"This is one of our first beds that we planted back in our first summer. It’s made out of wooden pallets. This is the one it all started with in 2011."
Gerda Muennich is referring to one of over 300 beds at Allmende Kontor* while we make out way through the public garden. Filling over 5,000 square meters close to the edge of the former airport, Berlin-Tempelhof, the urban garden movement was given space by the Berlin government to grow flowers, vegetables, and plenty of other plants.
Although it's still early in the morning and the sun has just begun to surface above the trees, it's already been a busy morning for the gardeners at Tempelhof.
A middle-aged German man teaches his son how to water the plants. On the other side of the plot, a Turkish family has built not only a bed but also a wooden shack to spend their free time amongst the plants they have nurtured lovingly.
Seventy-three-year-old Muennich has spent most of her life in Berlin and has been involved in the urban gardening movement for decades. She's affectionately known as "the mother of gardening."
"It all started,” she says “when I and a couple of fellow home gardeners heard about multicultural gardening in Göttingen where refugees from Bosnia and Iraq were raising plants in public areas together with Germans to resemble the gardens they had at home. We were touched by the open atmosphere that spread over language and cultural barriers and thought to ourselves, 'We ought to do this in Berlin.'"
So Muennich and her associates decided to start multicultural gardening in Berlin.
It became an immediate success. In 2008, an opportunity arose when the city was offering space at Tempelhof for pioneer projects. Though the competition was stiff, Allmende Kontor was awarded the space and began planting in 2011.
Muennich remembers those first months as if it were yesterday.
“We had no water, no energy, and we built everything ourselves. Everything here is more or less improvised. After a while, the people walking around in the park asked us what we were doing, and after we told them, everybody wanted to participate.”
Within three months, the whole area was a vibrant urban garden with over 900 participants building beds. The garden shines in all kinds of different colors.
“One of our goals was to raise vegetable breeds that have disappeared from our menus a long time ago. We raised numerous different potato breeds for example that most people have never heard of. Have you seen a purple potato before? Well, you can get them here.”
The self-constructed beds are made from everything the gardeners could find; pickle jars, old records, furniture, all made with great attention to detail. There's even a beehive where elementary school students are taught about the bee’s important role in nature. The whole area seems to be a giant piece of art. And the word has spread around. Visitors from all over the world want to visit the Allmende.
The gardeners from the neighborhood come from all different parts of the world: Asians, Turks, Arabs, Europeans, all coming together, taking care of their gardens, helping each other out, and enjoying the atmosphere of Tempelhof together. There's already a waiting list for new farmers that want to join the community. Architecture students from Berlin have even designed and built a small stage to hold events on.
Muennich smiles while talking about this.
"See, the urban gardening movement is not just restricted to our little project here. There are plenty of other projects around Berlin and the rest of Germany. We are just trying to raise awareness of the general topic to this wonderful idea. People lose touch with nature and the origin of their food. Here, people can find out where their food really comes from. And it’s 100 percent biologically sustainable. We would like to see even more projects like this evolve.”
But the future of Allmende Kontor remains unclear. The project relies on donations since the city of Berlin charges 5,000 Euro a year for using the area, and the contract for using the field is only renewed on a yearly basis. And in 2016, the gardeners will have to leave to make room for new apartment buildings to be built at Tempelhof.
But Gerda Muennich is not concerned.
"We’ll just go somewhere else then," she says, shrugging her shoulders.
Allmende Kontor is located on the east side of Tempelhofer Freiheit. The entrance is on the corner of Oderstraße/Kienitzer Straße. Tempelhofer Freiheit opens at 6:00 am and closes at 10.30 pm.
*What is an Allmende? Allmende (Common) is a medieval term for a community owned agricultural property that everyone is free to use. Some Allmende in the Alpe region have survived until today.