A couple of minutes’ walk away from the busy Parkallee avenue, the Schweizerhaus begins to emerge from between the tall trees. What the parish house is to the pastor, this building is to the manager of the Bürgerpark: those who live here have chosen a life in which work and personal life frequently intertwine. Tim Grossman became the manager of the park in 2012, and since then he has developed a special relationship to this green lung of Bremen, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2016.
In the mornings after breakfast, the park manager only needs to walk through his garden to get to his office in the administration building. Most people come to the Bürgerpark to switch off, but there’s no chance of that for Grossmann, who also studied landscape architecture. “Even when I’m jogging through the park, I still have my internal ‘scanner’ on,” he admits with a chuckle. Are those new trees growing as they should be? Can that sign over there still be read? Does that fence need repairing? These are the kind of questions he simply can’t tune out.
A traditional landscaped park without traditional funding
The Bürgerpark is located right in the heart of the city, but it’s easy to forget this once you’ve walked a little way inside. It’s a protected heritage site, although it has the feel of a natural landscape. Most importantly, though, entry is free of charge to all, despite the fact that no tax revenue goes towards its maintenance. Instead, the park is sustained through donations and private contributions such as legacies and endowments, and has been so ever since it was established. “No other park in Germany of this size can make this claim,” says Grossmann.
In 1865, affluent members of Bremen’s mercantile class came up with a plan to establish a park on an unused section of meadow close to the area known as the ‘Bürgerweide’, which would be open to all citizens. As the Senate did not want to set aside any tax revenue for this scheme, a ‘Committee for the Afforestation of the Bürgerweide’ was founded. The 60 members chose to adopt the design of the landscape architect Wilhelm Benque, who conceived the Bürgerpark as a traditional landscape garden. “He was following the trend of the time,” explains Grossmann. “The era of baroque gardens with precisely trimmed trees and hedges was over. Parks that looked like natural landscapes were now in greater demand.”
The initiative was extremely popular, and the number of members soon rose to 800. On 28 June 1866, workers began to excavate what would become the Emmasee lake – and with the first turn of the shovel, the Bürgerpark was born. Wilhelm Benque became the first park manager.
52 structures and 200 hectares of green space
Even in the harsh wartime and post-war winters, none of the trees here were cut down for firewood, as was extremely common in other parks at such times. “While such a past is heartening, it creates a challenge for the future,” says Grossmann. “We have many loyal donors, but the Bürgerpark doesn’t run itself.” He emphasises that last point for good reason – there’s not only 200 hectares of green space to keep in good condition, but also 52 buildings and bridges to maintain that are spread out all over the grounds. In total, it costs more than €2 million each year. The park is supported by a total of 30 employees, and there’s no high season as such: “The park keeps us busy all year round,” explains head gardener Heiko Lustfeld. “We plant the seeds in spring, mow the meadows in summer, and clear away the leaves in autumn and the snow in winter.”
In 2016, Bremen’s green oasis celebrated its 150-year anniversary
© Bürgerparkverein Bremen