A bit late to the celebration last weekend after being seriously under the weather, I was rather surprised at what the festival entailed. Other than a tiny stage featuring a line-up of cultural dancers and drummers, a sprinkling of booths offering 'traditional' food and goods, there seemed to be little to the actual festivities beyond an excuse for young people to dress up like characters from various anime series. Frankly, most people in costume just looked painfully self conscious and spent the majority of the time tripping over their clothing or shoes, a few reveling in the confidence of being asked to have their photograph taken. Other than the cultural connection to Japan, I was confused at what this had to do with the celebration of one of spring's most spectacular displays in nature. Watching the food preparers rip open the same 35-cent packs of ramen I ate in college and dump it into their pots of 'authentic' cuisine and the peddling of mounds of stuffed Pikachus further pushed my first impression of this event as a bit of an overblown tourist trap.
Not wanting to let the initial feelings of commercialism and misplaced fanfare persevere, we pressed on to discover what this festival was really all about: the cherry blossoms. But again, my enthusiasm was thwarted by the lack of cherry blossoms themselves. Sure, there were a couple of trees in the Korean garden, as well as a sprinkling of them throughout the rest of the grounds, but there was no sprawling, spectacular display I had been building up in my imagination. There was no forest of pink dreamlike trees, ground carpeted in pink petals or any other explosion of natural color so intense it required sunglasses. Other than the sheer size of one tree on the whole of the park grounds, I found the rather meager ones lining the streets of our neighborhood to be just as impressive.
After letting go of my perhaps unfairly high hopes for the day, we were free to explore the rest of the gardens in the park. Surprisingly, there were even more beautiful places than what the day's festivities were centered around. The relatively new Christian Garden, with its walkways encased in a massive gold-hued metal structure made up of words and symbols, both biblical and spiritual, was particularly impressive. The intricate wood-carved ceilings and colorful mosaic hallways of the Oriental Garden's interior space could only be matched by it's exotic flowers and dancing fountains outside. The most enjoyable part was simply walking the paths between the gardens, taking in the wide-open spaces, colorful flower beds and intermittent rays of warm sunshine.
While the underwhelming showing at this particular festival may have had more to do with the unrelated, overzealous costumes and lackluster cultural offerings than solely the unimpressive display of cherry blossom trees, I may reserve next spring's nature celebrations to perusing some of the neighborhoods of the best blooming trees with a cone from the closest ice cream shop. The Gardens of the World on its own is a really lovely location to bring a blanket, spend an afternoon in the sunshine and take in the nature around you.
Gärten der Welt
Eisenacher Strasse 99
S-Berlin-Marzahn / U-Cottbusser Platz
normal admission: 4€ (Apr-Oct) / special event admission: 6€