The original initiative was started in 2009 on a site in Berlin that had been left as a bombed-out wasteland for over fifty years. While the surrounding area remained rough and urban, the 1.5-acre litter-filled lot eventually became a lush oasis of herbs, fruit, flowers, and even bees; and a gathering and educational space that symbolizes community resilience in Berlin.
Beyond just food production, the garden brings together the diverse interests of the low-income, largely immigrant neighborhood and has become a platform for knowledge exchange. It is open to everyone; there are no personal or private vegetable beds. In return, no one can harvest their own crops for themselves. All the vegetables produced are grown to support the entire garden. Most participants are amateur gardeners, taking part as a form of hobby.
Everything is grown in Euro pallets, shipping containers, disused rice sacks, and tetra packs, so the garden can be moved and set up again at another site whenever needed. This mobility allows a relationship with schools, universities with agriculture programs, and community organizations looking for new ways to address health or integration issues within the neighborhood.
Over the years, Prinzessinnengarten has become a major attraction. Every season, around one-thousand volunteers help with the gardening, and approximately 40,000 people visit the garden annually. The concept continues to challenge the city of Berlin and beyond, raising questions about space, authority, and urban ecology.
Ten years after its founding, the land lease ended. In 2019, the original garden was transported to a new and larger location, a cemetery in Neukolln. Currently, the Prinzessinnengarten spreads through the cemetery, in between classic and slightly dilapidated graveyards with cracked headstones. Exuberant greenery and well-maintained vegetables grow either in raised beds or soil, distributed at three different spots.
We had an opportunity to speak with Marco Clausen of Prinzessinnengärten about how they came to pioneer a form of mobile gardening, and the positive impacts it has had on their city on our podcast, Social Design Insights. Listen to the episode below.