Prinsessinengarten is a collective based in Berlin, funded by the non-profit organization Nomadisch Grün in 2009. The first location was opened in Moritzplatz (Kreuzberg) in that year, through a citizens’ action that removed garbage from 6000 of dumping grounds. Over the same year, growing boxes and beehives were added to the place, rendering it a successful formula for citizens’ engagement.
A second location was opened in 2020, in the Neuer St Jacobi Friedhof cemetery (Neukölln), which maintains its original function of burial ground only marginally. In fact, since recently a cultural shift has taken place towards cremation rather than burial, cemeteries in urban areas are starting to face more and more the need of being repurposed. Experts consider these areas as particularly rich of biodiversity, thanks to the continuous presence of animals, plants, trees, and insects’ species, which can often be tracked back over a few centuries. Additionally, these grounds have also often served informally as park areas for the local community, which makes St Jacobi’s shift in purpose even more organically meaningful.
In August 2020, me and Margaux Blache had the chance of conducting a brief interview with Luciana, one of the members of the Prinsessinengarten collective, on the grounds of their new location.
This space is host to some projects carried out under the Prinsessinengarten banner, even though thanks to its 70.000 of extension, it offers lots of space to other associations as well. Proposals of external organizations are usually discussed within the collective, and space is granted to them if their purposes are in line with the collective’s values. The association Flamingo e.V., for example, holds a plot in the garden (named after Hevrin Khalaf), carrying work aimed at empowering transfer of traditional herbal knowledge amongst women of different cultural backgrounds.
Initiatives by private citizens are encouraged as well, with the provision of materials and tools, such as the mobile grow boxes, which have become known as Prinsessinengarten’s trademark. One of such projects for example, involves the cultivation of permanent varieties of vegetables, which have been marginalised by the widespread commercialization of annual plants varieties by the food industry.
The main horticultural project of the collective revolves around the creation of a linear vegetable garden, an urban agricultural project sustained by volunteers from the neighbourhood. Most activities are carried out during the weekly open days, while a few volunteers take care of maintenance tasks during the rest of the week, especially during the arid Summer season.
Many of the garden’s activities are targeted specifically at children, allowing them to become familiar with basic gardening notions while socialising and playing with other children.
The collective relies on external funding for some small projects, even though it aims at being economically independent, in order to be able to make autonomous decisions, without having to respond to specific conditions. However, external funding for up to 10.000 euro was used in order to jumpstart their composting system, which now allows to offer courses for people who want to learn how to process their own organic waste.
Another source of income that allows the financial independence of the collective is their work as urban gardening consultants. In case outside projects require information, planning, materials (such as seeds, plants, boxes, etc.) and manpower, a fee is usually negotiated between the two parties, with a case by case approach. In other cases, however, urban gardening consultancy is often offered as an informal and gratuitous sharing of expertise.
Interestingly, from its beginning, Prinsessinengarten has faced quite a lot of opposition from the environmental preservation office, who was questioning every single decision made by them on the basis of potential environmental collateral effects. The media considerably amplified this criticism, which meant that finding media outlets to express their own perspectives was fundamental during the initial phase of the collective.
The garden spaces work exclusively through a collective process of decision-making. This meant that when one of the participants in Prinsessinengarten’s sister project in Marzahn-Hellersdorf (Gutsgarten) invited a politician from the far-right AFD party in 2019, it was only through collective consensus that it was later decided not to invite politicians in the garden spaces anymore.
In the same location, a swastika was discovered on a different occasion, painted on one of the inner walls of the garden. While this caused an immediate outrage and general discomfort within the collective, it was decided to let the local community take charge in dealing with the episode. After 2 days the swastika was painted over by citizens of the neighbourhood, reconfirming the identity of the place as a space for inclusivity and solidarity.
Leaving space for expression and avoiding the imposition of political or ideological perspective on volunteers is an important part of how Prinsessinengarten decides to carry out its work. For this reason, projects are not heavily branded as (and I quote Luciana here) “funky, anarchist, queer gardening”. There is rather a strong emphasis on allowing citizens and volunteers to shape the aims and trajectories of the spaces through bottom-up decision-making processes. The results are collectively constructed social spaces, that are proving to have a high level of resilience through time, and are the grounds for experimental forms of urban socialization, pedagogy and food production for a sustainable the future.