Due Process for Trees

Spring has sprung in Germany, and I am having a hard time staying in the office during this glorious weather, even though I’ve got far too much to do these days. In honor of Spring, a little story about trees.

Over the weekend, I spoke to a friend who had trained as a lawyer in Berlin. A friend of hers did an internship with a local court (Amtsgericht) in Berlin. These courts have jurisdiction over local and routine matters, which, in Berlin, includes the protection of trees (probably under this law (G)). In larger European cities, trees are considered precious commodities, and protected by law.

If you want to tear one down for any reason, you’ll have to submit a special petition to the local Amtsgericht. This will turn into a real legal controversy, since the standards for removing trees are very high. In some cases, you may be denied permission to cut down the tree, even if you planted it yourself. According to the Berlin ordnance, the principal reasons for permitting the removal of a tree are that the tree is ill or dead, has largely lost its "ecological function," or has become a danger.

Once presented with a petition, the judge will often hold a hearing in situ. He will summon his interns, his secretary, and often at least one of the lawyers, and visit the tree itself, holding an open-air hearing. Many judges actually look forward to these petitions, since it gives them a chance to venture out into the open air. The judge usually begins the proceeding with a thorough, careful description of the tree. Speaking into his dictaphone, the judge tours the tree: "Subject of this proceeding is an elm tree located near the intersection of Krupp and Wilhelmstrasse, approximately 10 meters tall, currently in bloom. Approximately three branches appear to overhang the street…"

I don’t have much to say about this, I just found the idea of a judge holding an open-air trial on the fate of a tree to be charming and Spring-appropriate.

3 thoughts on “Due Process for Trees

  1. Great story! Two comments on trees in Berlin: All of the trees are numbered with little metal tags. Small children (and foreigners) are sometimes told that this is to identify where the trees are to be returned to when they run away…

    A Berliner once told me that trees (and the Tiergarten and other parks) are hugely symbolically important in Berlin, since in 1945 and 46, almost all of them were chopped down for firewood, and when the wall went up, it made it very difficult for families to venture outside into the countryside. West-Berlin had to bring the countryside into the city and planted more trees per capita than most German cities to offset the hardship.


  2. This custom is charming indeed. Anyway, never short of party pooping stuff, it eerily reminds me of trees as traditional places of trial for many Germanic people, the branches coming in handy for the hanging ensuing every so often. Have an example here. Also, Thing assemblies where often held under the branches of sacred oaks.

    But don’t you worry, springtime sun is shining in Berlin too, and though those ℜ$ℑ℘§ℵ†☠!!! trees in our backyard somewhat spoil my balcony fun, not even the, ugh, neighbours dare to mess with them.


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