Living Together

New Urban Villages – Alternative Residential Projects in Germany

Several generations under one roof  Copyright: Christa Manta

Coexisting instead of living side by side. Copyright: wagnis EGLoneliness and anonymity are not inevitable, even in big cities. More and more people would like to live as part of a community, for example moving into multi-generation houses or alternative residential projects. In Munich, for example, “wagnis” (i.e. venture) is a young cooperative building association specialising in neighbourly living. People know one another, help each other out with the housework or with child care, and meet at yoga in the recreation room or for a chat at the neighbourhood café.

When Konstanze Hirth comes home from the theatre on warm summer evenings, her neighbours are often still sitting in front of the house chatting. Then the old lady with the young voice joins them and enjoys the spontaneous encounter. Konrad Stimmel has been living a few hundred meters further away, in the same Munich district, for 17 years. He neither encounters his neighbours spontaneously, nor arranges to go out for a beer or a coffee with them. At best, they lend each other an egg on occasion. That is why Konrad Stimmel is planning to move in the summer of 2009. He already knows his new neighbours better than his old ones.

Like Konstanze Hirth, Konrad Stimmel, too, favours the alternative and neighbourly concept of the cooperative building association wagnis eG. Here, people want to live and interact with one another, not just live side by side, in housing developments that include not only residential buildings but also communal gardens and recreation rooms, a village square and a neighbourhood café.

Everyday help and contact

Several generations under one roof. Copyright: Christa MantaKonstanze Hirth has already made her dream of an urban village come true. Since 2004, the pensioner has been living in one of the five buildings with a total of 135 flats built by wagnis in the Munich district of Schwabing. She attends a Feldenkrais course organised by the neighbourhood service exchange and is involved in the art and culture group. She co-decides where the new supermarket should be built and the route the district bus takes. Her neighbours are people of all ages and income groups. wagnis sets store by the right blend of families with and without children, lone parents, single people and pensioners.

There are playgroups and toddlers’ groups for the little ones, schoolchildren are given help with their homework and the parents practise yoga or play cards and go to cultural events in the neighbourhood café Rigoletto. They can offer other inhabitants their help, for example with the shopping or the washing, through a so-called timebank, and can receive help if their computer breaks down or the babysitter leaves them in the lurch. Thus, they get support and meet people in a way that is often lacking in other neighbourhoods.

Alternative residential projects throughout Germany

Lebens(t)raum Johanistal  Copyright: Harald Zenke Planungsbuero BHZ

More and more people are seeking this kind of closely-knit community. It is not only in Munich that people want to “live differently” but throughout Germany. The city of Freiburg pioneers alternative residential projects. The housing initiative SUSI has made itself at home on the grounds of the former French military barracks Vauban. Here, residential areas are combined with work, cultural and living areas, also for people on a low income. There is plenty of space for people to meet between the buildings in the housing development, as well as a children’s play area the residents have built themselves, small workshops and construction site and circus caravans.

A similar infrastructure is to be found in MiKa-Dorf in Karlsruhe. Some 150 adults and 80 children from a variety of origins and backgrounds live here. Like in the SUSI initiative, the former military grounds are a neighbourhood meeting place. There is a cultural building and a pub.

The trailblazer and prototype for projects of this kind is the Ökosiedlung Cherbonhof in Bamberg, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2008. Meanwhile, the children of the first inhabitants have grown up and there are fewer imaginative summer festivals and open-air film shows. But slowly, a new generation is taking their place and once again, digging is going on in the sand-pit.

Several generations under one roof

In MiKa-Dorf  Copyright: MiKa

Buildings where several generations live under one roof are also very much the trend. Wohnen Plus in Nuremberg brings together senior citizens and lone parents and families. In the Lebens(t)raumsiedlung residental complex in Berlin Treptow-Köpenick, there is a fireplace where the residents of the mixed neighbourhood can come together at an evening barbeque. And in the Munich trade fair city of Riem, FrauenWohnen has built a housing development comprising 49 flats, communal rooms and a garden, populated exclusively by women and their children.

Less than a hundred meters away, wagnis is working on its third project. In the summer of 2009, a passive house and four low-energy houses are to be completed. Konrad Stimmel and his wife will be among those moving in, but the couple is already able to get involved now, for example, in co-deciding how the façade is to be painted or what will happen in the recreation rooms. Konrad Stimmel has been elected to wagnis eG ‘s executive board and later would like to get involved as a librarian.

Street party  Copyright: wagnis EG

Today, together with other future neighbours, he is showing people who are interested around the building site. This enables the new inhabitants to get to know one another before moving in and to decide whether they want to take the plunge from the big city to the village. After all, their coexistence will only be ideal if they not only share communal areas but also a certain lifestyle and mentality. “You have to get involved,” says Konstanze Hirth. “Open up internally and externally. A person who can’t do that will have a hard time of it.” For her, the venture has paid off.

Christa Manta
holds a diploma in sociology and is a freelance editor.

Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
February 2009

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