Growing From the Ruins of Modernity

A Nachbarschaftsakademie in Prinzessinnengarten Kreuzberg for the next 99 years

Prinzessinnengarten Kreuzberg is a garden for collective social, economic and environmental development and re/learning. After ten years of existence, we are developing the garden into a self-organized learning centre for long-term, life-cycle solutions between the urban and rural realm. The slogan for this process is “Prinzessinnengarten Kreuzberg für die nächsten 99 Jahre als Gemeingut sichern!”. 

Moritzplatz, where the garden is located, has on multiple occasions witnessed the collapse of the dreams of modernity. The Prinzessinnengarten Kreuzberg  is located on the former ground of Wertheim-Kaufhäuser (the Wertheim Shopping Centres). The creation of such „shopping cathedrals“ in the beginning of the 20th century marked the dawn of the consumerist city. The building was bombed in 1945, and then torn down in the 1950s. After the Berlin Wall was erected just a few meters away from the garden and the nearby Moritzplatz roundabout,; the grounds were abandoned. In the 1960s and 1970s a huge motorway was planned to replace Oranienstraße. The ideal city was supposed to adapt to the needs of the automobile („autogerechte Stadt“). Local resistance to the demolition of the entire neighbourhood („Kahlschlagsanierung“), brought this plan to a halt, and allowed forms of self-organization to thrive. This included squatting of more then 200 houses,  self-repairing of  the devasteted housing structures („Instandbesetzungen“), establishing of housing and food coops, creating of children’s farms, community parks, and alternative cultural venues. This movement from below was accompamied by offical programs of careful renewal, and citizens participations. The Prinzessinnengarten community garden, which was initiated in 2009, could not have  unfold without the earlier forms of political engagement and community mobilization. 

Today the ground of the site is filled with the rubble of the former department store. Just 150 years ago,  before the rapid industrialization and growth of the city by the middle of the 19th century, this part of Berlin was a place of meadows, acres and gardens, the so-called „Köpenicker Feld“.  Because of extremly poor soil  of Prinzessinnengarten Kreuzberg only so-called ruderal vegetation, plants that can adapt to the poor condition of wasteland, spontaneously thrive here. All our other garden plants are cultivated in fabric sacs or in high-rise beds made of plastic. We are about to change this practice. We no longer see Prinzessinnengarten Kreuzberg as a temporary project space, but as a place that will last for generations. From 2019 onward, we will let the garden grow directly into and from the Kaufhaus-ruins. By composting organic waste from the garden as well as compost purposefully collected neighborhood housholds and restaurants, we will build up the soil through a collective process. 

Our shift towards getting rooted emphasises Prinzessinnengarten Kreuzberg’s role in the development of long-lasting life-nurturing cultures and practices. The transformation of the ruins of a shopping mall, the quintessential icon of modern city life, into a place for reconnective and nurturing practices is,for us, a beginning of a necessary shift in cultural practice. 

The global ecological crisis and its social repercussions raise questions also#

regarding new forms of education. What kind of future are we learning for – a future in which we which we share the responsibility for life on the planet, or a future of accelerated destruction? In 2015 the „Nachbarschaftsakademie“ began experimenting with self-organized forms of learning between activism and art. In the summer of 2019, under the title „Growing From the Ruins of Modernism“, a curriculum for a permanent place of life-long learning for the next 99 years is being developed. Learning, for us means contributing collectively and joyfully to forms of co-existence in which human beings and the biosphere are not exploited.

Åsa Sonjasdotter, Marco Clausen, May 2019