Viewed from above, the 1.8 square kilometers of the Grand Garden are reminiscent of a mini version of New York’s Central Park: rectangular, enclosed by a sea of houses and with a delightful mixture of forest, ponds and meadows. Although I lived in Dresden for a few years of my life, in all that time it never occurred to me that there was a real bird paradise in the middle of the Saxon capital.
The Grand Garden (German: Großer Garten) is often referred to as the “green lung”, but overall the metropolis on the banks of the Elbe is a city that is close to nature. Dresden has numerous inner-city green spaces, parks and floodplains, surrounded by the wooded river slopes and in the immediate vicinity of the Dresden Heath city forest. The Grand Garden is the largest park in the city.
The Carola Lake with the Carolaschlösschen restaurant on the south side of the park forms the largest body of water. There are several islands in the lake, which water birds like to use as breeding hiding places. There is a rowing boat rental at the southern end of the north-south main road Querallee.
In The Park
Like a mosaic of pristine wilderness and landscape garden, nature and culture alternate harmoniously in the large park area. In addition to ancient trees, so-called habitat trees which the ravages of time have already gnawed at, you will find perennial gardens, baroque flower beds, forests, meadows, water areas, bridges, thickets, lots of old oaks, linden trees and beeches, but also pines and firs. Deadwood may, under a certain control, as some people move around in the park, eke out its existence until the end. In between fountains, sculptures, the park railway, the building ensemble around the centrally located palace, as well as the gatehouses and the picardy at the ends of the main thoroughfare. To the east is the “Junge Garde” open-air stage for pop, rock and classical music – from an ornithological point of view probably not an absolute advantage.
The dahlia garden on Querallee offers a breathtaking color spectacle in autumn. 64 varieties are presented on an area of 950 square meters.
But one can certainly trust the birds that live in the city center that they have come to terms with this situation. Just like with the food source of the adjacent zoo and the always present people. It has to be like that, because otherwise the biodiversity in this limited space can hardly be explained. The Association of Saxon Ornithologists speaks on its website of 158 species observed since 1885.
Herkulesallee is one of the two parallel thoroughfares to Hauptallee. In the northern part of the park it leads past the central station of the park railway, the botanical garden and the small puppet theater Sonnenhäusel, the perennial and dahlia gardens and the pond Neuteich to Karcherallee, the street that borders the park to the east.
In fact, there are very different biotopes in the Grand Garden, albeit in miniature format. The mixture of forest and meadow areas (which are visibly populated by moles and water voles) offer birds of prey and owls an ideal habitat. The common buzzard and tawny owl are therefore year-round residents of the park.
The southern east-west main road called Südallee, does not lead completely through the park but flows into Hauptallee nearby the Dresden Zoo. The middle part around the area between Carola Lake and Palace Pond is surrounded by sparse, tall trees and dense forests. The common buzzard can be observed here.
The two ponds, Carola Lake and Neuteich, which are connected by a canal and fed by the Kaitzbach brook, provide a habitat for water birds. In spring, the brook sometimes overflows its banks and floods the lower-lying forest and meadow areas. Then parts of the park turn into a riparian forest and it becomes deserted for a several days.
A few years ago I saw the flooded southeastern part of the park, in whose depressions the water had dammed up to the main thoroughfare Hauptallee. Ducks paddled their quiet paths in the woods… a fairytale-like and healing scenery. How quickly nature sometimes takes its part back and we as humans have to give way.
The park railway turns its rounds south of Hauptallee. The approximately six kilometer long route network has various stops and train stations from which the park can be explored. The half-hour round trip of the narrow-gauge railway, which has existed since 1950, is possible from April to October.
On weekdays, when the city is noisy around the park and its roar seeps down into the main thoroughfares in the middle of the park, the Grand Garden is quite empty. A couple of joggers, a couple of daycare groups, a couple of seniors. Though there is always someone there to sweep, saw, clean or restore, but it’s a city park. Instead, you experience great acoustics from the treetops. Those who want to study and train bird songs will definitely get their money’s worth here, especially in spring. Usually one will be rewarded with sighting the singer. I particularly like the acoustic experience in the northern part of the Grand Garden between the Botanical Garden and the Neuteich pond up to the main avenue further south. Here the park consists of forest of oaks, beeches and maples.
According to the visitor regulations of the Grand Garden, paths may not be left and the green areas with the exception of a lawn for sunbathing may not be entered. But it does happen that on summer weekends half of Dresden is in the park, sitting on the large meadows, picnicking, reading, playing, relaxing. You can listen to music (which is also not allowed) and dogs frolic across the lawn (which they are only allowed to do on a short leash). But this should be no call for a boycott of the park rules. All bird watching can easily be done from the paths with simple equipment (binoculars, camera with telephoto lens). Even a spotting scope is not really necessary.
Most of the baroque complexes from the 17th century can no longer be seen today. Again and again the garden park was devastated by wars, destroyed and redesigned in the course of the reconstruction. Also for reasons of cost and because it became fashionable, elements of the English landscape parks increasingly moved into the focus of gardeners. Wide meadows, like here at the zoo, alternate with groves and groups of trees.
The picture below shows the Mosaic Fountain, a little bit hidden in the wooded area between Hauptallee and zoo.
BIRDWATcHING In Winter
Common species are great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, chaffinch, great tit, blue tit and nuthatch, but mistletoe thrush, jay, treecreeper, grosbeak and bullfinch can also be found with a little more patience. The buzzard has its territory around the palace. In addition to the mute swan and mallard, you can watch gray herons, mandarin ducks, black-headed gulls or, in winter, the goosander at the ponds. Robins, coal tits and chaffinches are also permanent residents of the park landscape. There are people who keep feeding places at various points in the park during the cold season. Unfortunately, these very often consist of tit balls in plastic nets that are hung from trees. Different species of birds regularly gather there and help themselves to food, not very shy. But even squirrels are sometimes very trusting here and, to the delight of the children, sometimes pick up a hazelnut in person to bury it somewhere in the area.
One of the most popular feeding places is in the perennial plant north-west of the palace. Surrounded by hedges and rhododendrons, the area offers a protected place in every season and is known to humans and animals.
BIRDWAtching in Spring and Summer
As the foliage increases, observation becomes more difficult. But now the summer birds are also returning. Once you have left the city behind you mentally and immersed yourself in the seclusion of the park, you can hear the first calls for territory. From January you can hear the nuthatch, the great spotted woodpecker and the green woodpecker. The bright call of the buzzard mixes with the cawing of the hooded crows, the chattering of the jays and the tireless clicking of the great tits. A few weeks later the chaffinch, treecreeper and blackcap can be heard. Inhabitants such as the wagtail, graycatcher and rattle warbler move to the breeding grounds. In the thickets, especially near the palace, you can hear the buzzing of the common firecrests and, with a bit of luck, spot the small, incredibly nimble birds.
When taking a tour of the Grand Garden, it is worth leaving the wide avenues and treading small paths. Not only do you discover some secluded spots, but also its more secret inhabitants such as the treecreepers.
Many birds are not shy. I often experience that even robins and great spotted woodpeckers come up to me, stand in front of me and look up at me from below. I was able to get within ten feet of a blackcap while she was demonstrating her singing skills. Ducks and geese waddle carefree on the sidewalks. The green woodpeckers are rarely disturbed in their busy activity and so you can watch them very closely as they dig up ant nests or vigorously work on the bark of the trees. The chaffinches lace up the paths, peck something here and there and there and only flutter up briefly, only to return immediately and do their thing. From April on, the shimmering starlings will be chugging across the meadows again in restless groups. However, there are also some very secretive residents of the park, such as the tawny owl, who are difficult to find.
A paved canal connects the Neuteich pond and the Carola Lake. Different species of ducks, gray geese, but also gray herons can be observed here. There is a feeding ban, which is pointed out by detailed information signs in order to prevent malnutrition of the animals and eutrophication of the waters.
Freetime activities in the Grand Garden
The Grand Garden offers excellent conditions for independent ornithological explorations. The area can be strolled comfortably over the course of three to four hours and offers numerous observation options. If you observe more intensively, you will quickly find that the Grand Garden is still exciting even after many hours.
It is not a problem to spend a whole day in the park, also because there are plenty of opportunities for entertainment and gastronomy. A detour to the Botanical Garden in the northeast of the site is worthwhile, just because of the dwarf quail in the Great Tropical House. You can dine in several restaurants such as the Carolaschlösschen at Carola Lake or the Torwirtschaft in the gatehouse at the west end of the main thoroughfare (a bit more expensive). The Summer Café at the Palace pond offers a more affordable alternative. In summer, the park railway and the puppet theater on Herkulesallee invite you to pass the time. Finally, there is the Dresden Zoo on the southwestern edge of the area on Tiergartenstrasse, but you have to plan a few hours for a visit.
Parking and public transport
Parking is available on Tiergartenstrasse south of the park, either in the paid zoo car park, or a little further east towards Karcherallee on the roadside. There is also a paid parking lot to the west of the park at the Hygiene Museum. For a better overview, please see the map below
Tram lines 1, 2, 9, 10 and 13 stop right around the Grand Garden at a total of eight stations. Ideal stations to start a tour of the park are Georg-Arnhold-Bad (lines 10 and 13), Querallee (lines 9 and 13) and Lipsiusstraße (lines 1 and 2). You can download network maps of the Dresden Public Transport (DVB) here.
The wide, open meadow areas (here on Tiergartenstrasse east of Carola Lake) offer the lines of sight which are typical of landscape gardens. In this corner of the Grand Garden you can hear the distinctive call of the green woodpecker. The large woodpeckers are quite easy to observe with a little practice.
A photo gallery on my Facebook page documents my bird sightings in the Grand Garden so far.
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