Berlin Environmental Atlas

05.04 Age and Inventory Structure of the Forests (Edition 2005)

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Development History of the Berlin Forests up to the 2nd World War

Prior to colonization in the 12th century, the area of that is today Berlin was largely covered with forest. Oak and hornbeam forests were the prevailing forest types on the clayey soils of the plateaus (the Teltow, Barnim and Nauen plateaus), and pine and oak forests on the valley and plateau sands of the glacial spillway and the Grunewald Forest. In locations remote from groundwater, the pine-oak forest occurred in the form of durmast oak-pine forests, in locations near groundwater, in the form of English oak-beech forests or English oak-birch forests with a share of pines. This share was generally below 50 % in the original pine-oak forests, however, so that deciduous trees prevailed. In the river valleys and the flood areas, elm alluvial forests and oak-hornbeam forests grew. The woodland was interrupted only by some mires. Before colonization, the oak-hornbeam and the pine-oak forests each accounted for approx. 45 % of the wooded area, of which only 9 % consisted of pure pine stands. The forests of moist to wet locations thus accounted for only 10 % of the wooded area.

The earliest extensive use of the forest was for forest pasturing. The cattle were driven into the forest and fed on foliage, bark and fruit as well as the seedlings of the young trees. This caused a thinning of the forest, i.e. fewer young trees grew to maturity. The consequence was a changed species composition and the formation of stands of the same age. The colonization and cultivation of the countryside and, with it, the clearing of the forest, began on the most fertile soils, which were transformed into farmland. Thus, the oak-hornbeam forests were displaced on the clayey soils first. The heavy settlement development beginning in the 19th century also led to the build-up of fertile areas of arable land. Additional wooded areas were cleared, so that the forest survived only on the poorest soils, the pine and oak sites, strengthening the dominance of these species.

The constant retreat of the forest was not caused only by direct soil utilization. With the rising population, the need for wood as a raw material and energy source also increased. Mismanagement soon resulted in a wood supply shortage, so that as early as around 1700, the first legal regulations were imposed. The oak receded increasingly in favor of the pine in the Berlin forests, since the latter grew better on soil considerably damaged by forest pasturing, and since the oak was no longer favored as a source of feed. Since the beginning of the 19th century, the primary cause for the growing loss of wooded areas has been real estate speculation. Thus, the Berlin Council determined in 1823, despite furious citizens' protests, to clear-cut the Cöllnish Heath. By 1875, the city of Berlin had no more public forest property in its possession. In 1890, the Grunewald Forest consisted almost entirely of pine monoculture. At the turn of the century, the State Forestry Administration began to sell large wooded areas of the Grunewald Forest to real-estate speculators; by 1909, some 1,800 ha had been sold (cf. SenStadtUm 1991).

As part of the property acquisition for the extensive establishment of sewage farms, the city acquired the forestry districts of Buch (1898) and Gorin (1909). In order to guarantee the drinking-water supply for the growing population, the Wuhlheide Heath was added in 1910-'11. In 1911, Berlin and the surrounding communities combined to form the Administrative Association of Greater Berlin. One essential purpose was the acquisition and conservation of large areas which were to be kept free of development. In 1915, the "Permanent Forest Purchase Agreement" was concluded between the Royal Prussian State and the Administrative Association, under which the latter acquired large parts of the forestry districts of Grunewald, Tegel, Köpenick, Grünau and Potsdam (approx. 10,000 ha) from the State of Prussia, and obligated itself not to build upon or to resell the acquired wooded areas, but to preserve them permanently for the citizens as near-urban recreational areas. In order to provide the inhabitants of the populous industrial borough of Wedding with recreational possibilities to the north, the city bought the Lanke Forest area as well. With the establishment of Greater Berlin in 1920, the municipal forests of Spandau and Köpenick as well as the Wansdorf, Carolinenhöhe and Tasdorf woodlands, which had belonged to sewage farms, became the property of the city. Not until after the inflation of the early '20s could Berlin acquire additional small forest areas in 1928 (e.g. the Düppel Manor and Neu-Kladow). The last large purchase occurred in 1937, with the acquisition of the Stolpe Forest, bordering Tegel. The forest land of the City of Berlin, located both within and outside the city limits, thus covered 25,480 ha at the beginning of World War II (cf. Fig. 1).

Fig. 1
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Fig. 1: Survey of the City Forests in the Area Surrounding Berlin in 1945

The Berlin forests suffered severe damage during the course of World War II. Between 1937 and 1944, more than twice as much wood was cut "to strengthen raw material supply" in Berlin than would have been sustainable from the point of view of forestry planning - 150,000 solid cubic meters per year (fm/a) instead of 71,000 fm/a. At the same time, the planting of new trees was neglected, and thus the principle of sustainability abandoned (cf. SenStadtUm 1995a). This systematic depletion increased still more during the last two years of the war: For the defense against the advancing Allies, a large number of trees were indiscriminately felled by the Wehrmacht, leaving behind extensive desolation. However, there was also large-scale theft of firewood, both by the Wehrmacht and by the population, which did great damage to the forest (570,000 fm during 1945-'46).

With the end of the Second World War, a period of separate development of the forests began in the eastern and western parts of the city, as well as in the districts located outside the city.

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