It is not a secret that I love botanical gardens and nature. That is why I included a visit to the Berlin Botanical Garden in my itinerary in this city. This garden is special as it is the second oldest in the world, after Kew Gardens in London. Even the United States Botanic Garden was expanded for being very small compared to this site.
How to visit the Berlin Botanical Garden?
The Berlin Botanical Garden is on the outskirts of the city in the Steglitz-Zehlendorf neighborhood. I went by public transport from my hotel in Berlin and it took me about 45 minutes to get there.
It is in the direction of Potsdam on a street called Bundesstraße. If you take S1 and get off at the “Botanischer Garten” station, you have to walk for about 10 minutes. As it was cold, we opted to get off at “Rathaus Steglitz” and take the M 48 bus that drops you right at the entrance. If you decide to rent a car in Berlin, you must park near the entrance in “Königin-Luise-Straße” as they do not have a parking lot for cars or buses.
Tickets cost €6 (price 2020) for adults and they have options for families. I wrote to ask for my press courtesy, which had been confirmed, but we were met by a man who did not want to accept my press card. He was quite rude and the lady who ran the office was on vacation, therefore we had to pay the entrance. It is important to note that they only accept cash here, as in many places in Germany, since for some reason Germans hate credit cards. It is best to buy one of the Berlin Passes which offer discounts or free tickets to different tourist attractions.
You can visit the Berlin Botanical Garden every day except December 24. Their website details special hours on specific dates. The gardens are usually open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and the greenhouses close at 7 p.m.
They have a library on site. When I went the botanical museum was closed because they were modernizing it. Construction started in October 2019 and is supposed to be ready by the end of 2022. This museum contains 3.8 million herbarium specimens (including more than 3,000 collected by Alexander von Humboldt). The library and museum serve for scientific studies on biodiversity, conservation, systematic botany, and phytogeography within the plant kingdom.
The Berlin Botanical Garden has two restaurants. Landhaus restaurant is the main one and is close to the “Unter den Eichen” entrance. It has quite irregular hours in the winter and is supposed to be open from Thursday to Sunday. We ate a cookie at Café Victoria that is in front of the greenhouses. As well as a glass of mulled wine or Glühwein that is available when it is cold.
In front of the greenhouses is a souvenir shop. It offers a wide variety of things from postcards to notebooks with plant designs. They have a seed section, many of which are exotic and suitable for the tropics. They also sell unique seeds for decorative motifs. Some have been painted in gold or red.
People with disabilities can go to the Berlin Botanical Garden. They have wheelchairs on site and a map with the suitable roads to travel.
History of the Berlin Botanical Garden
Plants began to be collected in 1573, during the time of John George of Brandenburg, Duke of Prussia. The main gardener at the Berlin Palace (which was bombed in World War II and then destroyed by the East German government) got plants for the kitchen. In those times there was no concept of a botanical garden. If you want to see where the original garden was located, you can go to Lustgarten on Museum Island next to the Berliner Dom Cathedral. Today it is more a park with fountains than a herb garden.
This pleasure and cuisine garden had become too small, so in 1679 it was moved to Potsdam Street, where the Kleistpark is. Flowers, medicinal plants, vegetables and hops (for the royal brewery) were grown there. In 1718 Friedrich Wilhelm I, famous for being stingy, gave it to the Prussian Academy of Sciences. He also demolished the theater of his mother, Sophie Charlotte, at the Charlottenburg Palace to use the bricks in the construction of a school.
It was forgotten and in 1809 the famous German botanist, Carl Ludwig Willdenow, managed to get it donated to the Friedrich Wilhelm University created by Frederick William III and Wilhelm von Humboldt. It was closed in 1945 and reopened in 1949 as the Humboldt University in Berlin (if you want to learn more about the Humboldt brothers you can see their exhibition at the Deutsches Historisches Museum).
This university changed the concept to a botanical garden for scientific purposes. In 1879 the Botanical Museum was established to house and promote research of the collection, which was still growing.
The idea to move the botanical garden in Berlin came up in 1888. Greenhouses had become old, apart they wanted an arboretum and needed more space for plants. The city had grown and the location was very central, so pollution was affecting plants. Moving it to a space on the outskirts made economic sense.
Adolf Engler, the first director of the modern Berlin Botanical Garden, undertook an enormous task in 1889. His mission was to “create the world in a garden” with plants brought in from German colonies worldwide. The chosen space was a state potato farm. Most of the land is covered by the geographical section (12.9 hectares) and the arboretum (13.9 hectares). The geographical section is west of the main road. It presents habitats how they would look on different continents. To achieve this they had to move 136,000 m³ of earth. The carp pond was expanded and aquatic plants were included.
On the other side of the ponds, in the southern part is the arboretum and a collection of native plants, including some aquatic ones in the ponds. The northwestern part of the Berlin Botanical Garden has herbaceous plants. The complex for medicinal and poisonous plants was designed in the form of the human body. Originally it was the Apothekergarten (pharmacist’s garden) but this part was bombed, as were the greenhouses and the museum. To the east is a swamp and water plant garden.
In 1943 a bunker was built 10 meters below Fichtenberg with two entrances from the Berlin Botanical Garden. It was used for file inventory and personnel placement during alerts. After the war, its entrances were blown up and what remains is used by bats as a refuge in the winter.
What to see?
The Berlin Botanical Garden is 126 acres (43 hectares) with 20,000 plant species. As we went in March, late in the winter, the entire exterior was dead. And it was quite cold! We decided to visit only the greenhouses, since the Botanical Museum was closed. I only say, but they are 6,000 meters of greenhouses, so it is quite large. Touring them takes at least three hours. I would have stayed longer, but the light turned yellow when it got dark and it didn’t look the same.
First we enter a separate greenhouse, called House P. This space takes you on a walk through the Mediterranean region and the Canary Islands. The best time to visit is in the spring and early summer, when the plants are blooming. When I went it was two weeks before spring, but many plants had flowers. At the rear are tree ferns from mountainous subtropical regions.
I was curious to see a lot of birds inside the greenhouse. It was even somewhat sad, as there was one knocking on the glass trying to communicate with another bird that was outside.
The main greenhouse, the Great Pavilion, was destroyed in World War II. This Art Nouveau architectural masterpiece was restored to its original form. You enter House O, which shows exhibits behind glass that explain the importance of mangroves or how to grow rice. In this area are the bathrooms and on the right is the Café Victoria. We started our tour on the right entering House G which has a lot of bromeliads. These are some of my favorite plants, since you never know what you find in their center and they have quite unique flowers.
From there we went to House F which has tropical ferns. Many of these plants are prehistoric and have been on earth for more than 300 million years. Make sure to pay attention to how the leaves start to grow, unrolling themselves.
Houses E and D have tropical plants and orchids. Like House C which has the most important tropical plants.
Plants begin to change in House B which has a collection of begonias. From there you go to House A, which is the main tropical house, 60 meters long and 23 meters high. This greenhouse is one of the largest in the world. The temperature is maintained at 30 °C (86ºF) with a high level of humidity (it felt like home!). Look for the giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus Giganteus), native to Southeast Asia, which is the fastest growing plant in the world.
This section also has the koi pond which is one of the most photographed sites of the Berlin Botanical Garden.
Victoria Greenhouse and African Plants
Opposite is the Victoria greenhouse which was closed when I went since it was being remodeled. It reopens in the summer of 2020. Regardless, I had already seen these giant aquatic plants in the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) Botanical Garden in Mauritius. Its leaves are between 2 to 3 meters in diameter and have beautiful flowers that bloom only for two nights.
House N has species of camellia, azalea, and rhododendron that reminded me of Botanika Bremen.
Following the tour of the world, the House M has plants from Australia and New Zealand. While House L has the famous carnivorous plants.
Continuing, in House K you find a section of plants from South Africa. Here you can see the Welwitschia mirabilis, a living fossil from Namibia. House I has cactuses including Echinocactus grusonii (mother-in-law’s cushion) which are over 100 years old. The last House H has succulents from Africa, aloes and water-holding plants.
If you are a nature lover you should include a visit to the botanical garden in Berlin.