Prinzessinnengärten is a bottom-up community garden initiative in Berlin notable for both its scale and its ingenuity in starting a public conversation about the democratic use of public space.
The original initiative was started by Nomadic Green as an experimental garden. They initially converted an empty, 1.5-acre litter-filled lot into a lush gathering and educational space—a space that has come to symbolize community resilience in Berlin. The project has specific aims beyond food production, namely bringing together the diverse interests of the low-income, largely immigrant neighborhood: The garden has become a platform for knowledge exchange in which the citizens that are usually marginalized (in part because of their rural backgrounds) have become the instructors.
Central to Prinzessinnengärten’s success is its mobility. Despite its size and renown, the garden was designed to be (and remains) mobile. This has allowed Prinzessinnengärten to work with schools—they bring pieces of the mobile garden into the classroom and also have programs wherein groups can plant crops in the garden and visit them over the course of the growing season, with the children participating in everything from planting to harvesting. They have similar partnerships with universities with agriculture programs and community organizations that are looking for new ways to address health or integration issues within the neighborhood.
The mobility of the garden is also commentary on spatial politics in Berlin – the site was originally unused and discarded, and at owing at least in part to the success of Prinzessinnengärten, has become attractive real estate. The arc of Prinzessinnengärten speaks to the ongoing problem of gentrification, where and how the efforts of well-meaning activists can sometimes raise the specter of eviction and displacement.
Their work continues to challenge the city of Berlin and beyond, raising questions about space, authority, and urban ecology. We had a great chance to speak with Marco Clausen on Social Design Insights, where he shared with us both the history of the projects and his encouragement for younger activists.
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