Off the trodden tourist track, many old and new East Berliners enjoy unlimited access to a botanical park just a 20 minute bike ride or so from the Berlin Pankow train station.

To cycle through Pankow is almost like traveling through Berlin’s past and present at the same time: Rows of old-style Berlin rental houses are interspersed with dusty courtyard workshops and polished shopping centers respectively. Completed by overhauled GDR ‘Plattenbau’ buildings and new flashy town houses, the Pankow architectural mix resembles that of any other East Berlin borough. However, moving on in direction of Blankenburg, the district starts hinting at its past as ‘garden suburb’, with larger green areas, old villas as well as allotments to either side of the road. And, then, relatively sudden, you will come across the unpretentious entry to the Pankow Botanical Park to your left.

While not being as large as the Botanical Gardens in West Berlin, the Eastern pendant has one unbeatable advantage: Set at Berlin’s northern outskirts, it unites with the protected expanse of the Lübars field area, rich in both green and water – forming one of Berlin’s indispensable ‘green and blue’ reserves. This means, coming from the city, the air is of an almost ridiculously good quality and from the gardens, you can walk on for miles through beautiful landscapes.

Set on former irrigation fields in 1909, the listed area known as ‘Botanischer Volkspark Blankenfelde-Pankow’ spreads across 33 hectares. Initially designed as a school garden, it opened to the public in 1995, some years after the unification. There is a suggested, humble entry fee of €1, but other than that you are free to roam the gardens and enter the hinterland from there. Long alleys of fruit trees, stone gardens with herbs and wildflowers as well as both high and flat greenhouses wait to be explored. You will also come across a large deer enclosure with a flock of friendly animals waiting for (authorized) treats from a nearby vending machine. A sign states that “misguided animal lovers” have recently freed a deer, which is now living nearby and often visits its relatives with a newsletter from the wild. If this happens, human visitors are advised to “remain calm and keep at a distance” as to not disturb the encounter.

For hobby geologists, the Botanical Park offers a “geological wall”, representing an ideal cut through the crust layers of Central Europe, displaying 123 rock types. Designed by teacher and geologist Eduard Zache in 1891–1895, the wall was transferred from the Humboldthain Park in 1914, and is today still mirroring scientific standards.

With ca. 6,000 partially protected varieties, its own beekeeper as well as community ‘farmers gardens’, the Pankow Botanical Park is worth a visit for locals and travelers alike. Just one final tip: If you seek seclusion in nature, come on a weekday. If you need access to the green houses and might crave a coffee and cake in between, plan a weekend visit.

Berlin Notes: Town of coffee

Photo: Coline Mattée

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