Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Lopped planes and the trees of Berlin

Pity I didn’t have my camera when out today. The planes that I presume were lopped first are sprouting. The one at the back of my flats, though, still has no life and has been colonised today by a bunch of rooks and some magpies. There goes the neighbourhood. Their noise suggests a dispute but I can’t see what about.

I've been in Berlin since my last post and there I saw more lime trees than ever before. The ones you see here are usually small and ornamental, and are found in towns on roadsides and in parks, like the ones along the Severn in Shrewsbury. According to Oliver Rackham, however, it was once one of the dominant trees of Britain, and the tallest.

I didn’t warm to the trees in Berlin. Here we’re good at trees in parks and parkland but in Germany you have the feeling that the forest is only provisionally and partially cleared and would be back if they all went on holiday for a couple of months at the same time. It’s as if they fell enough trees to stick a building up and never get round to removing the rest, so you see a toddlers’ playground in front of an apartment block overhung by giant trees that cause a permanent gloom for the kids to play in. And whereas English oaks tend to be light and luminous -- sometimes almost backlit -- the trees amongst the Berlin blocks are of some dark and dull species, somewhere between sycamore and the maples I knew in Ottawa, maybe a European maple. It’s the Wald, that’s what it is, the Teutonic forest that swallowed up Varo’s legions so they could be massacred by Arminius (Hermann the German); and it’s overlaid only superficially by Berlin.

Limes are lighter but even they don’t relieve the gloom. And in the parks the grass is uncut and scrappy, as in Mexican parks. Berlin strikes me like a colonists’ city: they’ve moved in recently and imposed their massive buildings and infrastructure on a landscape they’ve never paused to domesticate and convert from nature to culture.

Which I suppose is why Berlin is exciting in a way no English city could ever be. I loved it. But that’s another story, or posting.

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