• Thoughts & Praise

    Thoughts & Praise from email – March 2021

    “Most of the audience were grateful for the systematic, somewhat educational approach of the film – which really serves as an excellent introduction to urban ecology, with its historical, botanical, political, moral… connotations – which makes it extremely relevant, also as a teaching resource”. Paul, Lecturer (Norway) March 2021
    We “appreciated the way historical moments were threaded through the film, and the tension between the planners and the community users of the spaces. We also talked quite a bit about time. Specifically how thinking with plants and the evolution of different species opens out much longer time periods than we’re used to thinking about, how if 1500 marks ‘new’, it puts time into a totally different perspective, geological time and perhaps this sense of a long unfolding, also adds to the sense of space evoked in the film”. Katherine, Lecturer (United Kingdom) March 2021
    “Thank you for making this film . It is one of the most brilliant films I have seen. I can’t tell you how much my heart soared to hear “experts” talking with such love and compassion about these wild plants and areas of spontaneous vegetation. […] I am not an ecologist or a botanist but I am a medical herbalist so understand  the plants as I know them but I just didn’t have the language to to explain the importance of urban wildness so thank you to this film to giving me some words, hope and inspiration.” Katie, Herbalist (United Kingdom) March 2021
  • Thoughts & Praise

    Thoughts & Praise from email – December 2020

    “I find [Natura Urbana] gives an excellent contextualisation of the (ever changing) situation in Berlin, and particularly appreciate not only the introduction to the terminology used in such discussions but also a reflection upon them (e.g. invasive vs adventive). The other thing which I think about often since having seen the film is the history of political initiatives to preserve and foment such spaces,  and the politics in general of urban greening. The film weaves together all these threads so deftly.” Fiona, Writer/Editor (Germany) (30 December 2020)

    “[B]oth my girlfriend and me loved it! It was really fascinating and showed Berlin’s tangled and complex history through a completely different lens, which is nature. That’s really eye opening how things we don’t usually notice, but we are surrounded by them at the same time everywhere we go, can tell so much. Another very important aspect of the film that it really makes you want to come back to Berlin and maybe enjoy the city in a bit different way than usual, touristic approach (Südgelände!). Also, a very valuable thing about the film is that it shows the complex topic as it should be shown, which is using many points of views coming from different branches of science, that provides you an in-depth look and keeps the viewer attracted to the screen. To summarize, Natura Urbana is a very original documentary that needs much more attention from the viewers that are interested in the world around them.” Leszek, Customer Operations employee (Poland) (2 December 2020)

  • Thoughts & Praise

    Thoughts & Praise from email – November 2020

    “I found [Natura Urbana] really interesting for several reasons. First of all, a bit in contrast to the title and general message of the film, I think it is much more universal, at least in those parts of Europe that experienced severe damages during or after the war. Cities in these parts of Europe subsequently developed in a somewhat chaotic way, and – often quite vast – areas with spontaneous vegetation being quite common. And there are common problems, too. We – as a species – are usually trying to organise the space around us, and this is the same with green areas. Even recently, when we realised that regular mowing grass is something not really necessary in the cities, people – at least this is quite popular in Poland – prefer to seed wild flowers typical for meadows and grasslands, than to simple let the artificial grasslands spontaneously develop and flower. And almost everywhere the voice of scientists and ecologists is hardly heard by officials. This is sad to hear that this is also a problem in Germany, where science-based approach to various aspects of life is probably more common then in many other European countries. Thank you for giving me a chance to watch the film.” Rafal, Biologist (Poland) (24 November 2020)

    “I really appreciated the movie, I found [it] incredibly interesting how at first glance the urban nature may look destructive, unprecious, ugly, but then you zoom in and you discover plenty of life and the beauty appears clearly. The normal citizens often consider urban nature just as a bunch of non-welcomed plants, this movie shows how naïve this perception is. The Brachen are somehow like Berlin: vital and free. It made me reconsider the city as a biotope, it will be useful for my studies.” Alessandro, BA student in Geography (Switzerland) (20 November 2020)

    “I really liked it. I am a performance and dance maker and I am researching on ‘brachen’ at the moment… Your video helped a lot and the very many perspectives where useful for me to understand Brachland better.” Magdalena, Choreographer & Dancer (Germany) (1 November 2020)

  • Thoughts & Praise

    Thoughts & Praise from email – October 2020

    “[Our] group really liked the film, especially the cinematography (shades of Tarkovsky), the soundscapes, the themes of plants arriving from different parts of the world and through the movement of people and soldiers during the war…, and also the idea of nature reasserting itself in abandoned parts of the city. All very positive.” Matthew + book club (U.K.) (23 October 2020)

    “To watch the movie helped in the understanding of city as a biotope. This lends words to the feeling of my day to day experience. Exciting to see and listen to the people whose texts I’ve been reading. This helps to understand the relevance of the field with research happening right now… Calming, in a sense, how Sukopp lets the audience go with his reference to serenity. Whichever administration is in charge plants and creatures won’t just disappear.” Nicholas, MA student (Germany) (21 October 2020)

    “[I] really loved it. I’m architect and urban planner, and know Berlin really well, but was still surprised by the beautiful historical images the documentary contains, many I had never seen before. But of course above all the perspective of the film to focus on urban vegetation and tell the story of a city from the point of view of its (spontaneous) green sites, is very unique and valuable. The way it shows how precious certain ‘underused’ spaces can be, will definitely guide my thinking in my future projects.” Miechel, Architect and Urban Planner (Belgium) (17 October 2020) 

    “I found it very beautiful. … It was interesting to get different perspectives on this ‘new nature’ that arises from urbanity – how quickly ‘nature takes back’, and how various species spread out and could survive in the different microclimates that emerged from the ruined city. Hopefully these oases in the city will remain as traces of the past, but also clues about the future.” Bodil, Architecture Student (Denmark) (16 October 2020)

    “We watched Natura Urbana last night and liked it a lot! Learned a lot about urban nature, the ‘science’ behind it (i.e. cataloging etc), the migration of plants, and how nature develops in man-made surroundings. Even the fact that this field has been the focus of such intense study, was new to me.  And how this focus resulted in new kinds of recreative areas. Having lived right next to ‘Park am Nordbahnhof’ I have naturally been aware of the the intentions  but never fully understood it….

    The history of Berlin seen from a different perspective was fascinating. We appreciated how the film zig-zagged between different aspects of the city, discussing history, politics, emigration and botany. Enjoyed the mix of experts, biologists, botanists, and activists. What’s stuck in my mind is the dwelling on the distinction between invasive – alien – neophyte – non-native and adventive species

    We also found new gems to visit during our nest stay Berlin. Thank you! I will recommend the film to friends.” Ulla, Furniture Designer (Denmark) (8 October 2020)

    “I found [the film] really interesting and found it really opened my eyes to looking at the plants that grow in these urban areas being taken over by nature. Within architecture & planning in the UK these spaces are often referred to as brownfield sites and we are encouraged to build on them instead of on what is called greenfield land (usually farmland). They view these brownfield sites as having less value and building on them as having less damage to the environment and plant/animal species loss. This film however really highlights how these sites can often be crucial habitats for plants and animals that often have a wider biodiversity than the areas that have never been built on at all or that are used as farmland. It gives me a whole new appreciation for these areas and really inspires me to go out and look more closely at sites like these in the UK and study what lives there.

    I also found it really interesting the way that it highlights that species that have come into the country are often vilified as invasive. However these ‘invaders’ are often crucial to tell stories of the history of the area and how they arrived and from here. They are as such just as important as our native species.

    I am hoping that this new knowledge it has brought me will influence my design thinking for a long time to come and not just for the projects I am currently working on.” Cameron, MA Architecture student (U.K) (5 October 2020)

  • Thoughts & Praise

    Thoughts & Praise from email – September 2020

    “Thank you so much for letting me watch the movie. As a landscape architect student and a big admirer of Berlin, I find the subject very interesting. I especially found the sequences with Ingo Kowarik and Birgit Seitz interesting. The movie emphasized the different aspects of conserving vegetation in the cities and the views from botanics as well as citizens was nice to hear.” Lise, Landscape architecture student (Denmark) (11 September 2020)

    “Overall, I enjoy[ed] this film, both for the educational aspect and as a resource for my upcoming thesis project. This film is beneficial not to just ecology students, but for architecture and city planning students as well as the film introduces a new unique narrative to city planning that is often forgotten. It illustrates the importance of not only designing spaces for people, but the film also addresses the importance of respecting the new and old species of nature inhabiting any site. The Brachen of Berlin represents this in-between space were spontaneous nature can activate these once-forgotten sites, which emplaces a new identity upon the abandoned site. This film helps to bring forth these previously marginalized activators of these sites. Also, I enjoyed how the main actor throughout every shot of the film was the spontaneous nature that exists in “Brachen.”

    This film has imposed a new perspective and actor that must be contributed and reflected upon throughout my Thesis, the surrounding nature, that is currently inhabiting the abandoned spaces throughout Berlin.

    Thank you once again for providing me with the link for the film as an educational resource. It is and will be beneficial to my studies for the year to come.” Keely, M. Arch Candidate (Canada) (9 September 2020)
  • Thoughts & Praise

    Thoughts & Praise on Twitter – Summer 2020

    “I really enjoyed the film! I particularly enjoyed the level of integration this story tells about how these particular ecological events and dynamics are so tied into the sociopolitical dynamics of the city through its post war history, and it makes me want to consider this type of coevolution in my own urban condition. As a landscape architect in training and instructor in Canada, I appreciated the discussion towards the end about how this new science affected political and aesthetic considerations in the development of new landscape design and urban planning. It is interesting to think about these conditions in a prehistorical sense as well, and imagine what the next types of urban landscapes can look like, or where these new terrains vagues might emerge.” Ryan, urban designer (Canada) (17 August 2020)

    “I explore urban nature in my own time, and novel landscapes are a particular interest. … The film is so personal, that it feels almost as if the viewer is sitting right next to the narrator and the characters in the film. … Before watching the film, I was familiar with some of the work on minimal landscapes, liminal landscapes and residual nature and so on. But I was surprised to learn how ‘exotic’ flora becomes part of social culture in their new locations. It made me question the ‘native vs exotic’ distinction. I felt compassion for those who lost their memories after landscapes had been ‘restored’. However, it also occurred to me that memories are not just created because of the landscape, but could have well been because of the kind of activities the people were engaged in, or people they have spent time with; and spontaneous nature is only a part of the story. Thus, one can’t help but reflect that urban spaces go through reinvention all the time, and while the memories of one generation disappear, a new set of memories are created for the next. But having said that, the serious work around urban biotopes in Berlin, helped me understand that spontaneous nature is not just a biological product which can simply be replaced but is situated in sociological and spatial contexts. The film has led me to question how spontaneous nature can be integrated in the urban landscaping processes. I am beginning to look at landscapes formed by exotic plant species more critically rather than dismissing them as ‘invasive’ or ‘weeds’.” Amartya, town planner (India) (31 July 2020) 

    “I did enjoy the film. I didn’t know about these sites, despite having been to Berlin many times, so it was really good to find out about them. What I found most interesting was that they had been monitored and studied for so long. That kind of info is very useful for designing landscapes. My work involves creating planting schemes influenced by wild/ruderal landscapes, not necessarily using the same plants but based upon the same ecological principles. I am currently also writing a book on gardens, ecology and climate change, and the film addresses some of things I am writing about.” Darryl, landscape designer & author (U.K.) (13 July 2020)

    “I watched Nature Urbana earlier this year with housemates, and have also recommended the film to several friends. Collectively, we found the film incredibly engaging, thought-provoking, and an aesthetic delight. Since watching, the film has also served as a premise for several discussions reflecting on urban nature in our daily lives and environs.” Kathleen, postdoctoral researcher (Ireland) (30 June 2020)

    “Thanks again for sharing the film, it was indeed really interesting to me. I am doing a PhD researching urban commons, and I have to say that this movie provided me with interesting insights on how post-urban spaces where nature took over can be appropriated as urban green commons. But besides this, I think that the major impact it had on my personal thought is the realisation that nature in the city is represented not only by parks and similar human-made facilities, but also by spontaneous natural ecosystems intertwined with abandoned spaces. This made me rethink them as lively spaces to be preserved according to the new ecology that spontaneously grew, and I really liked how this has been done in Berlin.” Jacopo, PhD student (Italy) (30 June 2020)

    “…my vision of the city evolved a lot in relation to Natura Urbana and did trigger further research into plants and cities, in relation to migration. Especially in regards to the notion of ‘native’ against ‘foreign’. As editor of a magazine called Migrant Journal, we dedicated an issue on migration of the ‘very small’, including seeds. I can’t remember if we had already planned to do an issue on plants before I saw this film but in any case, it enriched my understanding of the topic significantly.” Justinien, urbanist (U.K./France) (29 June 2020)

    “I liked the film, especially the info on which species were where and when! The biggest question/issue posed to me by the film was the conception of invasive as “bad”, versus native as “good”. More broadly the challenge of implicit morality to the innately a-moral world. Science is as often bringing clarity to situations, which often become more murky and ambiguous as research continues. This case reminded me of our commitment to awareness of our implicit biases even in what might first appear to be the most clear-cut fields.” Nyssa, biological researcher (USA) (29 June 2020)

  • Thoughts & Praise

    Thoughts & Praise from email – July 2020

    “Thank you SO much for allowing me to have access to this film, I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it really interesting!
    I am a Year 12 student who is hoping to study Geography at university and so used the film to inform my research into the subject of urban ecology- my main interests lying in social housing and the biodiversity of post-industrial landscapes. I found the film after reading Matthew Gandy’s “Marginalia: aesthetics, ecology, and urban wastelands” and watching his lecture at the AA School of Architecture. I was really interested in this paper as it presented the potential interdisciplinarity of Geography to me, fascinated by his conflation of both film and politics. This opened my eyes to the possibility of studying geography and directing films- something I hope to do in the future myself! Two of my favourite films, Kes and The Selfish Giant also feature working-class communities which are defined by their industrial or “wasteland” landscapes and so I was able then to investigate the contrasting of aesthetics and ecology in these films.
    Watching Natura Urbana was a great form of further enrichment- Berlin’s architectural and ecological landscape has intrigued me ever since I visited a few years ago. Sadly the city is ever-changing due to constant threat of redevelopment and it was a shock to see that some of the sites accessed in the film were off-limits to the public when I visited and subsequently marked for demolition. Through my local Labour Party, we have been fighting the council’s proposal to build a waste plant […] on an ecologically important green space to the area, hence the latter content of the film really resonated with me!” Hope, year 12 student (U.K.) (10 July 2020)
  • Thoughts & Praise

    Thoughts & Praise on Instagram – Summer 2020

    “[Natura Urbana] made me reassess my attitude towards places commonly found in the urban landscape that I had perceived as somewhat wasted and empty. It really click that Berlin’s unique history/context provide the brachen spaces that makes it such a great case study for the Natura Urbana theme; [I] would be curious to see similar themes explored in less ‘obvious’ spaces/cities. … [The film] offered a perspective of non-native/introduced species of flora that is very different to the prevailing views taught in botany/ecology education in Australia where I’m from (invasive, weeds, aliens, etc); [it was a] nice universality to that message. Opened my eyes to [the] potential for rich urban biodiversity in urban areas.” Tom, lawyer (U.K.) (19 July 2020)

    “[The film] is informative and highly entertaining. It changed my view and values on cities and natures (subtle yet fundamental, the movie raised a lot of questions which I have not thought of before!).

    I love the beginning of the movie. What would you as [a] West Berlin botanist do if you can’t access your field? The nature surrounding Berlin is not accessible because it is post WWII and you cannot leave the island city that you are on?

    The story of how urban botany became a thing is super interesting. I had to laugh a lot seeing serious scientists doing fieldtrips on seemingly boring Brachen. It took me a while to fit these worlds together.

    Another interesting plot line is why plants are categorized in native and non-native. And why it maybe does not make so much sense. The story of Berlin’s urban natures depicts this vividly. The aesthetic pictures carry this story very well through the movie.

    I loved the movie. There is so much more in there on the politics and futures of urban natures. The movie challenged plenty of assumptions I has on nature. Especially on what “good” nature is. It also made me rethink some of my political stances on urban space.

    Since watching the movie, I walk through natures with a different view than before. What are desirable natures? What makes them good? For whom?” Oliver, student (Germany) (14 July 2020)

    “…what a great film, it was fascinating and very nicely put together. Over the last couple of years sites of spontaneous nature have increasingly become the focus of my paintings.” Helen, artist (U.K.) (2 July 2020)

    “I did enjoy the movie a lot. It has a very innovative approach to urbanization, transcending the built environment/ nature differentiation. Also, the body of knowledge that has been developed on Berlin’s urban ecology really struck me.” Özlem, postdoctoral researcher (Netherlands) (1 July 2020)

    “The film has shown me a way to think about urban nature spaces more deeply and scientifically in my work. I’ll be trying to incorporate these ways of thinking in my work in the near future.” Robert, artist (Singapore) (30 June 2020)

    “I loved the film, I shared it with many people who thought would be interested. I have been interested in novel ecosystems for a while and think the Berlin Brachen strikes as a good example of this. Also reminded me of the local park near where I live – so got Foreground to write an article about it [the article may be found here].” Liam, editor, urban designer & landscape architect (Australia) (29 June 2020)

  • Reflections

    Thoughts on Natura Urbana – 29 June 2020

    I studied landscaping in Berlin in the early 80s and Mr. Sukopp was my professor.

    So many familiar faces in the film. Being a mediocre student I couldn’t imagine at the time, that his findings could be so interesting to international researchers from abroad.

    This changed the first time in the 90s, when I read “Dead cities” by Mike Davis, who dedicated a chapter to his work.

    First I was taken with the relaxed atmosphere of the pictures, which fitted the theme of the film very well. And the approach to the topic was sensible and step by step. All the important elements are carefully built on each other to get the bigger picture.

    So a good story book, mixing elements of historical films about the economic and political backgrounds with interviews and on-site-visits. This is really important, as it is difficult to make people understand that these areas are consequences of geopolitical and local history as well as political activism. So a lot of research was done in archives – great!

    Since 1990, we’re struggling to save at least a small part of these areas from further densification.

    My highlight of the film was the “vanitas” -moment when Sukopp says at the end that nature always finds a way, it cannot be eliminated. I had to laugh, because he always said it [when I was his student] and it is so true.

    This is also an important message in the climate crisis, as we humans loosing habitat. So it’s about us now, not so much about nature.

    So for me it was a déjà vu, but in a positive way. I missed a little bit the perspective of the other disciplines like zoologists, but okay, I remember they were not so much involved, or didn’t get the budget to map and research at the time likewise.

    I was inspired, yes, and as I was asked by a local meet-up group to do a tour about urban forests and biodiversity  I immediately agreed and it was my first post-lockdown tour here some weeks ago (see photo).

    So,  there is a new generation of young people that are really interested in the topics and the scientific backgrounds laid out by Sukopp, Kowarik, and all the others, especially in relationship to new topics like re-wilding cities and thinking the whole approach to “urban landscapes” differently. As the metropolises worldwide are constantly growing and rural landscapes loose biodiversity, the history the topic is gaining more attention.

    Working in public relations today, I would encourage a second film project, dedicated to a younger generation, maybe including some beardy-birders or entomologists, and talking about the present struggle and future of Natura Urbana in Berlin.

    So thank you again and keep up the good work!

    Dipl.-Ing. Christian Hajer, Berlin-Info (berlin-info.com), Berlin, Germany

  • Thoughts & Praise

    Thoughts & Praise from email – May-June 2020

    “The movie touched an interesting topic that is not widely discussed. The situation of “wastelands” or “Brachen” is very up to date, in line with the Zeitgeist of climate emergency. At the same time, even though it shows people with vast knowledge on the topic, it’s easily accessible for people that know little about flora but have an influence on space planning, like urban designers. It’s inspiring for my personal research on “underperforming” spaces that I do with my friend.

    I think that in times of climate emergency it is more important than ever to present preservation and maintenance initiatives as valuable. The specific situation of the “wastelands” in Berlin with their post-war history, decades of being left alone without investment pressure, makes me think of the city of Warsaw, which I consider my hometown and which shares many characteristic elements with the capital of Germany. Currently living in Birmingham, UK, the movie inspired me to reflect on the biodiversity of the canals, which the city is most famous for. Living in the age of pandemics I used them more than ever, not only for everyday travel but also for weekend excursions and local tourism. It’s good to see nature that surrounds them in a new light.

    Being an architect/urban designer learning about wastelands is at one hand thrilling and on the other challenging. It’s thrilling: for any change to happen, knowledge and consciousness need first to be established.
    It’s also challenging: on some occasions, understanding the role of biodiversity of wastelands can influence masterplans, reducing of the amount of developed land. I hope that in future projects I will be able to understand some sites better than I did before seeing the movie.”  Tomasz, architect & urban designer (U.K.) (June 2020)

    “My husband and I both really loved the film, especially the way it was structured. I learned a lot about urban ecology from the film and hadn’t previously been aware of how much Berlin’s landscape was still being informed by the events of WWII and the Cold war.
    The film certainly changed the way I view my surroundings, I think I now have more of an appreciation for the overgrown, less planned aspects of my local area (I live in Sydney, and there are very few spaces here that are not landscaped).
    My husband is an acoustic engineer and works for the Environmental Protection Authority here. He is very passionate about how we use our public spaces and was explaining to me the different ways the brachen would contribute to an area’s soundscape.
    It also led us to have a lengthy discussion about urban ecology and the best ways to use our public spaces here in Sydney.
    Thank you very much for sharing the film with us – it was especially valuable to us at a time when we could not actually travel to Berlin to see the brachen ourselves. We will be keeping a look out  for some of our favourite sites when we get to Berlin as soon as we are able to travel again!”  Alex, lawyer (Australia) (June 2020)

    “Before watching the movie I didn’t know that a profession such as “Urban ecologist” did exist, after the screening in Rotterdam there was a discussion and I discovered that also here there is a section in the Natural History Museum dedicated to urban vegetation. … Thank you for sharing this beautiful documentary!” Alessandro, photographer (The Netherlands) (June 2020)

    “I loved the film. As a landscape architect and previous gardener on the High Line in NYC, I found the story fascinating in its range, as it touched on a number of interests that I hold: urban history and regeneration and gentrification, subcultures, ecology, botany and horticulture, public space contestation and design.
    Having already visited and studied a few of the sites in the film, my appreciation has deepened for Berlin’s unique urban history. I wonder about the almost miraculous coming together of spokespeople for these wonderful overgrown “third spaces” that are so important to cities, so important for retaining a sense of possibility and openness in spite of many cities becoming more populated, more developed, and much more expensive to live in. Especially significant in Berlin are the spaces that keep the rough natural preserve of plant species, while offering the public new means of access, while keeping a light touch on the design or renovation. As a designer, spaces such as Sudgelande Nature Park or Park am Gleisdreick are so compelling to me, but I believe that they would still seem alien to much of the cultural context in cities here. Sensibilities may be changing here and there, with big projects like the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park catching attention recently. You may have a hard time believing how cemented people’s perspectives still are on “nature” here. In the context of cities in the USA, it still seems that most people cannot imagine a public park without lawn and other typical elements carried over from long ago.  It would be very useful to have a more detailed study on how public perceptions of nature changed in Germany, to the extent that city officials and designers were able to organize and deliver these new spaces to the public realm.”  Rafael, landscape architect (USA) (June 2020)

    “I am finishing my bachelor in Landscape architecture … and also do some work as a gardener part time. [It] was very fun to visit [these] wild places, plants, and people [in Natura Urbana] and the connection between history, ecological activism and art. This film [made me] question my role as an “builder” of landscapes and the irony of the diminution of the green cover of my city despite the exponential investment in green spaces and ecology.” António, student & gardener (Portugal) (June 2020)

    “…for me this aspect of urban nature was new, and that I was expecting this documentary to be more focused on structure of nature in urban tissue, and found it more focused on biology dimensions with some aspect of globalisation. So it was a surprise, but a good one. I found very interesting the other point of view on nature that it provides. To be more precise : as a common use, being “into nature” means being out of the city, even though countryside landscapes, including forest, are mainly artificialised (in Europe at least). So there is an ambiguity in the direct opposition between “artificial” and “natural”. This documentary provides a larger definition of this nature, as a part of the townscape and in a larger historical context as a subject of globalisation. The fact that a plant you find in the corner of your street may also come from China or Iran shows a very positive aspect of diversity that also complexifies the usual local/global opposition. For me it shows another aspect of immigration as a part of the beautiful cultural diversity of Berlin (and Europe).”  Bertrand, architect (France) (June 2020)

    “I really enjoyed watching the film and found it informative, but also easy to follow. I am not a native Berliner or German speaker, but I enjoyed how the significance of the history played a large role in the nature of the area. I also appreciated learning some different terminologies and thinking more about the limitations of language (something that was also discussed in the expert panel that was held as part of the original showing). I was surprised to learn how impactful the division of Berlin was on plant life in the city, and how many of the plants are actually “foreign” or “non-native” species. I definitely started to notice many more things when walking around the city, and since I live here, I’ve even taken the time to visit some of the locations mentioned in the film to look around more at the flora. I would say that I’ve grown a new appreciation for how “unkempt” or “wild” the green spaces are in the city. Coming from an area where public squares are always carefully groomed or cultivated, I found it a little distracted that plants were never cut back in Berlin. Now I am enjoying how lush and diverse these areas actually are.”  Alexandra, FinTech test engineer (Germany) (June 2020)

    “The film was wonderful. It changed the way I see cities, but also life in general. These ostensibly ‘boring’, forgotten, derelict sites – which upon visiting Berlin I noticed as empty gaps in the city scape – in fact contain an abundance of life, and this life tells us something about the history and nature of Berlin and urbanity in general. Places I would never imagine – cracks between pavements, derelict buildings – are full of diverse species. What I liked about the film was how it linked the history and transient nature of urban environments to these ‘traveling’ lifeforms. Who would have expected the small sprouts of life we walk over in cities can tell us about the geo-political history of our environments?”  Ben, Doctoral Researcher in History (U.K.) (June 2020)

    “I liked the film very much. … I wondered about the title … and found it interesting that there is no good translation for this word [“Brachen”] in english. I was very surprised that there are more different plants in town than in the country[side]. I liked the discussion about “foreign” plants. …when something just grows, without designing. Just wait, [see] what happens.”  Gertrud, artist (Germany) (June 2020)

    “I think the film is very nice, with great quality imagery on Berlin and the interesting places that can be found there. I especially liked Südgelände … and the old waterworks site with a green roof that we see at the end.  I also appreciated the historical and socio-political perspectives, I found that it helped connect the Brachen and topic of urban nature into the more general public sphere, and not have it boxed up as something purely academic. Having never visited Berlin, I now really want to go someday and see some of these places !

    I am planning to do my masters thesis next year on how the city was integrated into the biodiversity policy of the Swiss federal environmental office, and how this policy then influences urban development, projects etc. Therefore, I see Natura Urbana as a sort of introductory input for the subject of biodiversity in urban spaces, and maybe it has participated in convincing me to choose this specific thesis topic. … I have spent most of my life in rural areas, so I’m prone to the classical division of nature in rural spaces vs. the urban as anthropic. Yet my outlook is changing with the observations I make, my studies and other sources such as Natura Urbana.”  Yannick, MA student (Switzerland) (June 2020)

    “I was thrilled to find out about the evolution of urban botany studies within Berlin, and how the mapping project surveyed the mosaic of different biotopes. It made me excited to explore my own place fo residence (Glasgow) through the focus of ‘brachen’, seeking sites of connectivity and possibility rather than looking for a notion of settled wildness. Accepting contestation and uncertainty as part of the shifting habitat of the urban feels like an imperative to understanding ecology.”  Amy, PhD Creative Writing candidate (U.K) (June 2020)

    “Herbert Sukopp was an incredible resource in the film, with the archival footage of his work in the 70’s to today. The details of the migration of plants was enlightening and another great metaphor found in the film. We hope that Berlin manages to keep its unique terrain and ecology of its city.”  Malte & Tamara, artists (USA) (May 2020)

  • Reflections

    Thoughts on Natura Urbana – 12 June 2020

    Urban ecology presents new fields of learning to me as a spatial designer in architecture seeking renewed perspectives on shaping urban environments in the face of our changing climate. Seeing the multi-layered transition and transformation of Berlin through lenses of ecologists and botanists, Natura Urbana offers much needed revitalisation in this dialogue, as much as incentive for us to greatly value the lessons from changing topography, past and present. In Berlin’s urban transformation from the perspective of plants, it is eye opening to see nature reasserting and reinventing its layers interwoven within the urban fabric, from rubbles to meadows in the Brachen. The map of Berlin envisaged as a “mosaic of biotopes” presents a fascinating way of seeing our coexistence, what makes a city. It is also surprising to learn about cities having higher biodiversity than their surrounding landscapes. Though I had noticed plant growth between cracks in wall or breaks in pavement, I was still under the impression that nature has left the city. I find the idea of spontaneity proliferating spaces of order engaging – “unplanned” relief in the overplanning of density. The wilderness conjures a feeling of unpredictability, an openness for the imagination to roam. The film touches on this sentiment, suggesting that spaces such as the Brachen “promise a kind of utopia that enables people to imagine a different way of life, the alternatives”. Here, “spontaneous vegetation” presents a preposition to challenge the way we currently perceive, occupy and plan spaces.

    Thinking about an open framework as such could encourage and engage broader spectrum of users who are then given improvisation, open interpretation to occupy the space with their bodies, senses, activities, interests – learning how to coexist, like spontaneous vegetation itself. There is also the regenerative aspect in the human spirit captured in the film alike the Brachen – ever-changing, ever-growing. And the film presents compelling case studies of extensive community grassroots involved in discussion as well as activism in reclaiming public spaces. Reflecting on a visit to Berlin in 2018, what struck me was a sense of social responsibility from Berliners I had met, as strong advocates of open spaces, many valuing their ‘freizeit’ in the wilderness. Though the term “Brachen” was not referred to, the word “Waldeinsamkeit” was suggested to me. I felt a lot of Berliners not only associated open spaces as places of simultaneous refuge and renewal, but the openness personifies the values they stand for. Somehow in the wilderness, free of categorisation, there is a personalisation of space. I found this sense of co-habitation of space being beyond just co-users. The Brachen can be seen as spaces of decentralisation, where boundaries between social circles dissolve, even that of nature and human. The film offers much food for thought on public identity – how can this be shared? How we can be not just users but co- designers of our environment?

    The film in presenting the politics of space, brings to attention complexities of negotiating urban place-making. The perception of marginalised spaces as places of “non-value”, are often sites of contention. Many aspects of the city choreographed, the imagination of nature is suppressed, also further suggestion that these obscured views are quick to exclude leftover pockets as places of social irrelevance to meet demands or trends. With “the value of nature is in flux”, where I currently live, Sydney and Melbourne, open spaces become losing grounds to rampant development of “greater purpose”. Major infrastructure works, in particular roads, underpin building for the future, with lightweight socio-cultural and environmental initiatives. Vacant land presents a canvas for grand visions of prosperity. Whether a lone green wall or sterility of green spaces wedged into development pockets, a picture of health is no more than its advertisement. The unplanned is fraught with overtones of opportunity not to be wasted; planning to meet density ratios is “well informed”. In continual oversight, history of a place is told with a commemorative plaque, as planting decorative. Both cities reconfigure open spaces on the premise to make the city more “accessible and connected” with transportation upgrade projects for major artilleries in attempts to be less car-reliant, without actively facilitating slower forms of travel i.e. cycling, walking. Connection to nature is pushed further onto the fringes, further along waterways, in most parts without connecting cycling and walking paths (particularly the case in Sydney).

    Spatially, I find the “non-design” in urban environments particularly engaging, in counteraction to architecture that is increasingly shaped by city regulations and codes. The informality, the sporadic, the unexpected are missing in grand proposals – the beauty of life. Architecture, the formality of its practice and outlook, in becoming inflexible in design and planning restraints, is eventually conforming to added time pressure and market trends. This relentlessness, in the name of progress, epitomises continual negligence of environmental and social responsibilities. The shortfalls? Physical and mental health. Non-design does not mean inaction, but ways of placing care into design that do not amount to immediate valuing system. The value of health and wellbeing naturally takes time. A notable point in the film from the perspective of urban ecology – “to allow nature to develop freely, combined with open landscapes and meadows to not let the forest take over.” There is a softness in understanding, an exchange of generosity in allowing things to grow – unlike the restrictive confines of modern cityscapes. In previous work, I had found bump spaces, deliberately void of formal use, intended for chance encounters to yield greater value in social interaction. Unplanned conversations that would not have materialised from a formalised setting such as a meeting room, had then moved work outcomes forward.

    Natura Urbana presents an intersection of urbanists and naturists cross-examining the city’s make-up, in a way acts as fertile grounds for city makers to reimagine not only its future, but also how we work and collaborate. I am of the opinion that all spatial disciplines have to fundamentally change the way we go about transdisciplinary practice and research; with commitment and willingness to extend knowledge through intersectional thinking and not just between closely related fields like architecture and engineering. Similarly the case for city planners to learn from community interaction much more than political engagement. What I greatly took from Natura Urbana was the cross-collaboration between TU Department of Ecology and the city landscape architects of Berlin. It reminded me of a pilot project in Melbourne – Woody Meadow (between 2015-2019), a collaboration between University of Melbourne and City of Melbourne to realise a self- gardening garden on the city grid that brought birds and bees into the city, prompting the general public to slow down and be curious. I remember the feeling of regeneration that transpired from the experience.

    These end times prompt new civic forms of regeneration; an open framework that is environmentally and socially ingrained at varying scales, that has the propensity to encourage generosity in our tolerances and interactions, one that may consequentially bring health benefits to both natural and urban environment. In a way, non-design is non- conforming, so to speak. A quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered”. The value of open spaces, we hope may no longer be in flux, with many of us responding to nature intuitively during the pandemic. Here in Sydney, we were quick to realise its inner-city open spaces are vastly inaccessible due to disproportionate density. Can we as individuals be more proactive in community planning and engagement, advocating for environmental and social roots that make our neighbourhood? Can we, as city planners and builders be inspired to become nature conservationists in our work? We emerge with greater consciousness on what makes the city – that is the place-makers on the ground, in both people and plants.

    Zhen, spatial designer, Australia

  • Blog: 14. May 2020 / Wilde Nachbarn

    Filmtipps: Tierdokumentationen

    by Anouk Taucher

    “This film by director Matthew Gandy gives an exciting insight into the post-war period in Berlin and the emergence of the research field of urban ecology. The film draws the viewer’s attention to the spontaneous vegetation, fallow land and abandoned areas in the middle of our cities.”

    “Dieser Film von Regisseur Matthew Gandy gibt einen spannenden Einblick in die Nachkriegszeit in Berlin und die Entstehung des Forschungsfeldes der Stadtökologie. Der Film lenkt die Aufmerksamkeit des Zuschauers auf die Spontanvegetation, Brachen und verlassenen Flächen mitten in unseren Städten.

  • Mention: April 2020 / Foreground

    The wonder of weedscapes

    by Jo Russell-Clarke

    “…the 2017 film Natura Urbana: The Brachen of Berlin tells the post-war history of Berlin through its plants. As the film’s blurb describes, the changing vegetation of Berlin serves as a parallel history to war-time destruction, geo-political division, and the newest phase of urban transformation. The brachen of the title loosely translates into English as ‘wastelands’, but here they are seen as “accidental gardens” that formed in the city’s leftover, fallow spaces.”

  • Thoughts & Praise

    Thoughts & Praise on Twitter – Spring 2020

    “Watching this film was an amazing experience. Sadly, in my country biodiversity in urban areas is not often considered a high priority. I am amazed at the work of those researching this topic and maintaining biodiversity in Germany.”  Olga, Landscape Designer (Russia/Latvia) (9 April 2020)

    “I really enjoyed it. I started watching it alongside working on school projects and eventually just watched the documentary on its own. I will be watching it again. We learn a little bit about urban ecology in our program (US) but it is not as dynamic and rich as how it’s talked about in the documentary – so I’ve really grown a new appreciation for the subject. <3 Thank you so much for creating this and making it available to a wide audience. I've also shared it with a friend who just likes Berlin, no training in landscape architecture or horticulture, and he really enjoyed it as well!"  Sue, MA Landscape Architecture Student, Tennessee (USA)  (27 March 2020)

    “The film is really fantastic, excellent research, and so well narrated, and great photography and sound. Great in content and form. It gave us a whole new perspective on the city, and opened our eyes to new areas of research. Congratulations to the whole team, and thank you for making it available online for free!”  Tilo, Senior Lecturer, School of Architecture and Design (U.K.) (26 March 2020)

    “Amazing! Very very interesting. Now I look at Berlin with a new layer of complexity.” Antonella, Researcher, Architecture & Urbanism (Germany) (22 March 2020)

    “…just wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed the film! It’s really great and important! We will recommend it to colleagues and students!” Luca, Landscape Architect and Art Historian (U.K) (22 March 2020)

    “Superb work, great way to spend an afternoon and very apt. Although Berlin is clearly a unique city to explore these diverse transitioning landscapes most cities are seeing the same pressures and making similar choices in regard to development and conservation. Also what a great point to end on that despite people best efforts ‘nature will always return’. Thanks again for the chance to see this today, cheered me up and inspired me.”  Jonathan, Ecology and Sustainability Student (U.K.) (21 March 2020)

  • Thoughts & Praise

    Thoughts & Praise from email – February-March 2020

    “I grew up in Berlin. I am, from a scientific point of view, more interested in animals. Nevertheless, the film could inspire me. The film showed me Berlin from a side that was new to me. Impressive! … I felt touched and affected by the topic at the same time. The film made me want to explore Berlin further. The film fascinated me. I felt even more connected to my hometown afterwards.”  Saskia, MA Student in Urban Ecosystem Science (Germany) (March 2020)

    “We (some nature guides) saw the film and we have talked about the video. Very interesting! The history of Berlin’s nature (result of war) was new [to me]. Also the link between Brachen (free rooms outside and wilderness) and social aspects of freedom. The great importance of the “Brachen” for our city-nature and our life here became clearer. Thanks for this film about our city – important information for us nature guides. I think, we can [use] something for our work.”  Kristina, nature guide, Berlin (Germany) (March 2020)

    “[The] film served as an introduction to the field of urban ecology. As an architect, it is not a field of research I would have easily gotten in touch with otherwise, but it proved to be very relevant. The film was one of the primary sources for the research, and through it I became familiar with other works of Matthew Gandy and other colleagues of his writing on the topic of urban ecology (usually when you have one good source, you can assess the literature the author has used and from there the field of research is wide open; Natura Urbana was that first source for me). … [The] film convinced me of the agency of film in (scientific) research. … Apart from the research, I notice I look at cities in a different way since I’ve seen the film, understanding the qualities and potential opportunities “non-designed” spaces can provide and appreciating, for example, moss within a crack in an asphalt road rather than a few planted flowerbeds. … On a final note, I have nothing but compliments for the film itself. The way it is shot, the music, sound editing and the interviews with passionate botanists and ecologists all worked together excellently. The aesthetic and pace of the film truly matches the fast-paced adaptability and diversity of urban nature. It was a proper means to make a plea for the importance of urban nature based on a vast body of scientific research.”  Gawein, architect (The Netherlands) (February 2020)

    “I really enjoyed it and I’ve recommended it to my group [of acquaintances interested in rewilding]. I was particularly interested to hear that diversity can be higher in a city than the surrounding area. Thanks so much for sharing this with me.”  Tasha, layperson interested in rewilding (U.K.) (February 2020)

  • Review: July 2019 / The AAG Review of Books

    Natura Urbana: The Brachen of Berlin

    by Philip Lawton et al.

    “Early in the fourth chapter of the documentary Natura Urbana, about halfway through the film, the viewer is presented with historic footage of West Berlin that shifts between images of the Berlin Wall, 1970s street life and countercultural activities, and landscapes of disused railway tracks surrounded by trees. In keeping with the rhythm established throughout the film, director Matthew Gandy narrates how, through acts of play, eating, socializing, and protest, Berliners collectively adapted what might otherwise be seen as abandoned urban spaces, or Brachen, for use as public commons.”

  • Review: Spring 2019 / entanglements - experiments in multimodal ethnography

    Natura Urbana The Brachen of Berlin

    by Matt Barlow

    “In this film, Gandy and his crew beautifully represent an alternative way of reading the past, present, and future of Berlin through its brachen, the spaces simultaneously altered and left fallow that litter the urban fabric of post WW2 Berlin. As the film shows, these spaces have been the sites of an amazing growth in biodiversity, as plants with origins in Australia and the US now spontaneously grow in places they had never been seen before. They have also been the sites of continued contestation over what kinds of development are conducive to the flourishing of a contemporary city. It is a documentary filled with sounds of leaves in the wind juxtaposed with traffic on the streets, of archival footage of the streets of Berlin immediately after WW2 and during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and with wonderfully poetic and rich interviews with ecologists, botanists, and sociologists all concerned with the alternative history of Berlin that is represented, and continually being contested, through its brachen.”

  • Mention: August 2018 / The Quietus

    Hedge Walking: The Land Art Of Andy Goldsworthy

    by Will Jennings

    “Natura Urbana […] looks for the escape that nature offers from the conformity and pressures of urban life. Berlin’s urban fallow lands which through shifting political tensions, aesthetic shifts, and financial development offered an urban respite which not only encouraged the growth of rare plants but also a space of play, creativity, political experiment and a community voice for Berliners.”

  • Mention: Spring 2018 / #Fortschritt, Climate Games

    Climate Games – Event statt Fortschritt

    by Yvonne Volkart

    “Against the algorithmically programmed hyper-individualism and the restless optimization of one’s own materialism stand techniques of immersion with others and rituals of squandering the personal, moments of becoming and of growing. To grow does not only signify an indefinite expansion, but also to stubbornly survive in catastrophic times. This is made clear by Matthew Gandy’s documentary Natura Urbana – Die Brache von Berlin (2017). Taking Berlin as an example, the film shows how the rubble, the ruins and the Wall have created a urban biotope of a particular diversity. As is made clear, the history of Berlin is also a history of plants and their connection to people and their politics.”

    “Gegen den algorithmisch programmierten Hyperindividualismus und die ruhelose Optimerung des eigenen Materialismus stehen Techniken der Immersion mit anderen und Ritualen der Verschwendung des Persönlichen, Momentes des Werdens und des Wachsens. Wachsen heißt nicht nur, sich unendlich auszubreiten, sondern auch hartnäckig zu überleben in katastrophischen Zeiten. Dies macht Matthew Gandys Dokumentarfilm Natura Urbana – Die Brachen von Berlin (2017) deutlich. Am Beispiel von Berlin zeigt der Film auf, wie der Schutt, die Trümmer und die Mauer ein Stadtbiotop von besonderer Mannigfaltigkeit geschaffen haben. Die Geschichte Berlins ist, wie deutlich wird, auch eine Geschichte von Pflanzen und deren Verbindung zu den Menschen und ihre Politik.” 

  • Review: December 2017-January 2018 / DER RABE RALF

    Berliner Brache auf die Rote Liste!

    by Rolf Brüning

    “In terms of both form and content, ‘[Natura Urbana]: The Brachen of Berlin’ is a successful documentary. It makes a good and important contribution to an aspect of nature and landscape protection that is neglected by the general public and the politics that represent them – an overdue one. …

    … The Berlin wasteland is red listed. If the film makes a contribution to raise this awareness, it will have achieved great things. Let’s watch it [and] recommend it to others, because we cannot hope that those interested in exploiting these spaces will voluntarily stay away from them. The Bautzener wasteland, Am Lokdepot, and the still-here ‘Crelle Urwald’ [Crelle primeval forest] are just a few examples of how these [interests] are asserting themselves also in the district of Tempelhof-Schöneberg. …

    …The days of the West Berlin biotopes are over; interests in the valorisation of capital dominate thoughts and actions. This film can, and should, help make more people understand the difference between price and value. Let’s watch it!”

    “… Formal wie inhaltlich ist ‘The Brachen of Berlin’ ein gelungener Dokumentarfilm.
    Somit ein guter und wichtiger Beitrag zu einem von der Allgemeinheit und der sie repräsentierenden Politik wenig beachteten Aspekt des Natur- und Landschaftsschutzes  – ein überfälliger dazu. …

    … Die Berliner Brache gehört auf die Rote Liste. Wenn der Film seinen Beitrag zu dieser Bewusstseinsbildung leistet, hätte er Großes bewirkt. Sehen wir ihn uns an, empfehlen wir ihn weiter, denn wir können nicht darauf hoffen, dass Verwertungsinteressenten freiwillig die Finger von den Flächen lassen. Die Bautzener Brache, Am Lokdepot, und, immer noch aktuell, der Crelle-Urwald sind nur wenige Beispiele dafür, wie sie sich auch im Bezirk Tempelhof-Schöneberg durchsetzen. …

    … Die Zeiten des Biotops West-Berlin sind vorbei, Kapitalverwertungsinteressen beherrschen das Denken und Handeln. Dieser Film kann und sollte einen Beitrag dazu leisten, dass wieder mehr Menschen den Unterschied zwischen Preis und Wert begreifen. Sehen wir ihn uns an!”