• Imaginary Paths

    • Life as a literary garden: an evocation of Botanischer Garten Berlin.

    Gardens around the World: Botanischer Garten Berlin / 

    There are few things as pleasant as thinking of a garden. I rather be mind-strolling the Botanical Garden in Berlin, as Pessoa said (“Prefere pensar em fumar ópio a fumá-lo”), whilst sitting comfortably in my chair at home, walking amongst its bamboo trees and its flower carpets. A longing that happens because in reality it is still very distant, or, because the plants that make it up are so illusory that they could be the result of someone’s imagination, a Teuton´s Xanadu that can be accessed from anywhere. It makes you think about the garden as a place you would consider to come back to as a ghost… It’s because both memory and imagination have plenty in common.

    The Botanical Garden in Berlin has more than 300 years of history and it rises amongst the metropolis as the Kubla Khan decree: a lucky Pleasure-Dome for whomever finds it. Its first reference dates the beginning of the 17th Century it was part of the Royal Orchard and was located at Berlin Castle’s recreational gardens. In 1679, the “Great Elector” gave the order to build an agricultural model that was installed in Schöneberg, and two hundred years later, it was relocated to Dalhem, thus, taking over 161 acres and turning it into one of the biggest and most important gardens in the world. Nowadays, in the middle of an urban order that defines Dalhem, and as an untamed secret —although it is tidy— we discover this garden as it offers the center of the labyrinth to all men: “Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree”.

    Here, at the center of this German labyrinth, we can see those mythical Coleridge and Blake gardens spreading before our eyes (and perhaps, due to their size and diversity, we’ll see the mythical garden anyone has ever thought of right before us), presenting an array of ecosystems to the visitor. The main greenhouse, the garden’s architectural symbol, is a 1906 crystal house, and its dimensions set it amongst the world’s biggest, and without a doubt, the most impressive of them all. Coexistence prevails amongst orchids, ferns, succulent pants, aquatic and insectivorous plants, palm groves, vines and unbelievably large rubber plants, amongst others. Amazingly enough, the biggest plant in this place comes from the poaceae family (the grass family) and is the giant bamboo known as Dendrocalamus giganteus, brought from Southeast Asia. Its stems can measure up to 26 meters high, thus leaving us in a Lilliputian human scale. Also, you can find the biggest seed in the world, it is called Coco de mer, or Seychelles Nut, it can weigh up to 20 kilos and is the fruit of a palm measuring about 30 meters high.

    Amongst the most extraordinary species you can encounter in this greenhouse, one of the most disturbing ones you can go and see is the Amorphophallus titanum, which literally translates from Latin into “Colossal amorphous phallus”. Besides its explicit sexual reference to its pistil, and setting aside its surprising size, this is a flower that gives off a fetid rotten decomposing meat odor. That ability is a feature that earned it the nickname, “corpse flower”.  When its flowers opens up it is truly an event as it only happens 3 or 4 times in its 40 years lifespan and after that, the flower only lives for 3 more days. At the pinnacle of its life, it can weigh up to 165 pounds and oozes the necrotic leftover smell of removed flowers. It is a disturbing symbol of death and sex. Suffice to enter the crystal house to become fickle between what’s real and what’s wonderful.

    Exhausted after taking the virtually fantastic tour inside the greenhouse, the garden gives you open spaces that, just like allegorical universes, represent the seasons of the year, as they would look all over the world. In springtime, for instance, in wooden regions, Snowdrops stealthily appear, Anemone Hepatica, Winter Aconites, Wood Anemone: these are all white flowers that can catch enough daylight in order to grow and before trees grow their foliage back. In the aquatic plants garden Marsh Marigold flowers surface from the water, looking like small little lamps that illuminate the mud, Ragged Robins and all sorts of orchids that come along with a choir of singing toads. In North-American forests, numerous small flowers such as the Virginia Bluebells and the Trillium Lilies form a carpet whilst Lilies and Olive trees guide your steps through the arboretum leading you towards the Roses Pavilion. All around it, there is an enormous variety of blossoming fruit trees, one in particular is the sakura or cherry blossom that is a reminder of Japan as you tour the place. Then as you arrive to Central Asia, you see its Wild Tulips and right next door you land at the feet of the Alps, surrounded by Saffron meadows that neighbor Greece and the Balkans, whilst gradually forgetting the fact that you are actually in Berlin. “Felicitous be those who live with the cycles of Heaven and Earth”. And like Pessoa’s invisible goal, we end up being in every single place whilst not being there at the same time.

    The museum is right next to the botanical garden, this is a place where you can find botanical samples, and it is the only one of its kind in Central Europe. Scale models exhibited there are able to splendidly depict the morphological details of the plants that you could never be able to see with a naked eye. There are cryptograms that amplify the algae, flowers, fruits and seeds so that you can understand plants according to their tissue. But as they say, everything that exists can be said in a word, Botaschiner Garten has its axis at a library that is specifically meant for Universal Botanical Literature. That is the center of the center of the labyrinth. Here, we are reminded of Borges as he always imagined Paradise as a library and the garden would be a celebration day in Earth’s poverty. The library in this garden is a fraction of its own labyrinth; it is used as a language to speak about itself and to shimmer the trees around it.

    All botanical species known by men —and also those that can be imagined— can be found, both alive or just quoted in the library’s books. The collection has almost 200 thousand literature volumes about plants, written in almost every language. Every book can be freely looked up and even copied. As we said before, this region of the planet  –which is in turn every region- offers a sip of paradise’s milk. Yes, it is true that one has to cross the Atlantic to find it and get lost in it; nonetheless, for now, let us imagine.

    Author: Maria Galera Tagged: gardens of the world, gardening, Botanischer Garten Berlin Credits: Photo by: 1 (Matthias Hebenstreit)