing trend.” Since Berlin welcomes about 5 million people each year, many homeless people go to typical tourist destinations, such as Tiergarten, to beg for money. Vrangys also described the demographics of the homeless people he has encountered over the years as “multi-cultural, but the majority of them originating from countries like, Poland and Romania.” According to Radio Polandhalf of the people sleeping on Berlin’s streets and in the parks are now estimated to be Polish citizens.

There is “dynamic growth of small homeless communities within Berlin,” said Vrangys. His statements align with Stephan von Dassel, district mayor of Berlin-Mitte. Dassel stated that “about 60 homeless people camp in Tiergarten” and “most of them came from Eastern Europe.” Von Dassel fears the Tiergarten is emerging as a "lawless zone” because of its surging crime rates that are derived from the homeless, according to zeit.de.

Open green field with massive boulders decorating the middle of Tiergarten Park in Berlin, Germany

Additionally, it is a misdemeanor in German law to camp in city parks. The Public Order Office has begun to intensify controls by having police run more patrols. The patrols that occur are to clear the tents in the parks. However, with 80 evictions last year, this is evidently an unsustainable model, says Markus Schwenke, district manager of the Center for Street and Green Space, because the same tents often are back the next day. Many homeless people move into the depths of the 200-acre park to hide from authorities when they come to patrol the park.

Christian Vrangys stated that, “there is a lot of help to get out of the circle of homelessness - there are resources and programs available for everyone such as Hartz IV.” Hartz IV, Unemployment Benefit II, also known simply as Hartz IV, provides unemployment benefits for all individuals living in Germany on behalf of the Bundesagentur für Arbeit or the Federal Employment Agency. The unemployment benefit now provides individuals with 416 euros monthly (409 euros in 2017). The calculation and increase of the standard rate is based on consumer prices (70%) and wage levels (30%). According to hartziv.org, to be able to apply for Hartz IV, the person in need of assistance must:

  • Be able to work,
  • Are in financial distress,
  • Do not have the minimum income necessary to meet basic biological needs.

A lion statue that represents Tiergarten Park's hunting past in Berlin, Germany

Additionally, for the Bedarfsgemeinschaft or households in dire financial need, there is a social allowance under Hartz IV available. The standard rate of 374 euros (as of 2018) is granted for one person; however, for two beneficiaries it is 736 euros. In addition to the regular services, the reasonable costs for accommodation and heating (rent, including heating costs) are covered. Yet, this allowance is not available to residents of the same apartment; you must have lived with your spouse or a partner for more than a year, living with a child/ren, or provide for children or relatives in the household in need. Though this may seem like a perfect fit for people in desperate need, it has been taken advantage of, just like any other system. Vrangys mentioned “if a Hart IV couple moves in together that are not married, they no longer qualify for the allowance, so a number of Hart IV receivers have two flats and cash out on welfare. This is why the system is not as effective as it should be.”  

What else is Berlin doing to alleviate the homeless problem? In 2016, Berlin sent 110 E.U. migrants back from the German capital to their country of residence. The homeless individuals are provided with funds by the borough in which they were sleeping. This policy is supposed to give migrants who have been struggling to find work in Berlin a way of getting back on their feet and a roof over their heads. As Feargus O'Sullivan states, “It’s been adopted partly because camps like the one in Tiergarten have sprung up all over Berlin, as people on the social hierarchy’s bottom rung struggle to find affordable accommodation.”

Is your city facing a rise in homelessness? Has your city implemented specific policies to mitigate the rising numbers? 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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