(in German, but with more detail and better music)
On 24th of August 2012, Prinzessinnengärten (Princess Gardens) sent out a petition, thus worded:
“Establish A Sustainable Future For The Prinzessinnengarten”
To: The Berlin Senate
The future of the Prinzessinnengarten is uncertain. The Property Fund plans to sell the city-owned plot at Moritzplatz. The Property Fund has been commissioned to sell the plot on behalf of the Berlin Senate. This could mean the imminent end of the garden.
Open spaces offer opportunities for social engagement and new forms of urban life. They are part of the creative, beautiful and wild Berlin that is so fervently espoused by politicians. Moritzplatz exemplifies the threat to such spaces, but also the opportunities that arise from them. It could become a model for forward-looking property policies that takes into account the value of places such as the Prinzessinnengarten and that include citizens on an equal footing and from an early stage.
In order to establish a sustainable future for the Prinzessinnengarten and to appropriately involve the neighborhood around Moritzplatz in the development of their living environment, we demand the following:
- the extension of the Prinzessinnengarten lease for 5 years.
- forward-looking civic participation that appropriately takes into account the diversity and different needs of residents.
- secure planning prospects for urban garden projects and other forms of social participation that do justice to the value – also recognized by the Senate – that such places and projects have for the city. (…)
The campaign to secure the future of the garden ended on 18th of December 2012, when the group released the following press release:
Press statement of Prinzessinnengarten, released December 18th
Dear press representatives,
In the last few months, we started a campaign (“Let it grow!”) to secure a future for Prinzessinnengarten. We are more than happy to inform you that this campaign was successful. Last Friday the ground was laid for the “beautiful and wild” urban green of Prinzessinengarten to thrive in the coming years.
WIDE SUPPORT FOR THE PETITION OF PRINZESSINNENGARTEN: MORE THAN 30,000 SIGNATURES COLLECTED
On hearing the news that closure threatened Prinzessinnengarten, many people spontaneously offered us their support. More than 30.000 people signed our petition regarding the future of the garden. It is the broad support for the cause of the garden that made the difference.
A STEP TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE POLICY IN THE MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC PROPERTY IN BERLIN
On the 14th of December, the board of the Berlin Property Fund agreed to the request of the Borough Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain: to return the land properties located at Moritzplatz and at the former site of Maria on the Spree to the Borough. A new perspective for the future of Prinzessinnengarten and Yaam opens up. According to Mr. Schulz, Mayor of the Borough, these two projects are crucial to Berlin. He considers Prinzessinnengarten as a free space laboratory for a sustainable development of the city. The decision in favor of Yaam and Prinzessinnengarten also indicates a step forward in a sustainable real estate policy, in which social, cultural and ecological criterions are taken into serious consideration; it is a strong signal in the appreciation of free-spaces in this city.
A SUCCESS, WHICH ONLY A FEW BELIEVED IN, AND THAT WAS ONLY MADE POSSIBLE COLLECTIVELY
We thank all the people, partners and initiatives, who supported us and engaged in our campaign “Wachsen Lassen!”(“Let it grow!”) for the future of Prinzessinnengarten in the last few months.
CROWD FUNDING FOR PRINZESSINNENGARTEN
To support Prinzessinnengarten we also started a crowd funding action (www.startnext.de/prinzessinnengarten)
“The garden has now a future. It is a milestone for us, and hopefully, it will also point at a change of direction in the policy of the Berlin Property Fund”
“Moritzplatz is an enchanted place, where another fairy tale came true. First of all, a garden grew out of a wasted land. And now, with the help of many, many people, a future is made possible for this urban garden. This could be exemplary for a sustainable management of public property in our city.”
Marco Clausen: firstname.lastname@example.org / mobil: 0049(0)179.7313995
Robert Shaw: email@example.com / mobil: 0049(0)176.24332297
I originally wanted to show these videos to my (largely non-German) readers as an example of spatial poetics, a way of conceptualising urban space that I thought was very representative of both the 2010s, and of Berlin in this period. Prinzessinnengärten is hipster urbanism, Berlin-style. It’s a fun-oriented, green-oriented, socially oriented project run commercially: we could roughly put it in the ‘social enterprise’ basket and not be wrong. (What makes it hipster? Oh dear. Everything that it isn’t: it’s a one-off project, not part of an infrastructure network; it’s not voluntary but run for money; in fact, to be precise, it’s run for glory, as an architectural project, with its own website, a company behind, it’s meant to increase someone’s public profile; it’s trading on Cool, not on Lame; it speaks to the values of the urban middle class, particularly its familied members in mid-thirties, rather than trying to be a service to the poor; and, finally, it is a neat little package of beauty and utility in balance, not a mere cash cow.)
But then they won, and I surprised myself by how happy that made me. Moritzplatz is a short walk from my house, and Prinzessinnengärten is doing a fine job gentrifying a corner of my Kiez, my neighbourhood – but, the more time I spent writing the paper I’m currently writing, on Zwischennutzungen / interim uses in Berlin, the more I realised that the story is more complicated. First, while aesthetically and functionally this really is hipster urbanism, it has an infinitely more positive function in Berlin than it would, on the surface, in another place. BECAUSE of the circumstances of its existence.
Prinzessinnengärten is a Zwischennutzung / interim use. What is a Zwischennutzung (ZN)? In the German planning law, it is defined as a ‘use which takes place while the OFFICIAL land use cannot be actualised, because of the unfavourable market conditions’. Because it’s not meant to be permanent, planning regulations for the ZN are relaxed. A land owner will often accept, or even promote, a ZN because it gives them a (usually small) rental income on an empty property, because it raises the profile of the land by bringing people there, because it gives them a user to take care of the property and keep its condition habitable, and because it saves them costs on security. It is expected that a ZN will only result in small and reversible renovations. ZN might be a shop, a cafe, a garden, an art or music event, a cinema, a sports’ park, a kindergarten, a beach… anything. The council often mediates between the user and the owner to facilitate ZNs, because they are good for the neighbourhood. And users are attracted to starting up ZNs, because they offer an opportunity to experiment with business ideas at very low upfront costs (because of the lack of regulations, permits required, etc).
Interim uses have spread around the world, but I’m pretty sure they were invented in Berlin – at least the popular form that is now touted as potentially revolutionising cities and helping renew neighbourhoods (Renew Newcastle & Renew Australia, The Gap Filler, and similar). What got lost in translation between Berlin and the world has been the seriousness, the creativity, the sense of agency and political rights that Berliners brought to ZNs, and the social consciousness with which they’ve acted. In Melbourne, a pop-up use is a cafe serving single-origin espressos for 3-4 weeks during which it’s the hot thing in town. In Berlin, a typical interim use might be a youth club organising a kindergarten, providing family services and a weekend flea market, organising workshops for kids at risk and a parkour park, and concerts in the evening, and it might have been in the same place for 18 years (the thing I’ve just described almost corresponds to YAAM, a project which also almost closed, and then didn’t, together with Prinzessinnengärten).
Prinzessinnengärten and YAAM were in danger: YAAM was served notice by its private landlord, after 18 years of at-best 6-month lease contracts. Prinzessinnengärten was leasing public land which was scheduled to be sold off this winter. Berlin’s vacant public land is managed by Liegenschaftsfonds (Berlin Propery Fund), which is required, by Berlin laws to sell to the highest bidder. After all, the two uses were interim from the start, nothing exceptional was going on. They both led campaigns to prove what good urban infrastructure they, good social, environmental, etc, services. But so have many such places, which have closed throughout the years: famously, Bar25. And yet, a full reversal of normal procedure happened: the borough (Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg) stood behind the two, and asked jurisdiction over two parcels (the one that Prinzessinnengärten stands on, and a substitute parcel for YAAM). And the board of Liegenschaftsfonds ceded the ownership of two parcels of public land back to the borough.
There have long been attempts, through city-wide protests on development proposals, to change the laws, so that Liegenschaftsfonds has to evaluate projects not only on how much they offer financially, but also on their environmental and social merit. There is a lot of hope, around the city, that what happened to Prinzessinnengärten and YAAM represents a sign of long-term change in how things are done.
Berlin’s official portal commented For years there have been protests in Berlin against a real estate management which gives the power to wealthy developers. The fact that the borough sought out a solution for both projects, with the support of the Berlin Senate, could be seen as a sign of a change of direction.
Berliner Zeitung: Finally, even the Senate has recognised that not every parcel needs to be squandered on investors. That sometimes it’s better to renounce sale proceeds, and instead do something for the image of the city as a creative metropolis, and for the happiness of its citizens.
This story is why I love Berlin. This combination of citizen creativity and agency, and a relatively cooperative government (although not as much as it could be, not at all: Berlin protests every day), is very special. When we talk about ‘participation in urban planning’, we rarely actually talk about participation: mostly it’s forms of persuasion and manipulation, very rarely even a two-way dialogue, and even more rarely does someone without millions of homey get a permission to shape the city. But in Berlin, people take that opportunity freely, or they fight for it.
I am going to start a category called ‘city-making’, to introduce some more examples. I think calling it anything else is calling it too small.
The ultimate conclusion I want to make here is that this kind of project, like Prinzessinnengärten, is genuine creative transformation of a living city. It is creative (it shapes), but the product is not an image, a text, a film, or a theatre production: the product is living neighbourhood. This is public art, but only at that highest Situationist point at which art becomes as useful as life. This kind of project is sculpting reality.