Former US Army facility is home to Germany’s national garden show
Stars and Stripes July 7, 2023
Where U.S. Army tanks, trucks, supplies and other gear once were repaired, shipped and stored, millions of flowers now bloom and thousands of trees grow.
Spinelli Barracks in Mannheim, Germany, has been transformed from a giant military logistics hub into the home of the Bundesgartenschau, or federal horticulture show.
Known as BUGA, the show takes place every two years in a different location. This year’s is in Mannheim and runs until Oct. 8.
The barracks, named after Pfc. Dominic Spinelli, an Army medic killed in World War II, were turned over to the German government when the Americans left in 2012 after 64 years there.
The question was what to do with the more than 200-acre expanse of buildings, warehouses and motor pools. Besides building residential areas on its periphery, officials decided to leave most of it as a nature preserve and a fresh air corridor for the city — and in 2023, to hold the BUGA on its grounds.
Millions of plants and flower bulbs were put in the ground, along with 2,023 trees. A giant old warehouse, called the U-Halle because of its shape, was built back partially to its steel girders and now houses BUGA exhibits and gastronomy.
The most impressive new structure in Spinelli Park is the Panoramasteg, or panorama walkway, a 143-foot-long footbridge that just ends hanging over the Augewaesser, a small lake.
After the show concludes in October, it will be expanded over the lake to connect the nature preserve there with the park.
The entrance to the BUGA is on the site of what was once a motor pool. The U-Halle with its exhibits is behind it. Pass through or around it and you come to various gardens and tree nurseries.
Most of the trees planted for the show are to be replanted post-BUGA in other parts of Mannheim in need of shade.
Along with the flowers and the gardens, the focus of this year’s BUGA is climate, environment, energy and food security. Among the exhibits is one on sustainable ways to grow herbs and vegetables. Another shows how covering a building’s facade with plants can help to keep the building and the environment cooler.
But not everything is serious here. There are playgrounds, a disc golf area and a giant rope jungle gym that features a slide where you can glide from the top to the bottom.
Even with all these features, Spinelli Park is still a huge expanse of nature. Two towers offer great views of the grounds. If you get tired walking, a hybrid-powered train circles through the park, with stops at various spots along the way.
A cable car (to be dismantled after the show) takes visitors across the countryside and over the Neckar River to the BUGA’s second site, the Luisenpark. Built for the 1975 Bundesgartenschau, it has been incorporated into this year’s show. Its center has been remodeled and upgraded.
Visitors can walk through the plant show house, a hot house that features flora and fauna from South America or watch the park’s Humboldt penguins swim in their new enclosure and birds fly through a giant aviary.
Beds of perennials, along with peonies, camellia, rhododendrons and fuchsias add color to the park, and visitors can relax on one of the Luisenpark’s grassy meadows.
The cable car ride back across the river offers a good view of the Spinelli Barracks buildings that escaped the wrecking ball.
The Bundesgartenschau has a lot to see, do and learn in a park named after a soldier who received a Silver Star for his bravery.
On the QT
Directions: There is no public parking near the BUGA. Visitors arriving by car should park at the Maimarktgelaende, where there is a park-and-ride stop. Plug Wilhelm-Varnholt-Allee into your navigation system and then follow the signs. Arriving by train at Mannheim’s main station, a BUGA-Express takes you to the grounds. The ticket is included with admission.
Times: There are ticket desks at both Spinelli-Park and the Luisenpark. They are open from 9 am to 7 p.m. The park stays open until sundown, longer when there is evening entertainment.
Costs: Admission is 28 euros for adults age 25 and up; 11 euros for young adults and free for children up to age 15. Two-day and season tickets are available. You can buy tickets online. Parking is 9.50 euros. The hybrid train costs 4 euros. You can get on and off at the stops while traveling one time around.
Food: Restaurants are spread through the park, including a food truck courtyard that serves burgers, pizza and Asian street food.
Information: Online: buga23.de. On sunny days, don’t forget to bring sunscreen. There is very little shade at Spinelli Park.