600, 700 years – some of the trees of the Bonsai Centre in Heidelberg are really that old. Shaped into their unique forms, they are designed as living pieces of art. When Edis Ziegler bought the property in 2007, he initially didn’t intend to continue the centre. But soon enough, he, too, was intrigued by the age-old Japanese garden art.
As the gate opens, the visitor is enfolded in greenery. The grounds of the Bonsai Centre in Heidelberg are enveloped by thick walls of trees and hedges. Even at the car park, bamboo plants protrude several metres into the sky, endowing the entrance with a green roof. The air is refreshing and it is noticeably cooler here. This is a place for calm and relaxation when the heat gets overwhelming outside. Edis Ziegler stands in the midst of all this vegetation and says: “I used to be the person with the tiniest green thumb in the world.”
He bought the property back in 2007. It is located between Heidelberg and Edingen-Neckarhausen and is surrounded by fields. The water tower of Edingen juts into the sky at the back of the property. This is where Paul Lesniewicz built the Bonsai Centre in the 1960s. With a residential house and several flat buildings at the front and greenhouses lining up one after the other at the back part of the area. He had once been here as a school-boy, Ziegler remembers. His hometown is Edingen, from where the local primary school regularly went on excursions to the centre. He liked the lush greenery and the vastness of the premises measuring almost 20,000 square metres. “As school kids we thought we could get lost here,” he says laughing. The bonsai trees weren’t of much interest to him back then. He even had quite different plans when he bought the property. Maybe a venue for events. Maybe a storage facility for sports shoes in the greenhouse. He had completed training as a commercial manager for sporting goods and fitness equipment, run the European sales department of a sports company and set up businesses in diverse areas. “Selling is right up my alley and has always been like that,” he says.
Shortly after the purchase, Edis Ziegler rang up his mother. She was just about to go to the cinema with her colleagues. At first she replied with laughter when he told her: “I bought a bonsai centre.” One of the colleagues wanted to know the reason for her amusement and when she told him, he stopped short for a moment and then said: “My best friend owns a bonsai centre, too.” On the very next day, Manfred Roth who runs the “Bonsai Stube” in Oppenau arrived at his door. “He said to me: ‘If only you have the slightest bit of a green finger, we will coax it out of you,” Ziegler says. He also told him about the significance of the Bonsai Centre in Heidelberg for the bonsai world.
The centre is a green haven located between Heidelberg and Edingen-Neckarhausen.
The water tower of Edingen juts into the sky behind the miniature trees.
Edis Ziegler re-opened the centre in 2008.
Particularly beautiful bonsai trees are on display in the outdoor area of the museum.
Some special bonsais for indoor cultivation can be found here, too – like this tamarind tree from Indonesia.
Denis Nedić is a bonsai artist – shaping each tree into its individual form.
This work calls for a certain amount of manual dexterity.
For instance, when the trees are wrapped with wire to bring them into shape. It is removed when the growing period begins.
Landscapes in miniature next to trees in miniature. A collection of suisekis is also on display in the museum.
Paul Lesniewicz, born in Heidelberg in 1941, is considered the pioneer and groundbreaker of the German bonsai scene. Enthralled by the Japanese garden art, he acquired tremendous knowledge and published several books on the topic. For many years, the centre in Heidelberg used to be a gathering place for bonsai enthusiasts from all over Europe. “Everyone who was seriously involved with bonsai during the 1960s and 1970s came to Heidelberg at some point,” Ziegler says. Again and again, people who had come from all parts of Europe stood at the gate bitterly disappointed when they found out that the centre did not exist anymore and they had come for nothing. When Manfred Roth took him to Japan where he met ministers and influential businessmen, a glimpse of the big world of miniature trees that are often worth a fortune was opened up to him. “I have always been interested in art and during this visit I realized: bonsai is art. Living art – created in collaboration with nature, over centuries. This really fascinated me.” After he had returned, he was determined: he wanted to re-establish the centre.
Bonsai is art. Living art – created in collaboration with nature, over centuries.
He renovated, reconstructed, and in May 2008, the Bonsai Centre celebrated its grand re-opening. Since then, Edis Ziegler has expanded the centre year after year. An annual spring festival takes place in May each year now. Weddings are also held and birthdays celebrated amongst the ancient miniature trees. In springtime, there are often up to 20,000 trees on Ziegler’s premises, which he then sells one by one around the entire world. “Students as well as sheiks buy their trees at my place,” he says. Prices range from 34 euros to several hundred thousand euros. Ziegler wants the wishes of each bonsai fan to be fulfilled here. His own collection of trees had become more and more impressive, so in 2019 he decided to bring the centre’s museum back to life again. At least 250 to 300 trees are stored here, plus an additional collection of suisekis, special shaped stones that are presented like pieces of art. At closer look you can see that they are really landscapes in miniature form. This is one of the reasons why they are so often put on display together with bonsai trees.
There are also two ponds in the museum in which koi with their striking colours splash about – plus there’s a collection of Asian teapots. A door leads away from these showrooms into a little bamboo forest outside. A labyrinthine path winds through plants taller than eight metres and growing so close together that the sun’s rays create dappled lighting, thus forming a green tunnel leading to the exterior of the museum. This is where Ziegler shows the most beautiful bonsai trees of his collection.
“‘Bon’ means vessel, ‘sai’ means plant or planting. Simply put, a bonsai then is a plant in a vessel,” the Heidelberg-based bonsai specialist points out. In general, all types of lignifying trees and hedges are suitable for this kind of horticulture. There are bonsai beeches, bonsai apple trees, bonsai olives. They are either grown from seeds or cuttings or dug out in nature and cultivated later. “Usually, I am a very impatient person,” Ziegler says. “I want everything at once – with bonsai this is impossible. I had to learn to have patience. To not count in hours or days, but rather in years and decades.”
Two bonsai artists support his work at the centre: Denis Nedić and Milan Karpíšek. They further refine the trees and sometimes take plants into care while their owners are on holidays or tend to ailing trees. Both of them have been fascinated by bonsai since their youth. “There are a few basics that generally everyone can learn,” Ziegler says. “A bonsai tree really only needs water, light and fertilizer. But to shape it into a piece of art, to seek out its hidden potential – this is what requires some talent.” Nedić explains it like this: “You have to understand the dynamics of the tree.” Because it wouldn’t work to force your will onto the tree. “You have to cooperate with it, together with nature.”
Edis Ziegler is standing in front of his favourite bonsai. A yew tree. Ancient. “Presumably 700 years old.” He runs his hand over its trunk. “Here you can see the deadwood, here is the sapwood nurturing the tree – together they do a spin here, a twist. Really beautiful. Techniques that not everyone is able to perform have been carried out here.” He points at a twig that sticks out a bit. “Currently, we are considering if we should remove this branch.” A thought that has been under discussion in the team – for several weeks. With a tree of that age, of that value, each step and each cut should be carefully thought out. “This tree is from Japan. Generations have worked on it.”
Ziegler recounts that he got countless bids for his most valuable trees. Especially for the emperor’s tree, a yew tree, which once belonged to the emperor of Japan. “A sheik wanted to buy it for his yacht. For a yacht! It would die there instantly! I just don’t do that!” In Japan, bonsais are often given as birth presents. “One generation forms the tree and then passes it on to the next generation. This is carried on over centuries. This is living family history. These trees – they can tell you countless stories.” And some of them are to be preserved by him, here in Heidelberg.
The man who wants to take the chestnut to the next level.
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