Morritzplatz. Kreuzberg, Berlin. A harbored slice of industrial West Berlin that once hugged the infamous Berlin Wall was once known for its factories and working class Turkish immigrants. Now, the neighborhood that is so often the focal point of Berlin gentrification is seeing a different kind of redevelopment⎯an agricultural one.
Prinzessingarten, or princess garden, was an idea spawned in 2009 by the Nomadisch Grün organization as a way to transform a rundown lot in the center of a bustling motor hub and turn it into a community-driven agricultural center. Inspired by the urban gardens of Cuba, a group of 100 neighborhood friends and community volunteers cleaned out the space and transformed it into a frondescent plot of mobile organic fruit and vegetable patches. Relying on re-purposed materials and simple ingenuity, the site offered dozens of seasonal heirloom vegetable varietals all grown in an Eco-friendly manner without the use of pesticides or chemicals as well as cultivated beehives for honey.
Though the space was originally intended to simply be a vessel for growing sustainable produce, overtime its popularity spread and it slowly blossomed into a community meeting center and hub for neighborhood activity. The addition of a cafe serving the farm's produce, a book shop, performance space and art installations by local artists brought in a new community base and soon the ecological virtues of the space spread outside of the initial target audience and brought all walks of life into the fold.
"I like to think of it as a social think tank," said Prinzessingarten's intern Lena Haug. "It is a place where people from all over, people of all ages, can meet in our forest, have a coffee, look around the garden and just talk. They can have these dialogues that don't have to be about day-to-day work but have to do with their own original and individual ideas. [The garden] isn't something that is all over the world but it is actually vital for creating new ideas for the future."
By creating a space for community members to work and interact together, the garden inadvertently creates a community all in of its self. Residents and enthusiast are encouraged to work and volunteer at the garden. From digging in the dirt to purchasing food from the farm-sourced cafe, the space acts as a centrifuge for a sub-community within the already vastly changing Kreuzberg district. By keeping the aim simple, the garden not only educates the neighborhood about organic gardening and sustainable urban agriculture but also sets a foundation for growing a greener Berlin.
Manuela Kasper-Claridge, head of business and science at Deutsche Welle TV and area resident, speaks to the community inclusiveness of urban gardens and how they are not only green educational outlets but also important meeting hubs for the city itself. "I find that urban gardening is super and a great idea. It brings people together and brings green into the city. Everyday you can see how urban gardens bring thousands of people together to enjoy this space in the middle of the city. It's great."
Despite the growth and widespread enthusiasm for the space, the future of Prinzessingarten has yet to be solidified. The lot in which the garden is on is owned by the city of Berlin. As the area around the garden rapidly develops, the garden’s land plot is gaining tremendous value. Call it gentrification if you will, but the garden is falling victim to its own success. Like much of the Kreuzberg area, a rapid flux in development has drawn tremendous amounts of attention to the space that once sat abandoned for over 60 years.
Though the city of Berlin has yet to formally announce the sale of the land space, many fear the impending actions and have outspokenly advocated for the importance of the garden and the community in which it was created. Like much of Berlin, with growth comes change and with that change comes the natural cycles of urban development. By sprouting an organic community out of a once forgot patch of urban wasteland, the garden redrew attention to that city space and threatened its own existence.
The Prinzessingarten does nothing but good for the city of Berlin, a city which is marked by a war-torn history of constant urban reconstruction following the 20th century. Not only did the garden re-fertilize an urban dead zone into a sustainable neighborhood gathering spot, but it also facilitated much of the community development on the other side of the garden fences. Urban gardens and green spaces are an asset to any city. Unfortunately in contemporary urban development, sometimes things are best left to grow in their own natural habitat.