Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Chill out: Visiting a Japanese garden

Last time I visited Kaiserslautern in Germany, I had a bit of time alone (the gang was working, I was the tourist), thus a chance to explore parts of the city I had never been to. One of these, and a very nice surprise, was the Japanese Garden, a veritable oasis in the city. Since back then it was springtime and that particular day was a bit rainy, I thought it would be a great post to cool most of us off with the soaring temperatures of the summer these days.

The entrance to the garden - the original entrance from the lower part was closed.

The Kaiserslautern Japanese Garden is the largest of its kind in Europe! It's 13.500 m2 and opened its gates to the public in April 2000, coinciding with the "State's Garden Exhibition Kaiserslautern 2000", the first ever garden exhibition in Rhineland-Palatinate.Within two years a devastated and inaccessible urban green area was transformed into a garden paradise for inhabitants and visitors alike. One can even schedule to attend yoga classes there as well as meditation sessions! I will not miss that next time!

Clockwise from top left:
The red inner gate; the big waterfall;
path in the garden;
the waterfall up close.

How did this exotic garden come to be in Kaiserslautern of all places? In 1993, a delegation from Bunkyo Ku, a sister city of Kaiserslautern, was visiting, thus the birth of the idea. Three years later the site was identified for the development of such a garden project. Situated in the very heart of the city, it was originally characterized by two villas built in the early 19th century, with corresponding romantic landscape garden patterns, which were destroyed in 1943 from the devastating bombings during the war.

Clockwise from top left:
stone path in pond; view from the bridge;
island in the big pond; red flowers.

Some of the original trees, 100 years old, witnesses of that romantic era, can still be admired in the park, originally designed in 1893 by the Siessmeyer brothers, then famous landscape architects from Frankfurt Main. After the war the gardens remained untouched for over 50 years and a dense woodland filled the grounds. It was only a matter of time before someone did something about this and the result can be seen in my photos.

The path amongst the bamboos leads to...

... a smiling Buddha!

The "Japanese Garden Association Kaiserslautern" was founded in 1997. It's aim was to build the garden as well as foster the spreading of Japanese culture. The design of the garden was donw with the collaboration of the University of Kaiserslautern. The resulting plans were presented in 1998 to the anticipating public, resulting in a big increase of supporters for it, ranging from individuals to big companies, even political parties (the association has 800 members today).

Clockwise from top left:
View of the big pond; the Tea House;
carp waiting for food; the Tea house.

The construction of the garden was done in various phases, the biggest of which were during 2004 and 2005, culminating in the erection of the Tea House, a 100 year old building, brought over from Tokyo, where it served as a guest house in a park, and re-build where it is now. The zen garden completed the picture. During 2007 the biggest part of the works was completed, but even during my visit, in April 2008, the garden was still being tweaked.

It does not get any better! And this is near the city centre!

A Japanese Garden always represents an idealized and designed landscape, an art work in which all the single elements - water, rocks and plants - seem to be arranged and composed according to the aesthetic rules of arts and painting. The garden either presents a single painting to its visitors, conceivable by one single view, or it presents a series of garden pictures that unfold their story to the spectator step by step, comparable to a walk through a picture gallery. This is the case in Kaiserslautern.

Clockwise from top left:
the water tap at the Tea House courtyard; stone path in big pond;
Japanes maple; view of the Tea House.

Visiting the garden was a near spiritual experience. I was lucky in being virtually alone there, there were only a couple of other visitors and some gardeners (who were extremely polite), so I was most of the time roaming by myself through the beautiful Japanese maples and the waterfall, the bridges, the stone paths through small ponds and the carp swimming in the big pond in front of the Tea House. The light rain that accompanied me in most of my time there only added to the Zen feeling.

One thing you can always see from the garden
(and from anywhere else in Kaiserslautern's centre) is the Town Hall.

A dwarf Japanese maple

I can now understand why most Kaiserslautern visitors say this is the best place in the city: you can totally relax there, away from people and noise, even though you are only two steps from the city centre. The lush vegetation and the flowers, the ingeniously designed garden pattern and the atmosphere created are unique and allow you to travel into another era and a totally different concept of how a garden should be.

A full view of the big pond with the Tea House at the end.


  1. I made a list of North America's Top 25 Japanese Gardens in blist. Check it out.