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2013- 2017
Observation and Design of the Urban Community Space

under maintenance 

In 2013, the courtyard of about 100m2 consisted exclusively of: four indigenous trees (three Elderberries and one Silver Birch), one invasive species (a False Acacia), and a stunted apple tree. Five of these six trees were planted within cement beds with no vegetation to be seen, covering the impoverished soil in greyish tones and revealing scarce nutrients. One single Elderberry had been planted right in the centre. Most of the remaining courtyard surface was made of small stone tiles laid on a bed of sand and stone. In the centre the tiling was different, leaving a glimpse of soil in lozenges with traces of weeds. The virgin vines and the leaves of the neighboring cherry trees seasonally fell from one of the clay brick walls, creating a pleasant enough scenery that had already enticed a neighbor to arrange a communal table and a small barbecue, install a swing and use the space for socialising and photo sessions. It was this human landscape that we joined, among bicycles chained to trees, cigarette butts on the ground and, occasionally, a parked car or a heap of pallets.

We were three people attempting to make the common space in the courtyard more pleasant, and only represented two of the ten flats and three offices (some quite small and with exponentially unaffordable rents and maintenance costs) belonging to the two buildings of the same owner. We brought furniture to accommodate more people, as well as the first crops in pots: strawberries, cherry tomatoes, sunflowers and some aromatic herbs, among them parsley, oregano and coriander. We extended the sphere of intervention into the field of the performing arts. Examples included: organizing a concert in the space where cars used to park, intervening graphically on the pieces of wall revealing traces of previous inscriptions, and receiving artists, more or less spontaneously, for multidisciplinary improvisation sessions. The socio-cultural occupation of the space aligned with the defence of the existing nature was a concern that, right from the start and throughout the first three years, we attempted to share with the residential community.

At the beginning of 2017, the bicycles no longer passed what is now the entrance of the garden, the car and the pallets had stopped finding a place to park, and the continuity of human interactions had opened the space to interest two more neighbors in joining the occupation. The first collaborative neighbor had moved away, as was ever common in Berlin, bequeathing us the acquisitions that provided the dialogue-inspiring encounters for the foundation of a growing community. For some time we nurtured the welcoming interest of the third (now second) flat into the co-intervention, collaborating in their desire to plant vegetables and fruit trees. Together we planted hay, strawberry trees and a pear tree. It was necessary to change the soil to a depth of 1⁄2 m in about 2m x 50cm of seedbed, which -after decades of spraying with pesticides to exterminate weeds- exhibited clear signs of heavy metal contamination, with no vegetation able to absorb them. The soil in general was of poor capacity, lacking structure and organic matter. However, this first attempt at domestic vegetable and fruit production was soon followed by intentions to continue exploiting it by planting potatoes and cabbages, two organic matters that require a lot of nutrients. Once, one of the neighbors planted cabbages in synthetic boxes without any concern for water retention. This experiment ended up with containers full of stagnant water, with a nauseating smell, plants dead from drowning and, certainly, undesirable bacteria and fungi. The incompatibilities in the discussion about a plan for the implementation of areas, plants and structures, together with the absence of more volunteers (who could, firstly, reach a consensus around the concept and, secondly, take co-responsibility for the financing and the maintenance efforts) quickly highlighted two lines of thought: one for the consumption of the soil for production at any cost and another more concerned with sustainable planting, with a view to regeneration and the return of nature.

While we tried to establish this dialogue with the incipient community, we kept carrying missing natural elements, on a daily basis, into the earth: stones, sand, wood and a combination of organic matter and bacteria such as healthy soil clusters. The aim was to speed up the process of soil regeneration, but it turned out to be a devastating fire in the building opposite on the 9th of June, together with the felling of four of the six trees, following an autumn storm that knocked down one of them, that came, without warning, to determine the character of the final concept for a design of the space. Under these circumstances, and following the first incompatibilities, the collaboration of those two neighbors was quickly interrupted, with no one else joining in the recuperation not only of the soil, but also in that which followed the urgent rescue of plants and equipment. It was our investment in theoretical and practical training, with recourse to cemeteries where we were able to collect a large part of the approximately 160 species that constitute presently the green matter of this courtyard, in addition to a daily commitment to its care and financing, that made it possible to implement permaculture practices with a view to create a true ecosystem and not just a space with an unsustainable garden that does not pay attention to existing resources and is in a state of degradation.

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