Urban gardening and (In)formality in Berlin I: Tempelhof


Source: 2009 GeoBasis-DE/BKG

by Olumuyiwa Adegun and Héctor Rojas Carreto


One of the observations emanating from the Berlin phase of the [in]formal city exchange programme; the places visited, the histories and trajectories learnt, is the spatial transformation taking place in the German capital city. Landmark phases, like the industrial revolution, Second World War, de-industrialisation, fall of the Berlin wall, global economic crunch are shaping and re-shaping spatial characteristics of the city, with an identifiable relationship between spatial metamorphoses and urban gardening. This led us to hypothesise that urban gardening is one of the expression of urban spatial transformation in Berlin, which is set in the continuum between informality and formality. To verify and expound on this claim, we spent some time co-researching the phenomenon with the cases of Prinzessinnen garden (to be discussed in ‘Urban gardening and (In)formality in Berlin 2’) and Templehof discussed here.


The site of Berlin’s eighty year old Tempelhof airport now hosts non-aviation related activities. Upon the airport’s closure in 2008 and the opening as a park in 2010, a number of ‘intermediate and pioneer’ uses are taking place. These uses include gardening in three different locations (shown in figure 1). The largest of the three self-organised cooperative initiative gardens is under Allmende-Kontor.


The other one is a kindergarten garden, which includes a greenhouse school and naturally-derived, eco-friendly play equipment. The third one is through ‘Stadtacker/stattAcker’- a non-profit open exhibition project serving as a connection between city and nature, presented in an interactive and artistic manner. These organisations keep close communication and cooperation in between the diverse garden activist groups and other civil community initiatives from Berlin and Germany.

Figure 2. Stakeholders on the Tempelhof Project

Figure 2. Stakeholders on the Tempelhof Project

We can identify and envisage critical moments that have and would shape gardening and other open space-based activities in Tempelhof. The unveiling of formal plan for park development sparked reactions, especially from the civic movement against the proposed buildings (and real estate speculation related) developments. This is because it would reduce space available for users, gentrify the surrounding neighourhoods, lead to biodiversity loss on animal species that have made a home there; particularly beekeeping which represent a matter of concern due to hives’ deficit in the country. The proposed mobilisation of 173,000 (7% Berliners) signatures in 2013 for a 100% Templehof Park space Referendum alongside the EU Parliamentary election in 2014 is critical to the future of this public space.


The spatial configuration of the gardens in Tempelhof manifests a certain level of informality (amorphous) on the one hand, and creativity on the other (see figures 3). These also extend to use of the spaces.


As we observe, the users want spaces to move, a space not ‘planned’, not looked after, where diverse interested are freely expressed and not a listed green, as other green spaces in Berlin are. They desire an open space where boundaries are not measured by square meters but gauged by the capacities of the same network to expand and fortify its lines of connection in the complex and changing city of Berlin; and from there to the world.


The actualisation of these aspirations so far has even birthed a social movement. The movement, whom we identified as a strong player towards the future of the area started informally, before its formalisation as an association. Their engagements so far have also included informal processes.


Mention must be made of another expression of informality in the park. The Neukölln Youth art school is working with children and the youth to build informal dwellings through natural and recycled materials, following the example of gecekondus in Turkey and favelas in Brazil (See figure 4 below).

Figure 4. Gecekondus (informal structures) built in the Tempelhofer Park

Figure 4. Gecekondus (informal structures) built in the Tempelhofer Park


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