Hanami in Berlin. The Japanese Cherries at the former death strips.

TV-Asahi-Kirschblütenallee, former death strip at the border of Berlin-Lichtenrade (April 26th 2013). No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser.

Lees hier de Nederlandse versie van deze update op de site van Jonge Historici Schrijven Geschiedenis.

I am not going to lie about it. This update is about an open-air celebration of a traditional event which probably isn’t there to celebrate yet. This might seem a bit absurd, although nothing is wrong with a Sunday picnic anyway – regardless what the tradition instruction you. Upcoming Sunday, April 28th, the 12th hanami or Kirschblütenfest (cherry blossom celebration) is announced at the former Totestreife (death strip) in Teltow – a former GDR district at the southern border of Berlin-Lichterfelde. About 50 market stands will provide in Japanese products and food during the event. A couple of honourable guests from Japan are invited. What is this tradition all about? What is the history of this event? And what does the tree mean to Berlin nowadays?

Hanami (flower viewing) is a Japanese celebration of the beauty of flowers. The event dates back to the 8th century, when the growth of plum blossoms were to be celebrated. In later centuries, the cherry blossom from the Japanese Cherry, also called Sakura, became the tree which indicates if hanami should be organised. Up till nowadays, In Japan it is the biggest event which is connected with the spring. There is even a blossom forecast which predicts how the blossom front will develop. In Japan, the cherry blossoms usually open around the end of March. Though, the blossoms open up to two weeks earlier in the south than in the northern island of Hakaido. And who would ever like to celebrate hanami without the cherry blossoms?

During the 20th century, hanami is exported outside Japan and celebrated in countries like the USA. Here, the first first hanami was celebrated in Washington D.C. since 1935. A serious International Cherry Blossom Festival is organised in Macon, Georgia – the self-declared Cherry Blossom Capital of the World. Last March 18th till 24th, the festival celebrated the boom of 300.000 Sakura’s for the 31st time. A break-through moment in the German history concerning Japanese Cherries has been the Sakura-campaign in 1990. In a Japanese television show on Asahi channel, Japanese people were asked for donations to plant Sakura’s in Berlin. It is believed that the trees would bring peace and rest in the people’s hearts. Since the process of German unification was widely followed in Japan, about 140.000.000 Yen (€1.000.000) was gathered in the television show. It was enough to plant 9000 Sakura’s in Berlin in the following twenty years.

Planting a Sakura at the Glienicker Brücke, November 1990. ©Gedenksteinlegung

Berlin’s first cherry blossoms were planted at the Glienicker Brücke in November 1990. By then more than it is now, the Glienicker Brücke was the symbol of being devided and united again. Another 1100 cherry blossom trees were planted at the former Totestreifen (death strip) at the border of Teltow-Sigridshorst and Teltow-Seehof. This former Mauerweg has been renamed as TV-Asahi-Kirschblütenallee in April 2012. Since 2001, hanami is celebrated at this location. Although there are market stands, it is said that this event does not have a commercial intention. At the Landschaftspark Nord-Ost at the border of Lichtenberg and Brandenburg are the most cherry blossoms planted (1434 trees). The only cherry blossoms which are not visitable without paying an entrance are the eighty trees in the Japanese garden of the Gärten der Welt. Here, an independent hanami has been celebrated two weeks ago. In despite of the music and the dance, there wasn’t a single blossom on the cherry trees this year. For future years, a hanami forecast has been made to predict when hanami should actually been organised.

Japanese Cherries at the former death strip next to the Lohmühlenbrücke. Berlin Alt-Treptow, April 26th 2013. No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser

Closer to the city center, cherry blossoms from the Sakura-campaign are planted at the Lohmühlenbrücke (45 trees) at the border of Alt-Treptow and Neukölln. In addition, a memorial stone is erected at this location to thank and remember the Sakura-campaign. A likewise memorial stone is erected at the pathway underneath the bridge of the Bornholmer Straße, where one walkes along 215 Japanese Cherries. The last trees which are planted so far, are located closed by – at the most symbolic location imaginable. In November 2010, Japanese Cherries are planted at the Platz des 8. November. This is where the first East Berliners broke the borders at November 9th – and where the Wall basically fell. Over 50 other locations, cherry blossoms are planted at public spots such as parks, childcares, senior houses and graveyards. Outside Berlin, more cherry blossoms are planted at locations at the ‘innerdeutsche Grenze‘ (inner German border) between the GDR and the FRG.

The Japanese Cherry at the Platz des 9. November. The cherry blossoms are only booming in an early stage. At the background: the Bösebrücke. Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg, 25th of April 2013. No © needed, photo by Joep de Visser

As we speak, Berlin’s recent history has given its own remarkable turn to a century-old tradition. The succesfully Sakura-campaign filled the death strips with cherry blossoms, which indeed brought peace and rest in our hearts. Memorials has been made in the late 1990s for this campaign – and since 2001, it brought us to celebrate the beauty of flowers too. Unfortunately, the celebration of hanami is questionable this year. The long winter turned the event in the Gärten der Welt to a celebration of what is yet to come. And for upcoming Sunday, not only the forecast concerning blossoms are doubtful – the weather forecast also predicts rain. The only relief is that there are 1100 trees to provide me a shelter.

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