Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum

The Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum (German: Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem) is a botanical garden in the German capital city of Berlin, with an area of 43 hectares and around 22,000 different plant species. It was constructed between 1897 and 1910, under the guidance of architect Adolf Engler, in order to present exotic plants returned from German colonies.

The garden is located in the Lichterfelde locality of the borough of Steglitz-Zehlendorf. When it was founded, a part of it was located in Dahlem, a fact that is still reflected in its name. This part of Dahlem became part of Lichterfelde in 1938.

Today, the garden is part of the Free University of Berlin. The Botanical Museum (Botanisches Museum), with a large herbarium (Herbarium Berolinense) and a large scientific library, is attached to the garden.

The complex consists of several buildings and glass-houses, such as the Cactus Pavilion and the Pavilion Victoria (which features a collection of orchids, carnivorous plants and giant white water lily Victoria-Seerosen). The total area of all glass-houses is 6,000 m². The garden's open-air areas, sorted by geographical origin, have a total area of 13 hectares. The garden's arboretum is 14 hectares.

The best-known part of the garden is the Great Pavilion (Großes Tropenhaus). The temperature inside is maintained at 30 °C and air humidity is kept high. Among the many tropical plants it hosts a giant bamboo.


In the year 1573, during the time of Elector John George, the first noteworthy assembly of plants for the enlargement of the national collection was achieved, under the leadership of the chief gardener at the kitchen garden of the Berlin City Palace, Desiderius Corbianus. Even if the expression "Botanic Garden" did not exist at that time, it was, in fact, the first such in Berlin. The existing Pleasure Garden has developed from this original one.

In 1679 at the Potsdam Street – in place of the present Kleistpark – a hop garden was laid out, which was used, as a purpose of the electoral brewery, as a fruits- and kitchen garden. Carl Ludwig Willdenow achieved that the garden was assigned in 1809 to the Berlin Frederick William University, which developed worldwide to a recognised "Botanic Garden" with a scientific character. Between 1819 and 1838 the explorer, botanist and poet Adalbert von Chamisso worked as Second Custos of the Herbarium in the Botanical Garden.

First stimuli to move the Botanic Garden appeared in 1888, given because of the need, to expand the plantings and to set out an arboretum. Besides many of the old greenhouses would have needed a reconstruction. Added to the unfavourable impacts of the surroundings, which was in the meantime densely developed because of the cities Berlin and Schöneberg; air pollution and a drawdown harmed the plants. Also the financial aspects of a move to the city periphery were of importance.

Grounds and Plants


Adolf Engler designed the grounds of the gardens as a landscaped garden. The largest part of the grounds is covered by the geographical section (12.9 ha) and the arboretum (13.9 ha). The geographical section is situated just west of the main path and surrounds the Italienischer Garten (Italian garden), which lies just opposite the exhibition green houses. The aim was to present the various continents and habitats as close to their natural surroundings as possible. To accommodate this, the structure and composition of the ground was adapted and 136,000 m³ of earth were moved. The Karpfenpfuhl (carp pond), a pool of moraines that was already on the grounds before the creation of the botanical gardens, was enlarged and extended by a second pond. This facilitates the showcasing of waterside plants.

The southern and western part of the gardens are taken up by the arboretum, a comprehensive and methodical collection of native plants. The arboretum borders the ponds. Therefore, native waterside plants are also part of the collection.

The north western area of the gardens used to feature a section of plants which were methodically sorted by their affinity. This section was destroyed by air strikes, artillery fire and fighting on the ground in 1945. It has since been rebuilt in a modified version. It now houses a compound for the system of herbaceous plants and the compound for medical plants. This compound has been built in the form of the human body with the plants planted in the positions of their healing properties. It's the successor of the Apothekergarten (pharmacist's garden). This used to be situated further to the east, along with the "economical section" which presented useful plants. The Apothekergarten was especially important because it showcased all medical plants which grow outdoors.

Two "morphological sections" used to be situated east of the main path in the little free spaces in-between the buildings. Here, the water and marsh bed compound in section II requires special mention. 262 basins with water sprinkling and draining of the overflowing water were built from cement concrete for this. A large water basin was heated for the tropical marsh flora. The entire compound still exists but has been left open after the opening of the directly bordering new marsh and water plants garden. The old compound is now developing into a conservation area for native wild plants and a biotope.


Through the years, numerous pieces of art have been erected in the gardens, especially in the Italienischer Schmuckgarten (Italian Decorative Garden):

  • Irma Langhinrichs: Geteilte Form (1975), erected 1988, on the main path near the entrance Königin-Luise-Platz
  • Makoto Fujiwara: Brunnenplastik (1987) in the Wassergarten (water gardens)
  • Irma Langhinrichs: Zellkörper (1964) in the water basin of the Italienischer Garten (Italian Garden)
  • Constantin Starck: Flötenspieler und Mädchen mit Oleanderzweig (1928) in the Italienischer Garten (Italian Garden), reconstructed in 1991/1992
  • Arthur Lewin-Funcke: Hingebung (1916) in the Italienischer Garten (Italian Garden)
  • Memorial for Christian Konrad Sprengel (1916)
  • Hermann Joachim Pagels: Sämann (1920s), near the entrance Unter den Eichen
  • Fritz Klimsch: Junges Mädchen, between the Systematische Abteilung (systematic section) and Arzneipflanzenabteilung (medical plants section)



Numerous outdoor installations offer the possibility to relax, study literature, or search for protection against the rain. Alfred Koerner proved his comprehensive skills by matching the constructions to diverse styles as well as the botanical surroundings. Parts of these pavilions are connected to ornamental elements.

A Japanese arbour is situated in the centre of an ornamental garden named "Japanese Love", within the sector which represent the flora and fauna of East Asia.

The "Arbour of Roses" is situated in the centre of the arboretum. In this case Koerner built a semi–circular building from basalt lava. Its style can be described as Romanesque. It is surrounded by wild roses which overgrow the arbour. These roses show their impressive blossoms in front of the dark building.

Nowadays an open hall which is suitable for lectures is situated in the systematic section within widely spread meadows. Engler and his students used to go there to hold lectures.

Water Plant

Similarly important as the supply with heat is the sufficient supply with fresh water. In order to cover the requirements of the masses two 50 m deep fountains were set up. Without treating the found deep water it was suitable for open planting. To deliver the water a water plant with vapour pumps was set up which was supplied with heat by the heating station. The water was pumped directly to the mains system of the garden as well as to the 550 m³ large water tower located behind the conservatories. The pumping system was designed for a daily output of 1000 m³ of water. So as to supply the buildings with water it was used from the public system from the beginning. In case of need the public system could have been used as an alternative to the water works. The technology was updated and today the pumps are operated by electricity, but the deep well still ensures the water supply networks.

Heating Plant

Image: Boiler house with chimney, pumping station and water tower

Special requirements were placed on the heating plant as additional heating was vital for the large variety of plants with different growing conditions. For that, a continuously run plant was necessary since there also must be heating at night as well as in summer. Considering the high requirements for cultivation and energy an independent heating plant with three warm water kettles and a boiler were built in the Botanical Garden.

The heating plant had to meet the following challenges:

• provision of the heating systems with hot water steam and low pressure steam,

• supply of the greenhouses with water vapour for air humidification and tropical mist,

• supply of the nursery with warm water,

• supply of the pumping station, the rainwater pressure pipe, the electrical lighting and the electrical working machines with energy

Until the decommissioning of the plant it had been run with approx. 1,500 tons of coal a year. The Botanical Garden was connected to the district heating network of the district heating plant Steglitz on September 13, 1967. Since then it has been the main source for heating energy for the Botanical Garden.

Annual energy consumption levels amount 8580 Gcal (giga calories), from which a third is used for the "Großes Tropenhaus" (large tropical greenhouse). The renovation of the large tropical greenhouse has reduced the energy consumption levels significantly. After the renovation work is done energy consumption levels will be approx. one fifth in comparison to the levels before.


In 1943, the building of a bunker construction in about 10 m depth below the Fichtenberg was started. Only through two entrances coming from the courtyard of the Botanical Gardens, access to this bunker was possible. It was built for the SS Economy and Administration Principal Occupation, which had its location about 500 m away in Unter den Eichen 126-135. The bunker was used for the placement of the file inventory and the staff during the alerts. As there were only a few rooms and the really long tunnels were made with different construction procedures, the construction of the bunker is unusual. At the end of one tunnel that was created with a tunnel shield you can today still find the remaining equipment that was left after the termination of works in 1944. After WW2, the entrances to the bunker were blown up. But in the meantime, some corridors also fell down. Today, the rest of the construction serves as winter quarters for bats.


In 1879 the herbarium in the old Botanical garden gained its own building and had now the possibility to present its collectors’ items to the public. A year later an exhibition was introduced. The exhibition’s aim was to teach visitors who were not skilled in this topic. This was the first prequel of the Botanical Museum.

After its relocation in 1907 to Dahlem the museum gained a considerably bigger exhibition space on three floors. These were used for expanding exhibitions about geobotany and paleobotany. After the destruction of buildings and a lot of exhibits the rebuilding started in 1957. At this time the museum had a surface area of only one floor. After the relocation of the herbarium and the library to the new east wing the museum could be expanded. On 11 March 1991 the second floor was introduced. In 2004/05 the first floor was reworked and redesigned. Now the museum is seen as an addition to the garden and presents the botanic topics which you cannot observe in the garden. To these belong the historical progress, the progress within a year, inner plant structures, enlarged micro-structures, spreading of species, plant products and the use of plants.


Coming from the access at the Königin-Luise-Platz there is a small cemetery at the left of the greenhouse complex. First of all Friedrich Althoff who died in 1908 was entombed here. It was Althoff himself in the capacity of university tutor who promoted the development of the university location of Dahlem in an authoritative way and who was buried in the Botanical Garden at his own request. The tomb of Althoff was created in 1911 by Hans Krückeberg. It looks a little like a classical sarcophagus with a dolorous female figure base in marble on it. This figure symbolises science in mourning.

Secondly, the great African explorer and curator of the Botanical Garden Georg Schweinfurth was entombed. He died in 1925.

The third tomb belongs to Adolf Engler deceased in 1930 and his wife Marie deceased in 1943. Engler was the first director of the new Botanical Garden; his influence on its construction and structure still continues today; and he was entombed here in his lifework.


  • Christiane Borgelt, Regina Jost, Florian Bolk: "Botanisches Museum & Gewächshäuser der Freien Universität Berlin", Stadtwandel Verlag 2004, Berlin, ISBN 3-937123-10-5

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