Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mannheim's plane tree boulevard "Augustaanlage" is dying

One of Mannheim's hallmarks is the Augustaanlage (Augusta Avenue), a beautiful long plane tree boulevard leading from the eastern border of the city to the water tower in the city center. Here's a photo giving a partial view taken in happier days in the summer (photo taken by Kai Demut and uploaded to, although even in this photo the trees, due to radical pruning, are not what they once were.

Look here if you'd like to see an areal view in google maps.

The plane trees (platanus orientalis, known variously as planes, plane trees, or sycamores) are around one hundred years old and form two double rows with a broad swath of land in the middle, stretching for almost a mile altogether. It is believed to be the longest tree-lined boulevard leading into a city in Germany, possibly even in Europe. For visitors entering the city from the Autobahn, Augustaanlage is both calling card and first impression. So it's no wonder that Mannheim's citizens identify with this avenue and that there is lively discussion any time the city fathers decide to do something new with it.

Here's a view giving an impression of the length of the boulevard, which ends at Mannheim's art deco water tower in the middle of a beautiful park with large fountains:

In the course of the years a modern sculpture garden has been installed in the boulevard. Here's a shot of some of it taken last week in the snow (click to enlarge):

Also, a few years ago there was a successful drive for donations to finance the planting of flower bulbs between the trees. My husband and I now sponsor one square meter of bulbs. Some of them are just starting to come up - here's a photo taken yesterday of what just might be my square meter:
And here's what it looks like in the spring (photo taken by tessy and uploaded to

Another interesting activity is the planting of one section with mats of wildflower seeds instead of grass and bulbs. Even in the winter this section is still interesting:

As you can see, the trees in this section are missing. And that's the problem: they are dying. In the other photos you may also have noticed that the trees don't really look like typical planes. The bad news is that an expert commission has determined the trees are so damaged that they've all got to go. About 25 years ago the widespread damage was first discovered, but instead of chopping them all down and replacing them, it was decided to radically prune them to save weight and prevent branches from falling. The first time I saw them do this - and they've done it four times altogether in the last 25 years - I was first appalled and then amazed at how beautifully the trees branched out afterward. But in principle pruning is not good for the health of the planes. Of the original 450 trees, around 300 remain, since some have been damaged by traffic; by the two wars they've gone through; and just generally by vehicles compacting the earth; extensive building along the boulevard; gas, telephone and water lines being laid; and also by generations of dogs. When the boulevard was originally built, it was actually a park with promenade outside of the city, and there was no road along it and no buildings.

Here's what the plane trees used to look like. This shot was taken in one of the crossroads of Augustaanlage, many of which also are lined by planes, fortunately not yet damaged. You can imagine how lush this looks in the summer.

So doomsday is now here. Last night I attended a citizens' meeting at which city officials and experts explained the situation and presented their plan. There was a lot of discussion, and also spontaneous offers of citizens to finance a tree (3000 Euros each)! The plan is to remove all the trees successively in the course of the next four years, and to once again plant plane trees in four rows, but to place the outermost row a little further from the street, and the trees a little farther apart than they are now. A large amount of the earth they are planted in will be replaced. The whole thing will cost around 4 million Euros. And there are plans to make it more pedestrian friendly, perhaps including the monument to Carl Benz at one end in a more pleasing way. Carl Benz invented the first automobile right here in Mannheim, and many people think the monument should be less dominated by traffic and parking lot (although arguably appropriate since he brought it all upon us). Here's the monument:

Here's another impression of the monument's location at the end of the boulevard. It's that square slab in front of the water tower (click to enlarge and you can see that it's practically in a parking lot). BTW we live a block from where this photo was taken.

For any skeptics, three slices of an already felled tree were on display at the meeting. They are rotting from the inside out.
The new trees will be between 7 and 9 meters tall when planted, so that it won't take too long for it to look like a tree-lined avenue again. Full-grown trees can reach 30-50 meters. The experts hope that the new generation of trees will live longer than a hundred years. It is planned to leave them unpruned after initially training them to begin branching out at a sufficient height to avoid conflicts with vehicles.

For those who understand German, here's a short film produced by local television (Rhein-Neckar-Fernsehen) on the subject.

God willing, there at least won't be another war in the near future. Members of the European Union have now managed to avoid armed conflicts with each other for 65 years. I read that's the longest in the last 2000.


  1. Thanks for this interesting, and alarming, story. A costly proposition, indeed, to replace the trees. But it's gratifying to see there is sufficient interest to develop a long term plan for remediation.

    I remember fondly the spectacular view of the plane trees both along the avenue by the water tower in Mannheim, and also along the walkway beside the river Neckar in neighbouring Heidelberg. I wonder if those planes are suffering the same fate, because they were very heavily pruned as well.

  2. I know these as London Plane trees and always thought they were good street trees. Why are they dying? A disease? Traffic? What? Makes no sense to me and it will be a great loss. On a good note your square meter will look great!

  3. Hi Hank and Tina, the trees are apparently dying from a combination of stress factors including traffic, compacted earth, war and vehicle damage causing wounds that are now infected by fungus, earth too acidic, and not enough water (hard to imagine with the amount of rain we get here, but that's what the experts say). The citizens of Mannheim are very concerned and willing to take the expense of replacing them upon themselves, as is the city. It will probably be financed by a combination of city and state money plus donations.
    Hank, the other tree-lined boulevards in Mannheim and Heidelberg, some of them planes and some of them chestnuts, are doing better. Occasionally a single tree needs to be felled, and some of them are suffering from the massaria fungus or the horse chestnut leaf miner, but not beyond salvation, at least for now. That's what they reported at the meeting.

  4. Another short note: the planes don't have a particular disease. It seems the stress factors have simply shortened their life span.

  5. Sehr interessanter Artikel und wunderbar illustriert! Wirklich traurig dass die Anlage so leidet, aber wenigstens scheint ja der Wille und zu bestehen die Allee neu zu pflanzen und zu verbessern. Andernorts geben Städte ihre Grünanlagen viel zu oft einfach mehr oder weniger auf...

  6. Doomsday... How sad! The tulip picture is amazing!

  7. Barbara, how disheartening! What took years to grow, to suddenly be gone is difficult to understand and sometimes accept.

    We had a 70' oak tree fall last month, literally gone in an instant. There is no replacing that tree. Little did we know the roots had been rotting over the years as was some of the cambium as a result of underground water from the winter rains we get (and our clay soil). Thankfully, there was no damage to person or property as it fell parallel to our fence line and no one was around.

    I do hope the citizens and city officials can come up with a viable solution.

  8. How sad that the old trees are dying. It is good that they have a plan to replace them and keep the boulevard looking like it is. The spring bulbs blooming look so wonderful.

  9. The trees are in a sad state now. Maybe they are getting too old. Will they topple over? The row of tulips between the trees are colourful and it adds life to the place.

  10. Oh Barbara, this is terrible. Such a beautiful avenue, and so long to grow. It is good that it will be replaced, such a shame if it went.

  11. hello Barbara, i am new here. I saw your query to Autumn Belle which i replied in that post, however i saw it again, thought you might not see it so i opted to put it here. I saw this in one of the blogs which might help you choose the tropical plants suited to temperate climates. I am from the tropics too like AB, so here:

    I haven't been to Germany but in my dream wants to go to Heidelberg. Those tulips are marvelous which i found for the first time in Sweden. I am inviting you to visit my site also. thanks.

  12. Hi, Babara. Happy Morning from Malaysia! My post today on the Mickey Mouse Plant from flower to fruit is dedicated to you. Hope you like it.

  13. How sad about those beautiful trees. But like us, all trees have finite life spans. I'm glad that they're being replaced, but the street won't look the same.

  14. Hi Barbara, Such interesting info (and news, to me) about those trees! We lived in Heidelberg from 1985-1990 and my husband worked in Schwetzingen which is in Mannheim or thereabouts...I worked on the military base in Mannheim as a therapist/family counselor. I remember my time there well although the years make pictures in my mind a bit blurry. I'm sorry about the fate of the trees. So many factors contributing to their demise. I hope the new ones will quickly grow to bring 'life' to that area of town as trees make such a difference! Jan