Bittermann & Duka on the Planting on the Palace Island
in Berlin-Köpenick and the Gardener Christine Buck,
published in the Magazine of the ArtistGardens Weimar,
Wachsen 5, 2000

"To the park" say large red letters on a weathered wooden sign, and a redarrow points past construction wagons across the palace square to a path at the side leading into the gardens on the palace island at Köpenick. The grounds have something melancholy and wild about them. Everywhere there are bronze sculptures which might have originated from a fairy-tale wood or a zoo. Besides the large area of lawn at the centre and the old crop of trees lining the edge of the island area down to the water, the plants consist of heterogeneous, motley beds and bushes.

This means that nothing is left of the palace gardens' baroque origins - apart from the strictly pruned avenue of limes up on the palace square.However, despite its formal intention, this is not an historical planting.And directly below the square there are some thick bushes whichparticularly catch the eye, because their style bears baroque features, but they obviously belong to the 20th century in formal respects. Walking back from the park towards the palace, one's steps are directed towards this planting. It covers the hillock which rises above the lawns up to the palace square. The box bushes stand close to each other as if on a stage, interspersed with and flanked by large yews whose "roof" has been flattened off in a rigid straight line.

The planting is somewhat baffling because of this stringency on the one hand, and a certain liberal treatment of the individual bushes on the other hand. If each taxus bush is viewed alone, it could be read as a miniature tree - in an ensemble, the form of woodland emerges, and together with the heavy, paunchy yews, the ranks of a choir appear on the hillock - a well-composed stage set.

Initially of course, the formal pruning is reminiscent of topiary, which first emerged in the Renaissance gardens of Italy and was later considerably diversified by the English. But there is something too "personal" about the shapes of the individual bushes to permit a classification within the strict prerequisites of the formal garden. And it is precisely this personal note in the entire treatment of the planting which is particularly noticeable - that is what enchants the viewer. This subjective approach to the handling of each individual bush is the "modern" aspect, pointing to an "inner necessity" existing at the same time as "outer absurdity". Here we are confronted with a true sculpture - in the sense of "sculpere - to cut".

The "author" of this sculptural stage play is Christine Buck. For 25 years, she has been a gardener in the eastern part of Berlin, and for the last seven years she has supervised plantings on the palace island in Köpenick. When she began her work there, the taxus bushes and the yews on the hillock were wildly overgrown in all directions - particularly upwards - and some were three metres high. The baroque palace which the park surrounds was - and after its restoration will be again - a museum of art and crafts. In order to protect this museum from break-ins, video cameras were mounted all around it, the intention being to provide a full picture of the grounds. However, the view into the palace gardens was blocked by the overgrown bushes on the hillock. The result was a blind corner preventing video surveillance. The directors of the museum therefore asked the municipal office for natural and green areas -and thus the gardener Christine Buck - to take over responsibility for the bushes, to cut them back and to keep them so low in future that this blind corner would be eliminated. Formally, she was given complete freedom.

She radically sawed off all the bushes, leaving only stumps, which then began to grow outwards of necessity. (One characteristic quality of these hedge plants is that they take on any desired form into which they are made to grow, or they are cut.) Since Christine Buck is small in stature, she felt compelled to cut free the individual bushes so that she could reach every bush and walk around it. And so with time the bare stumps developed into the evergreen hedge forms we see today.

Of course Christine Buck learnt to prune fruit trees and roses during her training as a gardener, but she did not know classical topiary before she faced this task. Then she took over this planting of hedges and, of her own accord, she began to investigate the history of topiary in the formal garden. The knowledge she gained from books led her to shape each individual bush according to her own wishes. Her actual aim was to cut the individual plants into the round, ball-shapes she had seen on illustrations of perfect English and Japanese originals. However, she was unable to banish her own particular signature from the cutting process. She herself continues to aim for increasing perfection. But for the viewer, precisely her signature is the attraction of this particular green area. Christine Buck works with complete commitment and great creative intensity, meaning that the outcome has considerably more appeal than a "normal" city park or green area.

Our interest in this unique work was already aroused during a first tour around the old town of Köpenick; in the course of years in which we have concerned ourselves with gardens and plantings of all kinds, our eyes first seek and pick out things which are difficult to categorise. When, by chance, we also met the gardener personally during our second tour and began to talk to her, we immediately noticed the extent to which she is bound up in her work. Almost ironically, Christine Buck refers to herself as the "boss" of this hedge planting - which she is of course, but only with regard to her sense of responsibility, not according to the true hierarchy at the municipal office for green areas.

On the basis of the special situation we had found, we developed the idea for a competition entry to this summer's "StadtKunstProjekte" in Berlin Köpenick. For earlier works, we had already invented virtual gardener figures who became, in a certain sense, the "patrons" of our projects - this time, for the first time, a gardener who actually existed was to provide the theme for a work. We see parallels with our own artistic strategy in Christine Buck's method of exploiting to the utmost the scope for action limited by the city, and in this way of speaking a specific, almost subversive language of gardening. That is why we portray her with her planting and the subtitle "Accomplice to the Possible". The pattern for this painting is a computer-generated montage. A large-scale slide of the painting will be scanned into the computer and we will use the data to print a c. 70 sqm plot onto a tarpaulin which will then be hung on thegable wall of the only free standing building (Grünstraße 4) on the palace square in Berlin-Köpenick.

There are plans to renew the palace park in the near future - as the entire palace is being renovated at the moment. There are already ideas for a reconstruction of the baroque original, although their realisation has not yet been finally decided. In any case, at some stage the hedge planting by Christine Buck will have to give way to a bulldozer and a new layout. In order to protect the threatened planting from complete elimination, we should like to make the suggestion that in future it be laid out again in a different place. Since the yews have deep and extensive roots, it willprobably not be possible to move them, but it is certainly feasible to dig up the taxus bushes and move these. A completely new layout is also conceivable, bringing Christine Buck's commitment as a gardener into play once again. Of course, the time and the setting for this new layout remain open until an official date has been named. This suggestion is only intended to give a vision of the possible....

Competition entry for "StadtKunstProjekte",
Berlin-Köpenick, 23.6. -31.8.2000
Curator: Heike C. Müller, Berlin