Berlin disassembledScroll down to read the whole story
Even if the city seems more grey than anything else some days, Berlin is an extraordinarily green city. If you add up all the green spots in Berlin, you get an area as big as the five districts Mitte, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Pankow, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Spandau together. More than one third of Berlin’s surface is green. Most of this is parks and forests, but there are also marsh lands, farm land and countless camp sites; as well as 'Schrebergärten', a German type of allotments. Ten percent of all green surfaces are allotments. There are more than 73,000 of them in Berlin. Pankow has the most: 10,000 small garden plots exist in the district. Hence, the fashionable 'Urban gardening' in Berlin has been done all the years before it became popular.
Forests offer a more quiet place away from the city buzz. Fortunately, forests make up the largest part of the green spaces in Berlin. Altogether they cover an area as large as the districts of Mitte, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Pankow combined, which corresponds to 164 square kilometres. The smallest part of the forests is broadleaf forests, which is only one percent of all Berlin forests.
Berliners have their deepest connection with the green spots in the city at the end of their lives - when they are buried at a cemetery. 10.9 square kilometers are reserved for the dead. That is the same size as the district Charlottenburg. Therefore, more space is used for cemeteries than is used for sport fields such as soccer fields, stadia or horse racetracks. All together, they cover an area as big as Grünau.
Compared to cemeteries, playgrounds do not get much space in Berlin. All the playgrounds put together make 3.3 square kilometers, less than a third of the space of cemeteries. Just the neighbourhoods Olympiagelände and Siedlung Ruhleben in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf could be covered if all the playgrounds were added together. The children in Reinickendorf would probably love it. But the growing numbers of children in the other parts of the city might wish for more playgrounds in the coming years.
Cars in Berlin have it much better than kids. Almost 133 square kilometers in the city are areas for traffic, which means streets, parking lots, and roundabouts, but also trail paths and footpaths. All put together, they are as big as the district Steglitz-Zehlendorf plus the areas Schöneberg, Friedenau, Tempelhof and Mariendorf. Luckily, this concrete jungle is widely spread across the city.
The majority of these traffic areas is not even used for driving, but for parking. private cars are parked for an average of 23 hours a day. All together, Berlin has almost 1.5 million registered vehicles. That includes motorcycles, scooters, cars, busses and trucks. If you add all these vehicle together to make one area using guidelines for the parking spaces of motorcycles, cars and trucks, you would need 17.5 square kilometers. That is an area as big as the locality Schmöckwitz in Treptow-Köpenick. Within that, all 1.18 million cars take up more space than all the trucks put together. Nevertheless, this is only the minimum value that assumes that all cars do not move or need space in order to parking.
However, the percentage of space public transportation uses is negligibly small. According to the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG), during rush hour, they use 1200 busses, 980 subway cars and 270 trams. Additionally, they have some vehicles in reserve. All added up they would fit into a space of 120,000 square meters. Thus, the whole motor pool of BVG would fit on the area of the park Rudower Höhe in Neukölln or into Viktoriapark. All busses, subway trains and trams take up only 0.7 percent of the space all vehicles in Berlin do cover.
When summer gets too hot, jumping in fresh cold water is the only solution. After all, 6.7 percent of Berlin’s surface is wet. That is the same size as the district Marzahn-Hellersdorf. The rivers Spree, Havel and Dahme running through the city are a combined 89 kilometers long. The biggest lake in Berlin is the Großer Müggelsee. With a surface of 7.6 square kilometers, it is twice as big as Tegeler See as runner-up. The volume of the Großer Müggelsee is even more impressive: the lake contains 36,560,000 cubic meters of water at its normal level. If you put all this water in bottles, you would need 36.5 billion bottles.
Even these billions of water bottles would not be enough for Berlin's consumption of water. Every resident uses on average 112 litres of water per day, mainly for showering, washing and flushing the toilet. That is almost 206 million cubic meters, 5.5 times the volume of the Müggelsee. This amount of water would be enough to cover the district Pankow with water two meters deep. Luckily, we do have purification plants - the water does not disappear. Only some digested pharmaceuticals might stay in the water. Chemicals like pain killers cannot be neutralized so that they get into the tap water. But up until now test results suggest this to be harmless.
Speaking of neutralizing - the average Berliner neutralizes 45 litres of beer in his or her body every year. 63 percent is Pilsener. The German Association of Brewers (Deutscher Brauereiverband) estimates that around 1.6 million hectolitres of beer is produced, sold, and completely consumed. If all that beer filled a pool two meters deep, we could swim in a area as big as the Parkanlage Gehrensee in Lichtenberg. 1.6 hectolitres of beer would also fill 320 million 0.5 litre beer bottles. That turns into 16 million beer crates. If you stack them, the resulting tower would be 4,800 kilometers high. That is more than the distance flown between Berlin and Dubai. Cheers!
When the people of Berlin are enjoying themselves in their countless parks, they produce one thing above all: trash. All in all, 10.7 billion cubic meters were dumped in 2015 by private households and small businesses. If you pile that trash up two meters high, it would cover the areas of Alt-Treptow and Plänterwald in the district of Treptow-Köpenick. Even more impressive: With one year’s trash you could fill the space of the Tiergarten up to six meters. Only the highest trees could been seen out of the dump. If you put all the trash on the spot of the Berlin TV-Tower, there would be a tower more than thirty times higher than the actual one.
Most of Berlin’s gigantic quantities of trash will not decompose. Berlins organic waste counts for only 6.3 percent of all the waste in the whole city. That's just a little more than the glass waste which is collected in Berlin. 76 percent is trash from households. If you pile up the trash up to two meters, all the organic waste would fit into the northern part of Treptower park. Residents of the area would probably not be really happy about that.
But what would all the cars, beer and trash be without the humans who drive, drink and throw it away? The 3,670,622 people registered in Berlin, to be exact. If you put all the people together - four of them on one square meter which is the estimated space for a person in public transportation - they add up to a surface of 0.92 square kilometers. That is the same size as the neigbourhood Treuenbrietzener Straße in Märkisches Viertel. However, in this scenario, everybody would have only as much space as four pieces of paper (A4) put together. Luckily, all the people in Berlin are spread out across 891.9 square kilometers. If that space is divided equally between all, everybody would have 243 square meters of personal space.
Comparing the different types of space usage in Berlin, it soon becomes clear: It's a political question how much space the city is willing to use for what purpose. Are forests more important, or playgrounds? Do we need more parks, or more parking lots? People themselves don't need a lot of space. The question is, what kind of life we want to fill the city with?