Berlin: The Green Heart of Europe

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Berlin - The Green Heart of Europe 2Image Courtesy of the Berlin Zoo

From vast green spaces to a thriving local food movement, Berlin is one of the world’s most inspiring eco-friendly destinations. “Berlin is a leader in cultural sustainability,” explains Dr. Michael LaFond, architect, longtime resident, and director of the id22 Institute for Creative Sustainability. In Berlin, sustainability is not a passing trend, it’s a way of life.

Dr. LaFond believes that the city’s turbulent past has much to do with its fascinating modern structure and culture. Decimated in World War II and then divided for almost three decades, Berlin was forced to rebuild itself quite recently. It is, perhaps, this great feat that allows Berliners to be fearlessly innovate. “In a bubble of relative peace and prosperity, Berlin is a place where we can experiment, decide, change our minds, and, if necessary, go back and try again.”

While the task of rebuilding the city was enormously difficult, it also provided Berlin with the opportunity to implement sustainable measures from the outset. Empty lots could be repurposed into green spaces and fallen buildings could be rebuilt sustainably. Berlin’s eco-conscious qualities do not reside solely in the infrastructure. One of the most appealing aspects is that its eco-credentials don’t happen behind-the-scenes; instead, they’re part of the urban fabric, ubiquitous in the population itself.

“What makes Berlin special is its critical engaged population. Many people are focused on quality of life and social justice,” explains Dr. LaFond. In many endeavours [endeavors], Berlin is the poster child for the power of organically-grown movements. Berlin’s residents are responsible for their city’s incredible accomplishments. “Sustainability is a challenge that we’re all faced with, a cultural movement.”

Though space is at a premium, as is the case in nearly every metropolis, Berlin’s residents have continuously resisted development on public green spaces. Perhaps the most prominent recent example is Tempelhof Airport. Built in the 1920s, the airport served the city up until 2008 when its terminal was transformed into an event space, and its enormous airfield made into a public park. Today, Tempelhofer Feld ‘s paved runways are playgrounds for cyclists, kiteboarders, and rollerbladers, and its lawns are packed with visitors whenever the weather allows.

Once under threat by developers, the park was saved by a successful petition, signed by tens of thousands of passionate locals. In addition to conserving large green spaces, locals have reinvigorated pockets of neighbourhoods as well. There has been an increasing growth in urban farming. “There are over 100 community gardening projects in Berlin,” says Dr LaFond. Prinzessinnengarten is a flagship example. Once an unassuming concrete corner on the border of Kreuzberg and Mitte, the garden was created both to build community and to grow food. Every day, people from all levels of society visit the lush green space to learn from one another and enjoy meals at the cafe, which incorporates herbs and vegetables grown onsite.

When it comes to locavore cuisine, Berlin is again at the forefront. Nobelhart und Schmutzig is a cutting-edge restaurant that uses only ingredients available within the immediate region—comprising greater Berlin, the surrounding state of Brandenburg and north to the Baltic Sea. While the ingredients list may seem severely limited, the chefs at Nobelhart und Schmutzig have an imaginative approach that has already earned the team two coveted Michelin stars. In keeping with the theme, the food isserved around a communal table, and guests are provided with a single 10-course menu.

As to be expected, the city’s vegan and regional cuisine have become the envy of Europe. Many restaurants, such as The Bowl and KOPPS, now serve up excellent meat- and dairy-free dishes. At Vöner, there’s even a chance to sample the vegan version of the German staple, the Döner kebab. It’s also no accident that Berlin is the home to the revolutionary vegan supermarket Veganz.

Berlin has many recent accomplishments to celebrate, but it has successfully integrated its past as well. In the heart of former City West, the Berlin Zoo has been an international pioneer in species conservation since 1844. “Berlin is a dynamic and modern city, which is at the same time full of history,” says Zoo Director Dr. Andreas Knieriem. “The story of the Zoo is intrinsically tied to the history of the city. You can’t live here without being inspired by its spirit and optimism for the future.” This approach is reflected in the institution’s motto: “To shape the future, you need to look back at the past.”

Berlin - The Green Heart of Europe 1

Image Courtesy of the Berlin Zoo

According to Dr. Knieriem, the architecture of animal houses exemplifies Berlin’s unique amalgam of past and future. “On the one hand, the traditional Antelope House, built with its minarets, opened in 1872, remains the most splendid building in the Zoo. On the other hand, the recently reopened ‘World of Birds’ lives up to the latest trends of visitor information and so-called ‘edutainment.'”

Once home to the world’s most famous polar bear, Knut, the Zoo continues to raise funds and awareness for the plight of this species and many others through schemes such as the European preservation breeding (EEP) and various reintroduction programmes. What’s more impressive is the local conservation efforts that the Zoo has pursued. They recently reintroduced 40 Ferruginous ducks into their natural habitat in Lower Saxony, where they became regionally extinct in the 1980s.

Although it’s a well-established historic institution, the Zoo has embraced Berlin’s spirit of prioritizing the community. The education programmes constantly encourages visitors to join in the conservation effort. In Dr. LaFond’s words, “Out of the darkness of the past, a city emerged, and people still come every day to learn from it.”

Join Dr. Knieriem in a behind-the-scenes tour and see sustainability in action at the Berlin Zoo when you reserve the exclusive Insider Experience at InterContinental Berlin.

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