This is a follow-up to our earlier blog ‘Urban gardening and (In)formality in Berlin 1’, which considered the case of Tempelhof and the informality therein. In this entry, we take a look at the Prinzessinnen garden. It should recalled that both cases emerge from our participation in the Berlin phase of the (In)formal city exchange programme. The places visited and, histories and trajectories learnt 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. Here, we attempt to verify and expound on this claim through the case of Prinzessinnen garden.
THE CASE OF PRINZESSINNEN GARDEN
A 6000m2 portion of land in Moritzplatz was one of those places where World War II’s bombing happened in Berlin. Haven become waste and fallow for about 60 years, Robert Shaw and Marco Claussen in 2009, upon return from Cuba took the initiative to transform the land into an urban garden. They wanted to create ‘a place of exchange and learning on issues of local and organic cultivation of food, biodiversity, sustainable Kosums, the responsible use of resources and sustainable neighborhood and urban development’ (Prinzessinnengarten, 2013). The garden was named Prinzessinnen (after the adjacent Prinzessinnenstraße), and the land obtained through a 10-month lease from the municipality, under the non-profit social enterprise – ‘Normadisch Grun’. In June 2009, with assistance from tens of volunteers, the land was cleared of tons of garbage and gardening activities started.
Presently, hundreds of herbs and vegetables species are grown organically in movable housing – plastic containers, tetra pack, rice bags and so on. Beekeeping is done in this environment as complementary activity too. The garden also has a café and restaurant, where vegetables and herbs from the garden contribute 10-20% of the food sold. This increases towards the end of summer when harvest takes place. The garden is regarded as an open space – anyone can come in. The underlying notion is that of a place where anyone can come to learn, teach, interact towards and beyond gardening, and to explore ‘alternative ways of urban life’. To achieve this, Robert Shaw believes ‘keeping [up] vitality, openness and less rules’ are important (personal communication; 10 July, 2013).
The 1945 Bombing of the land during World War II which led its dereliction and Robert Shaw and Marco Claussen’s return from Cuba after an enlighten experience on urban gardening practice in 2008 are notable milestones on this project. . The 2009 Land lease of a 10-monthly period is another milestone.
The event of August 2012 was a critical moment in Prizessninnen. Haven been informed of the municipality’s intention to sell off the land on which the garden sits, ‘Normadisch Grun’ made a release, calling for signatures to accompany a petition going to the Berlin Senate. Beyond their expectation, over 33,000 people signed, which led to a 5-year lease grant on the land, as against the previous 10-month lease and intention to sell the land. With this level of tenure security, the project can continue to grow in its service to the community.
In relation to formality-informality, we found that the garden is configured in a relatively formal spatial manner. There is also a formal organisational structure for the garden. To Robert, it was challenging to create formal frames and rules for the garden’s operation at commencement. Even when activities have been formally institutionalized, there is continuity in the space for creation and networking which entail the irreplaceable constituent of informality. That’s why they now want to keep the rules at the minimum, in order to keep up the social essence of such space. This even smacks of what we call ‘de-formalisation’.