The newest addition to Berlin's "Gardens of the World," a traditional Islamic garden, is drawing the curious in record numbers. Some see it as a way to introduce Germans to Islamic culture.
"It looks like a fairytale castle."
"No, silly, you mean a fairytale garden."
Eight-year-old Henriette and her friend Julia squeal with delight, trailing their fingers in the bubbling fountains that give the Oriental garden courtyard "Riyad" its nickname "Garden of the Four Streams."
Based on strict geometrical and proportional order, four small streams divide the inner courtyard, which is secluded from the outside world by four walls. Symmetrical arcades and vestibules take their place in the clearly defined composition along with the four fields that surround the center of the oasis with a profusion of blooms. At the center stands a wooden pavilion containing a fountain basin, the stylized "source" of life.
Inspired by the "heavenly garden"
Architect Kamel Louafi found his own sources of inspiration in the Persian-Arabian interpretation of "janna," the "heavenly garden" described in the Koran. Ever since the seventh century, this idea of the "garden of paradise" has shaped traditional Islamic garden arts from North Africa to India.
The gardens of the Alhambra in Spain were the only example of this type of architecture in Europe up until now. But the complex in Granada was built in the Middle Ages. This is probably why many visitors to Berlin's "Riyad" do not realize that such gardens of paradise are by no means an "extinct" manifestation of Islamic culture.
"I would never have thought that today they could still create something this ornate," said 57-year-old Reinhard Jeda. "It's surrounded by walls, protecting it from view, a little bit like the Orient for us Europeans."
Mrs. Jeda, by contrast, "simply felt a heavenly peace" descend upon her as she entered.
"Finally something from my world"
A young Syrian man, 27-year-old Hammud, came to the garden with a group of friends. He was particularly pleased that his German companions visiting the Oriental Garden with him "finally have the chance to see something from my world."
"Harmonious!" is the word most visitors spontaneously came up with to give their impression of the architecture of the Islamic garden. The only thing that 15-year-old Claudia from Zwickau liked even better than the Berlin garden were "the gorgeous flowers in the gardens of Tunisia," where she once went on vacation.
Dang Phan (16), a Berlin resident with a Vietnamese background, hasn't been to the Orient yet. But he considers the architecture with its ornamental splendor to be "a cliche of the Orient" -- after all, "it could never really be this idyllic in real life."
For Helena Siuts, there can be no doubt as to the authenticity of the garden.
"At the moment, I'm reading a book about the doctor Ibn Sina," she said. "What I could previously only imagine is here to see in concrete form."
A German-Arab Co-production
The planning and realization of the "Oriental Garden" involved a German-Arab co-production. The complete design comes from the hand of architect Kamel Louafi, who was born in Algeria and now lives in Berlin. German companies were in charge of basic construction, engineering the waterworks, paving and plantings.
Moroccan craftspeople came to Berlin to carry out work on the more artistic areas of the garden. Their reliefs and tile work, ornaments such as the three-dimensional "muquarnas" and polygonal arabesques known as "zillij," along with painting and calligraphy, give the garden its unmistakable appearance.
"The whole time, the craftspeople had to struggle with the unfamiliar German building regulations," Louafi said.
For example, a different kind of joint was required between the tiles than the one they were used to, and the grout even had to be especially frost-proofed.
Being in Germany also requires plants that can survive the winter frost and taking the orange trees into the greenhouse in the winter, but these exigencies hardly disturb visitors to the Berlin gardens.
However, there is one "minor criticism" that is frequently voiced in the "Oriental Garden." As Bachir Saad and Nadja Fügert from Germany said, they'd like to enjoy a cup of aromatic mint tea or bitter Arabic coffee here in the garden.