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Berlin botanical garden pagoda

The Botanical Garden in Berlin is so Exquisite You'll Want to Imagine it.


Life could easily be represented as an imaginary narrative that takes place within a material garden.

There are few things as pleasant as thinking of a garden. Sometimes, similar to what Pessoa once said (“Prefere pensar em fumar ópio a fumá-lo”), I rather be mind-strolling the Botanical Garden in Berlin whilst sitting comfortably in my chair at home, and be walking amongst its bamboo trees and its flower carpets. Maybe because reality is too far away, or maybe, too, because the plants that make it up are so illusory that they may well be the result of someone’s imagination; a Teutonic Xanadu that can be accessed from anywhere. To think of a garden as one remembers a place and comes back to it as a ghost ––for memory and imagination have a lot of the same.

The Botanical Garden in Berlin, with more than three-hundred years of history, rises from the metropolis as Kubla Khan’s decree: a sort of Pleasure-Dome for whomever finds it. It’s apparition dates back to the 17th century, when it was part of the Royal Orchard, located in the recreational gardens of the city’s castle. Nowadays, embedded in the middle of an urban center in Dalhem, like an untamed secret —although exquisitely kept— the garden is set to offer us something similar to the center of a labyrinth: “Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree”.

Here, at the center of a German labyrinth, we can see the mythical gardens described by Coleridge and Blake sprawl before our eyes (and perhaps, due its size and diversity, the mythical garden of whomever that has ever imagined one), presenting the visitors a wide array of ecosystems. The main greenhouse, the garden’s architectural symbol, is a crystal house built in 1906, whose dimensions mark it as one of the largest in the world and, without a doubt, the most impressive. Inside, orchids, ferns, succulents, aquatic and insectivorous plants cohabitate beautifully with palm groves, vines and unbelievably large Ficus trees. The largest seed in the world is also found here: the Coco de mer, or Seychelles Nut, which can weigh up to 20 kilograms. Stepping into this crystal house is enough to make one fickle between the real and the marvelous.

Once you have exhausted the roads of the greenhouse, the garden offers open spaces that, as tiny allegorical universes, represent the season of the year as seen in each corner of the world. If you enter the woodlands during spring, for instance, you can witness the stealthy appearance of snowdrops, anemone hepatica, winter aconites, and wood anemone: white flowers that can catch just enough daylight before the trees grow their foliage back.

In the aquatic garden, like small lamps lighting up the mud, the marsh marigolds emerge alongside all sorts of orchids accompanied by a choir of toads. Numerous small flowers such as the Virginia bluebells and the trillium lilies form a carpet in the North American forests, while lilies and olive trees guide your steps towards the Rose Pavilion. Then, the wild tulips let you know that you have arrived in Central Asia, and with one more step you land at the feet of the Alps, surrounded by saffron meadows that neighbor Greece and the Balkans. While in the meantime, you gradually forget that you are actually in the city of Berlin. We are, like Pessoa’s invisible aim, everywhere where we are not.

Next to the botanical garden is the museum, which features botanical samples; it is the only one of its kind in Central Europe. And just as everything that exists (they say) has its verbal counterpart, the Botanischer Gärten has its axis in the library of Universal Botanical Literature. Here we are reminded of Borges, who imagined Paradise in the form of a library and the Garden as a day of celebration within the poverty of Earth. The library’s collection has almost 200,000 volumes about plants, written in almost every language. Every single book can be consulted and photocopied.

As we said before, this region of the planet —which is also every region— offers us a drink from the milk of paradise. Yes, it is true that in order to find it and loose ourselves we must first cross Atlantic; but, for now, let us imagine.

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