A colorful biotope grows with the sounds of traffic all around. Tomato vines climb their lattices, lemon balm overflows the beds, and pumpkins the size of basketballs lie stacked on the ground. In the middle of the city it smells of mint and snapdragon. Hobby gardeners are growing flowers and vegetables in neighborhood and community gardens. Not only that – guerrilla gardening actions are also taking place on public spaces such as roadsides.
For more than sixty years there was essentially nothing in this part of the border between Kreuzberg and Mitte. A department store stood here in the 1920s, but after the Second World War it was just a bombed-out expanse. Then in 2009, life emerged on Moritzplatz. A few people decided to start a mobile garden on this deserted piece of urban land. When founders Robert Shaw and Marco Clausen started planting what would become a thriving garden in the middle of Berlin, they had little experience with plants. A documentary filmmaker and a historian, Shaw and Clausen did, however, have an image of urban gardening from Havana and New York. They bought a set of construction bricks and hoped that others would join them. That is exactly what happened. Shared offices and design shops were moving in nearby, and a concrete wasteland became the best-known urban gardening project in the country – the Prinzessinnengärten (“Princess Gardens”).
A new side of urban life
The 6,000 square meters of Moritzplatz have witnessed “the appearance of paradise on an ugly vacant lot,” wrote the Die Zeit weekly. The garden and restaurant now have twelve full-time employees, along with hundreds of volunteers. Anyone who wishes can join in and sow, water, and harvest. All kinds of exotic plants are growing out of more than 800 crates and 300 sacks. Physical labor is needed, but above all an exchange of knowledge. The people behind the Prinzessinnengärten view it as an educational facility. Joint projects with schools and childcare centers help children learn that carrots don’t grow in supermarkets and enable adults to learn something about organic farming, biodiversity, and sustainable urban development. In recent years forty more small vegetable gardens have been started for childcare centers, schools, and other institutions. These projects also tend to be accompanied by workshops.