Springtime and memory in the Schönholzer Heide, Berlin

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Just underneath the S-Bahn tracks, crossing from Wedding into Pankow not far from the Wollankstraße station, there is a collection of cherry trees gifted to the people of Berlin by the people of Japan, and which are currently in blossom. It remains one of my favourite “memorials” in a city that as so many, if only for its fleeting appearance every springtime. And thankfully spring has arrived, even if it is almost three weeks later than the Sunday last year when I captured the pink blossom at this exact point for another entry on Under a Grey Sky.

It was also possible to see the arrival of warmer weather by the coating of pollen on our bikes as we lifted them out from the rack in the courtyard of our apartment block, and in the number of people walking, riding and running along the Panke and Berlin Wall trails, which we followed to reach the Soviet Memorial in the Schönholzer Heide. We had decided to ride up there to capture some pictures of what is the third largest such memorial in Berlin, behind those in Treptower Park and the Tiergarten, and the final resting place for over 13,000 of the 80,000 Red Army soldiers who died during the final battle for Berlin. Unfortunately, we timed our trip during a period when the memorial is being restored, and so Katrin picked her way through the trees to try and get some pictures, but otherwise it was not possible to get any closer than the gates.

So we turned our bikes towards the Schönholzer Heide. This park began life as a mulberry plantation for the palace of Schönhausen in Pankow, and into the 20th Century it became a popular place for recreation, with tennis courts and football pitches, and different restaurants and cafes, including those that surrounded the Luna Park with its ferris wheel and rollercoasters. The place of amusement and entertainment took a darker course during the Second World War, as the “Luna Park” became the “Luna Camp” for foreign forced labourers working the nearby weapons and ammunition factories.

Now this history is told through boards at the entrance to the park, and with the knowledge of what was once there it might be possible to search out remnants between the trees or in the undergrowth or in the memorial to victims of the war, where over 300 of the forced labourers who died were buried, but for most of us enjoying the green space on a springtime Sunday afternoon the Schönholzer Heide was once again a place of recreation and amusement, a place to grill some sausages and drink a beer, toss a ball for a dog or chuck a Frisbee to a friend… like so many of our green public spaces in the city, this is a place of memory as well as escape, and it is this contradiction that continues to fascinate and to occupy the mind as we ride home, once more beneath the cherry blossom.

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Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig

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