1986, Lester Searle, Study Tour Urban Landscapes, Ruhr Valley, Germany

“Rombergpark” – A Student Travel Scholarship

By Lester Searle

During 1986 I was fortunate enough to be awarded one of the Student Travel Scholarships for which second year students compete. The scholarship allows for a small grant from the Gardens but, more importantly, for three weeks paid special leave. With the help of additional funding from the Kew Guild Award Scheme and the Bentham Moxon Trust I was able to make a working visit to the Botanic Gardens, ‘Rombergpark’, in Dortmund, Germany.

Dortmund is a heavily industrialised city of some 600,000 inhabitants, the major industries being steel making and brewing. I am sure many readers have heard of, and some tasted, ‘Dortmunder Pils’. There are in fact some six large breweries in Dortmund and particular care is taken not to pollute the water table with wastes from the steel industry. During 1959 and 1969 Dortmund was host to the Bundesgartenschau and the resultant ‘Westfalenpark’ was a strong attraction for me as was the University Botanic Garden at nearby Bochum. I have a particular interest in urban landscapes and was confident that here, in the heart of the Ruhr Valley, I would find many examples worth studying.

The success of any working visit is dependant, to some extent, on the reception and assistance given by the establishment and staff of your destination. In Rombergpark I was not to be disappointed. On my first morning the Director of the Gardens, Dr. Bunemann, collected me from my lodgings and on arrival at Rombergpark we set off on a guided tour of the gardens. This was to be the first of many informative walkabouts with Dr. Bunemann, members of the Gardens staff and other employees of Stadt Dortmund all of whom went to great lengths, officially and privately, to make sure I gained as much as possible from my visit.

Rombergpark itself comprises some 60 ha and is only four miles from the city centre. It was formerly the grounds of the SchloB (castle) Romberg and includes a large lake as well as many mature tree specimens. It was here, when he was Director, that Dr. G. Krussmann did much of his writing and today there are still staff there who worked with him. In 1927 the grounds of SchloB Romberg were given to the city of Dortmund for use as a botanic garden. The original Romberg residence was destroyed by wartime bombing and today a modern hotel sits tastefully by the northern shores of the lake. A small stream flows into the lake after meandering through a meadow which bisects the gardens. Dr. Bunemann and his staff now manage this meadow so as to encourage wildlife. The gardens include an informal and very effective Rhododendron Woodland as well as a superb Beech Wood. A medium sized tropical glasshouse contains luxuriant displays but is all the more remarkable for the successful combination of restaurant and display complex. On one side the restaurant looks out on a paved sun trap whilst on the other the view is directly into the glasshouse. For all of this Rombergpark employs a total staff of approximately 25.

The following three weeks were to give me the opportunity to work in various parts of Rombergpark but my first day in Dortmund was for guided tours and Westfalenpark, site of the 1959 and 1969 Bundesgartenschau, was next on the list. The park is approximately 70 ha and includes 4 ha of water features. Contained within the park is the German National Rosarium for which Dr. Bunemann also has responsibility. The park is very much an amenity to the people of Dortmund and Westphalia. The chairlift and miniature railway still operate 17 years after the last garden show (though Westfalenpark will again be the site for a Bundesgartenschau in 1991 and planning is already underway), and there is a music bowl as well as a sound shell both much used by local and visiting performers. Some innovative childrens’ play areas include giant beer barrels sawn in half and used as a sort of coracle. Horticultural standards in the park are very high and its location, adjacent to one of the steel works biggest complexes, makes for wonderful contrast.

During my time in Dortmund I also had the opportunity to visit the University Botanic Garden at Bochum. Included in the collections is a superb ‘Trochenwald’ (Dry Wood) of southern hemisphere subjects set in a realistic dry river bed. The display is all the more fantastic as very cold winters mean that all of the plants are containerised and are skilfully plunged in their stony surroundings each spring.

A kind offer by Herr H. Reith (one of Dr. Bunemann’s Garten Meisters for Rombergpark) enabled me to visit the small but superb Arboretum ‘Poort-Bulten’, near Lasser in the Netherlands. It was also with Herr Reith that I was given a conducted tour of the site for landesgartenschau 1988 at Rheda- Wiedenbruck. An exciting project, being prepared well in advance. The village of Wiedenbruck is full of well preserved 16th and 18th century buildings and is well worth a visit on plain tourist grounds.

Through the kind offices of many of Dr. Bunemanns’s colleagues I was able to visit a wide variety of urban landscape sites in and around Dortmund making best use of my camera and coming away with much food for thought.

To round off a thoroughly enjoyable. but exhausting, three weeks I spent three hours examining the landscaping of the new museum complex at Cologne. The landscaping can only be described as superb whilst I am sure the building Itself will provoke abhorrence or admiration and nothing in between.


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