"Berlin has everything you need: water, trees, and forest.” Antje Solmsdorf
“City trees live under very hard circumstances, sometimes it’s simply too hard. Think about the traffic, the exhaust fumes, dogs peeing all over them." Antje Solmsdorf
In wintertime, Berlin can look pretty grey and depressing. But come back in the summer and you will be surprised how many parks, trees and lakes brighten up the city. If you take a closer look at the trees, you’ll find a mysterious number tag on each and every one of them. Antje Solmsdorf is one of the people working hard to preserve the 440.000 city trees – and their number tags – in Berlin. “A person can simply not live without trees.”
On a beautiful autumn day, right next to the water of Lietzensee in Berlin’s Charlottenburg, Antje talks about her passion for trees. “It started as a little kid, I would take plants and small trees home, show it to my parents and neighbours and ask what it was. I realized at a young age that we people are part of nature. I wanted to know everything about trees.”
Her interest brought her to Berlin 40 years ago, to study landscape architecture. “I learned how important city planning is. Cities can only be liveable when it has green spaces. Berlin in that respect has everything you need: water, trees, and forest.” After her studies, Antje had several jobs in and around Berlin as a landscape architect and inspecting and taking care of the thousands of city trees. At the moment, she is in the board of the ‘Tree Protection Organisation’ in Berlin.
“City trees live under very hard circumstances, sometimes it’s simply too hard. Think about the traffic, the exhaust fumes, dogs peeing all over them. They never get enough space to grow. When people plan to build a street or a parking space, they never think that trees also need a lot of space under the ground for their roots to grow. And people then wonder why these trees die?” Antje is clearly unhappy about it. Luckily, Berlin’s Humboldt University started researching trees that would be more resistant to the everyday dangers of a city tree.
Dangers aside, Berlin is one of the greenest cities in Europe nowadays. Antje: “It wasn’t always like that. Especially after World War Two, a lot of trees were destroyed. Then the Berlin Wall divided Berlin, making it hard to do proper city planning. In West Berlin there were about 220.000 trees, after the Wall fell in 1989 another 150.000 trees from the East had to be taken care of. These trees didn’t have the same sort of care taking as the West, a lot had to be done to improve the quality of the trees.”
Antje points at an enormous plane tree across the water. The leaves are shining in their autumn colours. “That tree is 150 years old, it survived wars. I find it amazing how much trees can handle. I always talk about intelligent trees, they are so smart in finding ways to keep living. It’s amazing how they handle heavy damage.”
If you have a good look at a Berlin tree, you will find that almost every tree has a number plate attached to it. Right under the first branch you can usually find it. Is it a typical German thing? Antje laughs: “I get this question a lot. But there is a whole system behind it. You can find these numbers back in a bigger register, where all the latest information about a tree is saved. Every year, inspectors check the health of the trees. They do this to see if it the tree is a danger for traffic. If it is too dangerous, the tree will be cut.”
In her current role Antje not only tries to convince the bigger construction firms to leave space for trees, but also consults private people about how their own trees should be treated. “Unfortunately you often see that trees have to make place for buildings.” Antje waits a bit and looks around Lietzensee. “It’s so important for all of us, for relaxation, for recharging your batteries, to have trees and parks in the neighbourhood!”
Antje herself has one of the typical German city gardens. It’s her place to relax. “But I planted so many trees there that it doesn’t leave space for flowers,” she laughs. In a more serious tone she continues: “But seriously, I see how my granddaughter loves playing in the garden. If we all would treat trees the way we treat our children, we would create a much nicer future for the future generations.”