The International Garden Show Hamburg

Stuart Forster heads to Wilhelmsburg Island to visit the International Garden Show Hamburg.

The International Garden Show Hamburg was held during 2013 on Wilhelmsburg Island in Hamburg, Germany. Europe’s largest inhabited river island expected to draw 2.5 million visitors for the event, also known as the IGS.

Garden shows have a long tradition in Germany and there’s much more to them than simply showing flowers. Hamburg held its first such show back in 1869 but the idea of using garden shows to regenerate inner-city  areas really took off after World War Two, when many German cities lay in ruins due to the destructive effects of aerial bombardment.

History of German garden shows

The International Garten Ausstellung 1953 (International Garden Exhibition) re-established the Stadtpark, Hammerpark and Volkspark Altona, areas that still exist , providing some of the open spaces and greenery that form an integral part of Hamburg’s character.

Sixty years on, the International Gartenschau Hamburg 2013, known locally simply as the IGS, is helping change Wilhelmsburg and perceptions about it. Despite being just an eight-minute ride on the S-Bahn suburban railway line from Hamburg’s central station, the vast majority of the city’s residents have never visited this island of 35 square kilometres.

Wilhelmsburg was more or less abandoned after 1962, when the River Elbe flooded and broke the dykes that protected the land behind, much of which stands at an altitude of two metres below sea level. As a result of widespread damage, housing in Wilhelmsburg became inexpensive and the home to 50,000 people. Over time Wilhelmsburg gained a no-go reputation because of social problems.

Hamburg’s International Building Exhibition

Members of the local community convinced the mayor that something had to be done to change the situation. This year’s IGS is part of efforts to regenerate the island and coincides with the 2013 International Building Exhibition, which is creating housing that will improve living conditions for many of Wilhelmsburg’s residents and make it a more appealing place to live for new arrivals to this growing city of more than 1.8 million people. The concept is that Hamburg needs to “leap across the Elbe” and embrace this outcast family member.

Visitors arriving during the garden show are likely to take away a positive impression of the island. The IGS is an attractively landscaped area of 100 hectares, planned by the landscape architect Stephan Lanzen under the theme “Around the World in 80 Gardens”. As the theme suggests, visitors are able to stroll through 80 different gardens.

A 6-kilometre long circular path runs through the various gardens, which celebrate the diversity of the world’s cultures, vegetation and climates. The easiest way of gaining an overview of the gardens is to take a seat on the monorail, whose elevated 3.4-kilometre route provides a good perspective and its open windows give opportunities to click photos of the colourful blossoms below.

A colourful, seasonal experience

The appearance of the garden show is changing to evolve with the seasons. 200,000 spring flowers have given way to 180,000 summer plants, whose bright colours will in turn give way to the golden, reddy hues of autumn.

Hamburg is a major port city and the ‘World of Ports’ section of the show celebrates the role of trade in establishing links throughout the world. Exhibitions on themes such as the origins of tea and wine are displayed in shipping containers set among flowerbeds.

Within the ‘World of Continents’ section, 16 gardens represent the colours and cultural diversity of Asia, Europe, Africa, Australian and the Americas. The ‘World of Religions’ symbolises living together and tolerance. The five gardens represent the world’s five main religions and their key concepts. Sculptures, in addition to flowers, play a key role in the design of the gardens. You don’t need to be a knowledgeable horticulturalist or budding botanist to enjoy a visit.

A lot of allotments

Even prior to the current show, gardeners were active on land here. More than 200 allotments still exist and form a show within a show. The leaseholders who spent time tending their gardens and relaxing at their sheds can tell an interesting story of change and development over the past few years.

The legacy of the IGS will be a park that anybody can use – for activities such as walking, jogging or skating – as the illuminated tarmac walkway around the park will be opened to the public next year. Waterways running for 3.5-kilometres and currently used for drainage will be made available for water sports such as canoeing after the show concludes.

The hall in which 26 different flower shows are being held over the course of the next few months will become the home stadium of Hamburg’s Bundesliga (national league) basketball team and a focal point for the community based sports. There’s also a swimming pool and a climbing hall on the periphery of the park. Climbing is a popular pastime in this region and the glass wall of the carbon neutral Nordwandhalle (meaning ‘North Face Hall’) can be fully opened on summer days. Whether open or closed, it provides visitors to the IGS with a chance to view the climbers in action.

The summer sunshine is helping the flowers of the International Garden Show Hamburg to climb and climb and grow, and they will remain on show until 13 October, when the IGS closes.

Further information

The International Garden Show encompassed 7,000 cultural, educational and sporting events. Find out more about the city that hosted the event on the Hamburg Tourism website.

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