I was intrigued when I first saw a mess of materials splayed over a section of the-then newly minted Tempelhofer Feld in 2011. Who was it that was trying to claim a piece of the new public space here?
An aim of these community gardens was to counter development plans for the park such as Hochhäuser (high-rise buildings). [In 2014, a public referendum defeated these plans.]
But community gardens have far wider implications. For one, they require community to participate and at the same time create community, according to sociologist Christa Müller.
Diversity is a feature, whether of gardeners' backgrounds, social status or knowledge and experience, allowing for communication, cooperation and new approaches to urban greening.
Nothing is strictly defined nor restricted, allowing for chaos, creativity and community within a decentralised, local commons (joint ownership).
Community gardening also fulfils needs for self-sufficiency, self-organisation and as a counterpoint to industrialised and globalised food production.
When the former Flughafen Tempelhof (Tempelhof Airport) was turned into a park called Tempelhofer Feld, numerous community initiatives by different groups were implemented to keep as much of it a public space.
Community garden groups sprang quickly into action. The Allmende Konto (roughly translated as the Commons Bureau) is a civil society network that supports Berlin’s community gardens and urban agriculture projects. The original 20 gardeners and 10 beds in the Tempelhofer Feld has grown 25 times, making it one of the largest raised-bed gardening collectives in the world.
Focussing on the local Kiez of Neukölln is the Rübezahl Gemeinschaftsgarten (Rübezahl Community Garden). It has more of an integration focus considering Neukölln’s large number of immigrant dwellers. Such intercultural gardens, also known as international gardens, have successfully integrated migrants and refugees with local communities since the 1990s.
This story draws from ‘Practicing Commons in Community Gardens: Urban Gardening as a Corrective for Homo Economicus’ by Christa Müller, an essay in ‘The Wealth of the Commons – A world beyond market & state’ (David Bollier & Silke Helfrich (Eds), Levellers Press, 2012), a collection of writings about how people are building their commons towards better governance and sustainability.