"Oriental Garden" in Berlin

Visitors Flock to Garden of Paradise

In Berlin's local recreation area known as "Gardens of the World," traditional Islamic garden art is drawing visitors in record numbers. Already shortly after opening, the "Oriental Garden" is a magnet for tens of thousands of curious guests. Ariana Mirza reports

In Berlin's local recreation area known as "Gardens of the World," traditional Islamic garden art is drawing visitors in record numbers. Already shortly after opening, the "Oriental Garden" is a magnet for tens of thousands of curious guests. Ariana Mirza spoke with the architect Kamel Louafi and mingled with the visitors

​​"It looks like a fairytale castle." "No, silly, you mean a fairytale garden." Eight-year-old Henriette and her friend Julia squeal with delight, trailing their fingers in the bubbling fountains that give the Oriental garden courtyard "Riyad" its nickname "Garden of the Four Streams."

The children are not yet aware of the fact that a strict geometrical and proportional order forms the foundation of traditional Islamic garden art. But the beguiling effect of Berlin's "Riyad" is not lost on even the youngest guests.

Four small streams divide the inner courtyard, which is secluded from the outside world by four walls. Symmetrical arcades and vestibules take their place in the clearly defined composition along with the four fields that surround the center of the oasis with a profusion of blooms. At the center stands a wooden pavilion containing a fountain basin, the stylized "source" of life.

The "heavenly garden" as source of inspiration

​​Architect Kamel Louafi found his own sources of inspiration in the Persian-Arabian interpretation of "janna," the "heavenly garden" described in the Koran. Ever since the 7th century, this idea of the "garden of paradise" has shaped traditional Islamic garden arts from North Africa to India.

The only example of this type of architecture in Europe up until now were the gardens of the Alhambra in Spain. But the complex in Granada was built long ago, in the Middle Ages. This is probably why many visitors to Berlin's "Riyad" do not realize that such gardens of paradise are by no means an "extinct" manifestation of Islamic culture.

"I would never have thought that today they could still create something this ornate," says 57-year-old Reinhard Jeda, who ended up in the garden courtyard with his wife Hilde "by accident." Now he is searching for parallels with his own image of the Islamic world: "It's surrounded by walls, protecting it from view, a little bit like the Orient for us Europeans."

"Finally something from my world"

Mrs. Jeda by contrast "simply felt a heavenly peace" descend upon her as she entered. The young Syrian, Hammud (27), is here with his friends. He is particularly pleased that his German companions visiting the Oriental Garden with him "finally have the chance to see something from my world."

"Harmonious!" – asked what they think of the architecture of the Islamic garden, most visitors spontaneously come up with the same word to describe their impressions. The only thing that 15-year-old Claudia from Zwickau liked even better than the Berlin garden were "the gorgeous flowers in the gardens of Tunisia," where she once went on vacation.

Dang Phan (16), a Berlin resident with a Vietnamese background, hasn't been to the Orient yet. But he considers the architecture with its ornamental splendor to be "a cliché of the Orient" – after all, "it could never really be this idyllic in real life."

For Helena Siuts (52), who is accompanied by two friends, there can be no doubt as to the authenticity of the garden: "At the moment, I'm reading a book about the doctor Ibn Sina. What I could previously only imagine is here to see in concrete form."

The "Oriental Garden" – a German-Arab co-production

The planning and realization of the "Oriental Garden" involved a German-Arab co-production. The complete design comes from the hand of architect Kamel Louafi, who was born in Algeria and today lives in Berlin. German companies were in charge of basic construction, engineering the waterworks, paving and plantings.

Moroccan craftspeople came to Berlin to carry out work on the more artistic areas of the garden. Their reliefs and tile work, ornaments such as the three-dimensional "muquarnas" and polygonal arabesques known as "zillij," along with painting and calligraphy, give the garden its unmistakable appearance.

"And the whole time, the craftspeople had to struggle with the unfamiliar German building regulations," recalls Kamel Louafi. For example, a different kind of joint was required between the tiles than the one they were used to, and the grout even had to be especially frost-proofed.

The garden's plants also had to be chosen to survive the winter frost. "And the orange trees, which are in pots, unfortunately have to be taken into the greenhouse in the winter." These are the kind of Central European exigencies that hardly disturb visitors to the Berlin gardens.

However, there is one "minor criticism" that is frequently voiced in the "Oriental Garden." Not only Moroccan visitor Bachir Saad (32) and Nadja Fügert (30) from Germany would like to enjoy a cup of aromatic mint tea or bitter Arabic coffee here in the garden: "Then, everything would be perfect."

Ariana Mirza

© Qantara.de 2005

Translated from German by Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

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