In case anyone’s been wondering where I’ve been recently, it’s Berlin, watching the city prepare for the mammoth International Garden Exhibition next year, otherwise known as IGA (pronounced ‘eager…’).
It’s going to be extraordinary. Much of it is already in place (what do expect from those hyper-efficient Germans?) but as the park closes for the winter, ready to take it into fabulous horticultural realms next year, I reckon it’s time to give you a little sneak preview of what you might expect to see, come April…
I guess the first thing you need to know about is what exactly ‘International Garden Exhibition’ means. The German equivalent of the Royal Horticultural Society has a reputation for being, well, a bit stuffy. It decides where flower shows can be held – some every year, some every four years and one, the International Garden Exhibition, every ten years. The ‘International’ bit is more to do with where the gardens come from than from the visitors, most of whom will be from Germany. A bit like here, where cities vie to be City of Culture, German towns all make bids to be the one given the James Bond-ian ‘License to Plant.’
Berlin’s won the jackpot for 2017, but no one could ever accuse this ever-offbeat city of being stuffy. They’ll have to toe the line in some ways – every German horticultural show must include certain things, like a dahlia garden and a cemetery garden (no, really…) – but that’s pretty much where the traditional will end.
It’s not been plain sailing. The biggest obstacle was the venue. It was originally to have been the old DDR airport, but a campaign to save plantings already there was scuppered anyway when the airport became a temporary home to hundreds of Syrian refugees.
Rather than cancel, the IGA organisers have moved site, to Marzahn, the most unfashionable suburb in Berlin.
It already had a sort of botanical zoo called ‘Gardens of the World’, created just before the wall came down – the only way East Berliners could experience different gardening styles.
Gardens of the World has moved with the times and remains a paying attraction, with some lovely, classic gardens inspired by different countries that 99% of East Berliners could only dream about.
Gardens of the World closed this weekend, however. When they re-open they will be part of IGA – and almost four times the size.
This enormous regeneration project will leave Marzahn with 103 hectares of Parkland, Forest, Nature Valley, Lake and, of course gardens. 53 hectares of it will be free and the entrance cost is not going to be so ridiculous people can’t actually go.
Because Gardens of the World already exists, the decision was taken to create contemporary gardens that would be ‘answers’ to the traditional versions, creating a conversation between old and new. Designers from around the world have been invited to come up with something to shake things up, including one artist from LA who isn’t a garden designer at all, but who will do his thang with plastic palm trees. I’ll look forward to that one.
Britain’s contribution is from designer Tom Stuart-Smith, who has already begun planting so the plants will be established by the time the show opens.
A massive new amphitheatre will host concerts and events, and visitors will be able to take a cable car up the Marzahn ‘mountain’ – all 100m of it. It has poignancy – Berlin is almost totally flat, but the ‘mountain’ at Marzahn is created from the rubble after World War II.
I spent several hours visiting some of the sights – and I was in a buggy. Believe me – this exhibition is going to be HUGE. It will easily fill a day, and frankly I think , if you decide to go, it would be worth booking a little longer for your trip. I can’t say why, just yet, but I will, promise 😉