Català Castellano

If there is an European city that shows that there are alternative ways of living, this is definitely the new Berlin. Daughter of a capitalist mother and a communist mother, the German capital has become one of the strongest cores worldwide of arts and culture. Its streets breathe history of the twentieth century, freedom and tolerance. Berlin is street art, street music, small book stores, vegan restaurants, markets of organic products and people from everywhere that live and let live.

This lifestyle has a lot to do, in part, to the recent past of the city and the feeling of community that developed during the years of the Cold War, especially in the sector pertaining to the German Democratic Republic (DDR in German ). After the wall fell down, the east bloc suffered an economic contraction due to the change from a socialist economy to a capitalist one. As a result an increment of unemployment and an impoverishment of the population took place. [1] This contributed further to the development of protest movements and cooperativism. An example is the rise of the squatters movement in Germany and especially in Berlin, which started in the late seventies in the Kreuzberg district. This quarter, although inside the western sector was one of the poorest in the whole city. [2]

While it is true that the capitalist system proved to be more efficient than the socialist applied in the former USSR in terms of feeding the population, the figures hide not so favourable consequences when considering the exploitation of natural resources or social justice. In a moment in which capitalism seems to have reached a critical point, looking at the lifestyle of the people who lived in the socialist yoke can inspire us. This means not repeating the mistakes made in the past or attempt to revive a full-fledged dictatorship as it was the one in the former USSR but rather to put our attention on the daily life of those people and the different initiatives that emerged to promote cooperation and prioritize the person ahead the economy.

In this sense, Berlin offers a multitude of initiatives that, though their limitations, teach us that an other way of living is possible. For this  article, we have chosen three examples of this alternative modus vivendi that we can find in the German metropolis.

Kolle37 – The anarchist playground

Near the Jewish quarter we can find this playground founded in 1989 and that represents the natural evolution of a widespread movement in Germany that consisted in taking vans full of toys and games or Spielwagen to parks and squares. Today this activity still continues in some cities such as Munich in the summer.

Some of the most active members of the group in Berlin who were responsible for managing the vans decided that it would be nice to have a permanent place where children could play and which did not have to be removed every time. Thus Kolle37 [3] was established, a place where children are entertained not only with typical toys but also enhance their creativity whether working with wood, paint or even building more complex objects. An important part of the park is a large wooden structure where adults have their entry vetoed. Only in the case of being the parents of a child (6-16 years) access is allowed.

Several adults work as supervisors but in a horizontal way, that is, accompanying the children in activities rather than teaching. The ecology is a central topic through self-production of honey, compost or cure of a garden. Of all the activities offered in the park the most remarkable include basket elaboration, pottery, sewing, blacksmithing, carpentry, construction, cooking and baking. Kolle37 in addition also combats social inequality by offering a free daily meal to children whose parents have financial difficulties.

The entity receives some funds from the state (for being an organization) and also runs a bike rental service for tourists located next to the park. Other funds are obtained depending on the social programs that are organized over the year. Supervisors work voluntarily.

Watching a twelve year old boy with a half meter saw, a group of five mounting a trampoline and others discussing how to build an electrical circuit makes one think about the over-protection at which children are exposed nowadays and that decreases their capacity of personal growth.

Teamwork, so valued these days, starts at a young age. Therefore we may foster spaces where children can showcase their skills in a respectful way with others and can feel valued for their ideas.

Prinzessinnengärten – Princesses gardens

Unused, arid and full of trash and weed urban areas? Surely you know a few in your city or neighborhood. Either due to the financial crisis or just because the council has other priorities, these public place have been forgotten and in many cases become a problem for the neighborhood (rats, insecurity, etc.)

What if we reconvert these areas into green spaces cultivable and economically profitable? This is what a group of friends (founders of Nomadisch Grün) in collaboration with activists and neighbours did in a park in Berlin in 2009. They cleaned all the garbage and built transportable organic gardens. Today, not only they have their own garden but also a small library open to the public with free books has been located there. A biergarten to sit and read or have a drink with friends completes the facilities of the place.

Prinzessinnengärten was also created to promote a sense of community and to share a variety of skills and knowledge. With the involvement of society, more people understand the importance of a sustainable life. Besides being able to grow and buy fruits, vegetables and spices, it is possible to enrol in several workshops regarding ecological issues throughout the year.

Currently they are more than 1,000 volunteers working in the gardens and over 60,000 people visit it annually. But the road has not been easy, the council claimed the space to sell it in 2012. The citizen mobilization translated into a petition to the Senate got more than 30,000 signatures to stop the privatization and currently there are negotiations about the terms of use for five years more.

If the future is an increase in the population of the cities to the detriment of rural life, we need to start to re-design the cities to ensure that they can tackle both food demand of urban salubrity.

The Prinzessinnengärten project is not the first of this kind, just one more example that it is possible to influence and change our environment if there is really a will to transform it. Sometimes one thing that seems impossible or impractical in the end is just a matter of getting to work.


KÖPI 137 – The squatted building

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the occupation of this building between Mitte and Kreuzberg quarters. Today, besides being the home of travellers and local families (in total about 50 people), it has become a cultural centre, concert hall and theatre. It also has a fitness room and a stage, and Berlin’s oldest climbing wall. [5]

Although not everyone who lives in a squat has the political ideals that we expect to find in such places, it is the majority case. Visiting KÖPI and talking to the people who live there, discussing current issues and learning more about their way of life, their experiences and contradictions, it is always something enriching.

It’s easy to find people from diverse backgrounds and nationalities who temporarily live in the house and that can even show you parts of Berlin that would otherwise go completely unnoticed.

Three ways to go ahead with a project in common, three spaces that promote understanding and cooperation between people. Ways of looking at life more or less questionable, in many cases out of which most consider a possible life but that prove that there are alternatives to the current model. If we leave behind prejudices and open our minds we can learn a lot, both what we like and we would like to generalize as to what we think is not right and we would prefer to avoid.

Rosa Mª Torrademé

Front picture: East Side Gallery, author: Eneko Sanchez


Interview to a KÖPI-137 anarchist:

Other articles by Rosa Mª:





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