In Berlin, Cultivating A Taste For Plants

On the Moritzplatz, in the popular district of Kreuzberg in Berlin, a colourful crowd drops its bicycles and rushes inside the Prinzessingartenfor an exchange of exchange and sale of nutritious plants. There are also several stands of environmental protection associations. The garden appears, behind the fences, as an oasis of green amidst the gray buildings of this block located close to the route of the old wall separating West Berlin from East Berlin. The plants grow in containers, bins, bags of recovery placed on a soil of powdery chippings. Rainwater is collected for watering. There is an organic restaurant, a bar, a documentation center. In the German capital, gardening for pleasure or for food seems to be a second nature of the inhabitants. As Elke, a German keen on healthy eating, confirms, “Our parents, in the twenties and thirties, went every Sunday to cultivate fruit and vegetables, but also to meet their friends.” Another fact has undoubtedly pushed the Berliners on the long term in the garden, the blockade of 1948 imposed by the Soviets. “Berliners were pushing everything they could into the yards of their buildings,” says Elke.

And, for Marco Clausen, the urban garden is not the only solution. It is necessary to keep everyone involved. “What I understood with this place”, he asserts, “is that it is dangerous to believe that one can produce all the food of cities in futuristic skyscraper floors. It is crucial to look to the surrounding countryside and reform the way of production, because the biggest problem we must now face is the deterioration of the soil.”  The solutions, he continues, are to be found at the local level but also at the global level. Across Europe, there are movements that are moving in this direction and give the consumer a more active role. For him, the agricultural policy of the European Union is not necessarily the source of all trouble. Instead, there is an ideological struggle to curb or even stop the unbridled growth of unscrupulous businesses: “Here at Prinzessinengarten, what we want is to turn consumers into actors in society. Everyone is not made to be a farmer, but city dwellers, by visiting this kind of place, become aware of the realities,” he concludes.

The realities of working in the garden, it’s a bit like what is found in the suburbs of Berlin, in the fields surrounding the small village – still very rustic – of Teltow, located at the terminus of the S Bahn line (the regional train in Germany) arriving directly from Potsdamer Platz, new heart of Berlin since reunification. Here, the company Ackerhelden (literally “the heroes of the fields”), from April to November, rent 40 sq. m. of certified organic farmland to individuals wishing to indulge in the joys of market gardening, for about 300 Euros per year. Everything is included in the price: seeds, agricultural equipment, and even the monthly newsletter that provides members with technical advice but also cooking recipes to accommodate seasonal vegetables.

Susanne Seitter, the company’s local manager, estimates the number of Berlin members in Ackerhelden to be 160 in 2017. “The advantage,” she explains, “is that we are free to go in and out of the system at the end of a season, unlike the Schrebergarten, where the investment must be made in the long term.” The business model is clear: the company itself leases the land from a farmer who prepares it; Seventeen fields in Germany and one in Vienna (Austria) are made available to individuals. The initiative was born in 2012 in the Ruhr. Two friends, Tobias Paulert and Birger Brock, who had already become passionate about gardening at school, took up an idea born in Austria in the 1980s by adding advice and provision of seeds. Seitter is confident: “We feel a growing demand from urban people who want to control the quality of their food. Here we guarantee the organic character of the seeds and the land, because we are in a protected area. This is not the case in classical gardens such as the Schrebergarten, which, in addition, have a much stricter internal regulations than we do with regard to aesthetics in particular.” In the end, for Susanne Seitter, “this craze for gardening may not be just a fad. What our parents, our ancestors, have to do is recognised. Where Ackerhelden was launched in Essen, in the Ruhr, there were mines. Each miner had a vegetable garden. These people knew the true cost and taste of food.”

Return to a suburb near Berlin, not far from the disused Airport Tempelhof. There are artists’ studios, offices, a restaurant, a bar, a concert venue and, in a very contemporary mix, innovative companies like Efficient City Farming (ECF). The basic idea: combine without any pesticide or chemical additives, two natural cycles, one animal and one plant, while respecting the environment. The animal element raised in large numbers in this aquaponic farm is a fish, most often zander or perch, whose excrement, transformed from the water of the fishponds in which they live, will fertilize 2000 sq. m. of greenhouses where there are thousands of pots of basil. The water vapor generated by the plants is then reused to return to the fish pools. One downside to this almost perfect cycle: you can not produce root vegetables, like carrots.

Ludolf von Maltzan has been responsible since 2006 of the “ecological village” of Brodowin, located 80 km north-east of Berlin, not far from the small city of Eberswalde, in a bucolic region of woods and trees. His farm, from a former cooperative farm of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) is consistent: 110 people work on 1,400 ha to raise cattle, chickens, the cultivation of fields (cereals), vegetables of all kinds; there is also a cheese factory that produces butter, cheese, cream and all kinds of dairy products. In addition, Brodowin sells its own sunflower and linseed oils, honey and charcuterie. All of these products are awarded the Demeter organic label. For von Maltzan, the future of agriculture could be there, in the juxtaposition of all creative energies: “Why not buildings with gardens on each floor. There are even people in Berlin who have developed a system to grow salads under glass. But children and parents see nature at work. I think that these new urban gardens, like the Schrebergarten, are there for education and pleasure. ”

No single solution, therefore, but rather the hope of a sustainable urban agrodiversity.

Source: Agriculture urbaine: à Berlin, on cultive le goût des plantes