From freight railyard to “new wilderness”

The Sudgelande, approximately 18 ha, lies on the southern border of the inner city of Berlin in the district of Schoneberg-Tempelhof It is a compo­nent of a much larger freight railyard (“Rangierbahnhof bei Tempelhof’) that was built between 1880-1890. Old photographs show a desolate railyard on which trains have been shunted on a multitude of parallel tracks. Tracks for the long-distance trains as well as for the inner-city ex­press train define the area to the east and west. From the north and the south, heavily trafficked streets adjoin the site, with the result that the Sudgelande has an island-like character despite its urban location.

After train service was discontinued in 1952, the Sudgelande was mostly, but not entirely, abandoned. A large hall was still used for repair­ing the train cars, so access had to remain open. Trains were still shunted on a few tracks for a few years. On the majority of the site, however, natu­ral development began to take place, which, by 1981, had led to a richly structured mosaic of dry grasslands, tall herbs, shrub vegetation and indi­vidual woodlands. Table 1 illustrates that between 1981 and 1991, the pro­portions of herbaceous vegetation and vegetation dominated by woody species had reversed. In only 10 years, the area of woodlands had doubled from 37 to 70%. Pioneer species predominate, especially the native Betula pendula and the North American Robinia pseudoacacia.

A study of the vegetation types showed that both the herbaceous and the woody vegetation are richly structured (Asmus 1981; Kowarik and Langer 1994) and provide habitats for a multitude of plant and animal species (Table 2). Rare and threatened species are found primarily in the dry grass­lands and only rarely in the woody vegetation. A large proportion of the vegetation is typical of cities and differs greatly from the species composi­tion in the rural surroundings. Among the woodlands, there are substantial differences between stands of native and non-native species. In the birch and poplar stands, a convergent development to forest communities that approach the original, widely distributed oak-pine forests is becoming ap­parent. In the black locust stands, on the contrary, a divergent development can be noted that can be traced back to a combination of properties of black locust that the native trees don’t have at their disposal. Nitrogen fixa­tion promotes the establishment of more demanding species (Acer pla – tanoides, A. pseudoplatanus), and clonal growth allows black locust to re­generate within its own stands, so that it is unlikely to be entirely driven out by other trees (Kowarik 1992, 1996a, b). At least in these stands it is foreseeable that the new wilderness will be very clearly differentiated over the long term from the original communities that occurred in the Berlin area.

Table 1. Decline in herbaceous vegetation and increase in woody vegetation over a ten-year period on Berlin’s Sudgelande (after Kowarik and Langer 1994, data from Asmus 1981 and Kowarik et al. 1992)



Area of research (ha)



Investigated vegetation cover (ha) (= 100%)



Herbaceous vegetation (%)



Woody vegetation (%) Dominated by:



Robinia pseudoacacia (%)



Betula pendula (%)



Betula pendula & Populus tremula (%)



Populus tremula (%)



Acer platanoides, A. pseudoplatanus (%)