The Steam-Powered Gardens of Potsdam and Berlin: Projecting Industrial Culture into the Landscape
There were two distinct parts to M. Norton Wise's talk on the steam-powered gardens of Potsdam and Berlin: one that covered the royal gardens around Potsdam from 1815 to 1850, and the second about Berlin's industrial growth during the second half the nineteenth century. Both play a role in the fascinating history of topiary aesthetics and industrialization of Berlin and its lush environs during the swift change of the industrial age. Wise, the Berthold Leibinger Fellow at the Academy this spring and a professor of history at UCLA, says that while the naturalistic beauty of the landscape in and around Berlin is well known, of course, witnessed in a smattering of prints, paintings, lithographs, and other realistic artistic output of the later modern period. But what is less well known, he said, is that these gardens were rebuilt during the nineteenth century with steam engines at their heart. Their aesthetic quality often derives, he noted, "from the engines that powered them." These enormous engines were originally intended to be celebrated as feats of industrial inventiveness by an awed public, who often wanted to see the steam engines themselves, housed in enormous brick or stone buildings that still stand. As industrialization developed over the course of the nineteenth century, the ownership of the steam-powered gardens the engines powered slowly expanded. Initially owned by the royal family, they passed hands to other kinds of individuals, newly wealthy entrepreneurs and then to the new bourgeoisie, and eventually to the public and its representative government. In this way, Wise says, Potsdam's and Berlin's steam engines and the gardens they powered reveal the social history of industrialization itself. By making this now-invisible technology "visible once again," Wise said, this history is "reunited with the aesthetics of Berlin's splendid gardens."