The Schoneberger Sudgelande Nature Park is the perfect antidote to interest-group parks. Located just south of Berlin, Sudgelande is the site of a former railway switchyard. Abandoned after World War II, the site sat fallow for the past fifty years. During that time, a richly-diverse grassland and forest crept over the site, covering the industrial site in a green patina.
Thanks to the foresight of a local citizens group with the financial backing of an environmental alliance, this wild space was preserved and turned into a park. The former repair shop for locomotives was turned into a hall for artists and performers. The tangle of rail tracks move through forest and meadow, hinting at a structure that is dissolved by the wildness.
Tintern Abbey, the ruins of Sudgelande present the visitor with an ontological gap that stimulate the imagination rather than constrain it.
I love this park precisely because I believe in mystery. The way a rail track appears in a forest only to disappear into the brambles. Or how a tower emerges out of the canopy only to be eclipsed in vegetation. Mystery speaks to our souls before our intellect comprehends. Mystery has the power to radically de-center us, to pull us out of ourselves and ground us in a deeper reality.
My good friend, mentor, and visionary landscape architect, Ching-Fang Chen, first brought my attention to this park after she visited it in 2007. Fortunately for those of us in the Washington, D.C. area, Ching-Fang now works with Montgomery County (M-NCPPC) and is promoting sustainable park development based on the concept of managed succession and spontaneous vegetation.
Sudgelande offers a model for the future: a park that allows the layers of history to coexist with the spontaneous movement of nature. At the intersection of culture and wilderness, we behold mystery.