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Frankly … Berlin
Slices of urban paradise

Urban gardening on a skyscraper in Berlin
Holiday on the balcony – more popular in Berlin | Photo: Karl Thomas © picture alliance

Gerasimos Bekas is on the scene when the gardening season officially begins in Berlin. Rather than hiding away behind hedges and fences, Berliners dig and plant together

By Gerasimos Bekas

Berlin is in full bloom. Spring has finally arrived. It took longer than we hoped, and was interrupted by cold grey days that were the perfect excuse to stay in bed, turn up the heating and sleep. Migratory birds are also returning to Germany’s capital, which is beginning to look a bit greener at last. Berliners do not let the changeable weather deter them – it’s time to declare the gardening season officially open.

Holiday on the balcony

The people of Berlin start tidying up their balconies and buy seeds for herbs, flowers and vegetables. While balconies in most big cities around the world tend to be used as a place for storing air-conditioning units or clothes drying racks, here they are regarded as places of refuge that are lovingly tended, ready for whenever their owner spontaneously needs that holiday feeling. They also serve as a useful source of herbs, strawberries or tomatoes. It is still a bit too cold for my basil plant, and my raspberries do not quite trust the sunshine as yet. I’m heading out to see whether other people in Berlin are having more luck.

COMMUNITY GARDENS IN THE CAPITAL

Anyone who doesn’t have a balcony themselves, or would rather not do the planting on their own, can look for an urban gardening project in their local neighbourhood. All over Berlin you can find communally run gardens – like the Himmelbeet in the district of Wedding, the Prinzessinnengarten in Kreuzberg or the Karma Kultur communal garden in Neukölln.

HONEY FROM BERLIN

These gardens are not only used to grow fruit and vegetables; they are also places where people come together to enjoy small concerts or film screenings and to attend yoga groups or book clubs. Amateur beekeepers can also be found there. Though I don’t have green fingers, I’m on an important mission so I dig up flowerbeds and learn quite a lot from beekeeper Florian about cultivated plants that are at risk of dying out, and about Berlin honey.

 The communal garden is not enough for my girlfriend Funda; she dreams of having a holiday home on the Atlantic coast and has got hold of an allotment for herself. She’s already set up a paddling pool and a barbecue there and can’t wait for summer.

Symbol of the relaxed Berlin lifestyle

Funda was lucky, as it’s not at all easy to get an allotment. Waiting lists are long, and in recent years it is not just Germans who want one – immigrants and new arrivals from places like Turkey or Spain also want to embrace this symbol of the relaxed Berlin lifestyle. I’m going to sit back in my deck chair, listen to the birds twittering and hope to profit from the gardening skills of my friends.

 

 

“Frankly …”

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly ...” column series is written by Gerasimos Bekas, Maximilian Buddenbohm, Qin Liwen and Dominic Otiang’a. In “Frankly ... Berlin”, Gerasimos Bekas throws himself into the hustle and bustle of the big city on our behalf, reports on life in Berlin and gathers together some everyday observations: on the underground, in the supermarket, in a nightclub.


 

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