A Princess in Peril

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In the outskirts of western Berlin, a princess is in trouble.

Prinzessinnengarten, which translates to Princess Garden in English, is an urban garden located in the Moritzplatz Kreuzberg area, a withdrawn section of what used to be West Berlin. It is within this 20,000-square-foot lot that a laboratory for a sustainable city collides with a cultural think tank.

More than 50,000 people visit each year to grow their own vegetables, shop for organic foods or to grab lunch and a beer at the garden’s sustainable cafe. Numerous schools, community associations and residents use the garden as a forum for environmental learning and exchanging of ideas, as well as planting. Visitors have even begun to use the garden’s lush, colorful backdrop for wedding parties.

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The garden’s cafe, which is made from a recycled shipping container, allows visitors to experience the entire cycle from planting and harvesting, to eating the food that is grown on-site. The cafe also has a very low carbon footprint as as 40 percent of each meal goes back into the garden. Profits made from the café pay for the space and its workers.

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While Prinzessinnengarten has become an integral part of the area’s revitalization, it is about to be sold for government revenue.

A non-profit organization called Nomadic Green currently rents the land for the garden from the government. However, as its lease expires, the Berlin Senate has an opportunity to sell the land and pay off loans worth up to $11 million, Lena Haug, a volunteer with Nomadic Green told a group of journalists from Planet Forward who visited in September on a trip sponsored by Volkswagen. The government’s financial opportunity puts the garden in limbo.

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Before college graduates Marco Clausen and Robert Shaw founded the garden in 2009, an empty lot stood at the site. At one time, Moritzplatz was a busy mall. The shopping center was so popular that business owners paid to have a subway stop directly in front of their department store. However, World War II changed everything. In 1946, the mall was heavily bombed and for the following 60 years, Moritzplatz remained empty and isolated.

Reminders of the land’s troubled past still manifest in the garden’s makeup. Lead and debris left in the ground from the bombing prevent growers today from planting directly into the soil. Instead, plants are cultivated in crates and bags. The limitations hardly curb the garden’s success though. For example, Prinzessinnengarten is home to more than 30 types of tomatoes and 20 kinds of potatoes. In addition to its many vegetables and plants, the garden plays tenant to several bee and insect hotels. The insect population is vital to the garden’s life cycle.

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Prinzessinnengarten’s unique circumstance also gives it the advantage of mobility. If the land is sold, growers are able to pick up their plants and go. Where they would go, however, is the question—a very imminent one as private investors are now interested in the land that was undesirable just a few years ago.

Due to Clausen and Shaw’s efforts, the Prinzessinnengarten is now breathing life back into this once desolate area, averaging up to 200 visitors per day.

To keep the garden going, its founders and growers are petitioning to have its lease extended for five years. So far, 23,058 signatures have been collected.

“If the land is sold, it means one less public space and more private. The whole culture of Berlin is getting smaller,” Haug said.

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