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Urban gardening: Do-it-yourself becomes do-it-together

„Prinzessinnengarten” (Princess garden) in Berlin – Photo: Marco Clausen / Prinzessinnengarten

Six or seven years ago there was quite a stir in the press. All of a sudden urban gardening was the major green theme. Activists, who turned wasteland or the rooves of multi-storey car parks into gardens to grow their own salad and keep chickens, became the media’s darlings. Now that the media interest has in the meantime died down somewhat, we wanted to know whether the people are still keen on joint gardening projects in the cities. Was it just a fashion trend or has the movement further developed?

We spoke to Daniel Überall from the non-profit making foundation “anstiftung”. The latter promotes and researches “do-it-yourself spaces and networks”. These also include intercultural and urban gardens. “It may be true that the theme is not arousing as much attention in the media compared to a few years ago. But it is in fact the case that the number of garden projects in Germany is growing constantly,” said Überall. “Whereas it was about 180 six years ago, today we have over 650 open community gardens. Not including the many school and corporate gardens that are found everywhere nowadays.”

„Prinzessinnengarten” (Princess garden) in Berlin – Photo: Marco Clausen / Prinzessinnengarten

The capital city of the urban gardening movement is Berlin. Here over 100 projects can be currently counted. The first German community garden of the new genre was however created in Göttingen in the mid-1990s and it ensued as a consequence of the Yugoslavian war: Since Bosnian women in the migration centres missed above all their gardens, areas they could cultivate were made available to them. The special thing about it: The act of growing vegetables together also developed into a way of trying out new forms of home settlement and served to promote the exchange between people of different native cultures. In addition to such intercultural gardens at the start of the new century neighbourhood and district gardens that were operated by the residents arose in many cities, such as the community garden “Rosa Rose” that was founded in 2004 in Berlin-Friedrichshain. The main aim of the activists was to occupy unused surfaces in order to provide the people living in not particularly green districts with a place for common activities. In 2009, the “Prinzessinnengarten” (Princess Garden) following the principle of nomadic gardeners in mobile containers hit the urban stage. The garden spanning a surface 6,000 square metres in Berlin-Kreuzberger attracted huge media coverage.

Significantly responsible for the fascination that the place triggered off among many visitors was its unfinished aesthetics, which was ultimately created through the re-use and upcycling of used items such as bakers’ crates, industry tarpaulin or euro pallets. “We have long since been differentiating between intercultural and urban gardens in our work at the foundation, because they arise from totally different developments,” explained Überall. “However since around 2015 there have been more and more overlaps. As a result of the increased number of refugees there is hardly a garden project today that doesn’t address the themes the loss of one’s homeland, relocation and integration. We have done justice to this development and in 2017 for the first time combined the annual network meetings, the ‘Urban Gardening Summer Camp’ and the ‘Network meeting of intercultural gardens’ that we organise.”

„Prinzessinnengarten” (Princess garden) in Berlin – Photo: Marco Clausen / Prinzessinnengarten

Urban garden projects have many names and different forms today. What most of them have in common is that the do-it-yourself idea is progressing into a do-it-together approach: Vegetables are grown jointly, the people cook together, convert containers into garden bars, keep chickens and bees, repair broken garden appliances… Many groups also occupy themselves very intensively with themes such as city ecology and urban planning,” commented Überall. “Especially on a local level they are politically active and try to get involved in the planning processes. The aim is an eco-friendly and people-friendly city where everyone has free access to green areas.” The “anstiftung” advises initiatives and organisation, but also municipalities, on questions to do with the cultivation, foundation and further development of an intercultural or community garden. Within the nationwide “Consulting network of urban community gardens”, the foundation works closely together with common grounds e.V. as well as together with the experts of existing garden projects.

It is exciting to see that a lot has changed in many home gardens too due to the themes of the urban gardening movement. All of a sudden more fruit and vegetables are being planted, raised bed gardens are even enjoying a boom on balconies and terraces, DIY is en vogue and the guidebooks on keeping chickens and bees can’t be missing from the shelves of gardening books in book shops.


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