// HOW AN URBAN GARDEN BUILDS A GREEN HUB FOR EVERYONE
This time Claudi visited a super smiley & easy-going guy called Jonas. Jonas is part of the team at himmelbeet. And himmelbeet is an amazing, colorful urban garden in the middle of a pretty grey, concrete-clustered area - if you get off the u-bahn, you would never imagine a place like this around the corner!
The Wedding neighborhood itself is such a fascinating area! Lots of different faces, it’s the district with the highest ethnic diversity in the whole city - making it a bubbling melting pot of cultures, lifestyles and ideas.
In terms of urban gardening, there’s been a little explosion in Berlin in the last 5 years or so. We now have more than 100 community gardens in the city - can you imagine?! But himmelbeet definitely stands out. Since it started in 2012, it has grown into one of the most engaged, recognized and innovative projects in Berlin. Oh and by the way, name himmelbeet means as much as sky bed - and I truly feel closer to heaven round here.
I hope you enjoy this episode - I had such a good time recording it for you guys. Looks like we have an amazing late summer, so go and swing by at himmelbeet as soon as you can. You’ll see why I’m so in love with this place…
>> This intro video will get you into the scene:
In this interview, you'll learn more about
- What it takes to create an open space to meet, share & learn for really everyone
- Why you don’t need to be a gardener to visit & enjoy your time at himmelbeet
- How the team builds relationships with other amazing projects in the area
- The challenges of running a community project in a fast changing metropolis like Berlin
- What dreams and visions drive Jonas & the team to keep pushing things forward
// LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE HERE:
// OR READ THE TRANSCRIPT OF OUR INTERVIEW HERE:
HEY Jonas! I’ve been really looking forward to coming back here and chatting to you. When we met last time, you were touching on some super interesting points about what you do here at himmelbeet and how you make this place so amazing. Can’t wait to get into all those stories a bit more and share them with all those curious people out there...
To start this all off: Just very briefly, what is himmelbeet for you. How do you want the listeners to imagine this place?
Hello Claudi first of all 🙂 Nice having you here. Hm, what is himmelbeet to me… Well obviously, it’s a garden, an urban gardening project in Wedding. But it’s more than this: It’s a place to meet, to learn and of course also to plant - and to relax…
Sounds good! Now, I’d love you to take us into that story of how this beautiful project was born, how you got involved… Tell me a bit more about that.
Ok! It was born 4 or 5 years ago and the initial idea was to start a place on a rooftop on a shopping mall here in Wedding. I wasn’t part of the team at that time, but people told me it was an exciting time because it was kind of a new idea. It wasn’t the only garden on a rooftop, but it was new here in this area. The woman who started it was Hanna, and she was full of energy. She was able to connect the right people and convince the right persons, so they started with a first bed (or some people say rack in English). And they had a few events on it…
That was on the rooftop?
Yes, originally it was a parking slot for cars, but the planning there didn’t work out at all. It was free space, they didn’t use it. Plus you had some supermarkets in the mall and together, they had the idea to sell some vegetables from the rooftop in the supermarket, which is really cool!
Oh right! So, because it was on the rooftop - is this the reason why it’s been called himmelbeet?
That’s the point, yes. We came close to heaven with that! It was more than only a garden. It was more like a cultural space… There was a small cinema, too. Once I saw the big plan and you could see a sauna, and lots of other really interesting stuff.
Wow! But then in the end it didn’t work out?
It didn’t work out because of the safety regulations… which is always the reason for it…
Yeah, true, that’s often a reason to stop projects like this… BUT - we don’t want to complain, because this place here is also really really beautiful! You come around the corner of this super busy street, surrounded by concrete, and then in the middle you have this green oasis. So I’d say it worked out really well. I guess you have to be inventive and take compromises - if one dream doesn’t quite work out, you go and do it somewhere else.
And then, when did you join the team?
I came like 1.5 years ago. I finished my exams, my final papers in social studies. So something slightly different… And I just wanted to go anywhere but the library to write applications. So I came here, to the garden. For me it was a place to combine topics like urban development, things I was interested in, with just meeting people. I had to go out with the dog anyway…
Oh, your dog is super cool, she’s playing around us here all the time.
Yeah, she’s kind of the mascot of the garden 🙂
Haha, right. And we’re now sitting in the café - that was added a bit later, but I think now it’s kind of the heart of the garden, right?
Mmh, I think the café, you shouldn’t look at it separately. I think it’s part of the entire concept.
You’re right. And if you order something like a mint tea - can you actually go and pick it in the garden?
You can pick it in the garden 🙂 We also cook with some of the vegetables... But we also need to add stuff, which we get from different biological (organic) shops around the area.
Awesome! Yeah, for me the café totally makes sense, because I guess it would also draw a lot of people in who are maybe not involved in gardening in the first place. And even if you have no clue what to do in terms of planting, you can already go and have a drink, look around - and then get curious about it and see “hey, there’s so many other things”
Yes, that’s right. Also, there’s some visitors that really come here for planting, they maybe never even entered the terrace or the café and that’s okay. You also have places to sit on your own in the garden… But the majority comes here and also uses the café.
>> They learn from each other. While sitting here, they start asking questions about certain plants, or about holding bees on a rooftop - so you start thinking about some new ideas <<
This is amazing! I mean this is what you want right? To have a place for exchange… Talking about the activities: I know you have SO much more going on. Can you just talk about a few more things that people can do when they come here?
Well, apart from just gardening there are several activities or events, like the summer fest in July, or the beginning and end of the season. And we have a project called "tuml". It’s about inclusion, we wanted to make it easier for people to enter the garden, especially for people with handicaps. We’re in contact with some institutions here in Wedding.
That’s such a good thing! Is it also linked to the refugee situation somehow? Are you in touch with organizations like that?
We are. Well there are organizations who care for them with their resources. Here in Wedding it’s “Wedding hilft” and some others. And we’re in contact with them and offer the garden as a platform for people to meet.
That’s nice! It’s about bringing the people together here. And I think you also work with the Food Assembly?
Yes, that’s once a week on Wednesday. Food Assembly is a pretty known concept from France and it fits to the ecological idea of thinking local, buying regionally, using organic food… The idea is that farmers near Berlin come here to sell their products. So it’s a nice opportunity for people to meet the producers and talk about the things they sell.
Great, so you don’t have to go out of the city, they just come to you. It’s such a good thing. Do you have to register?
You have to register yes. It’s online…
I’ll put it into the show notes. And when I came in, I’ve also seen that you have a bicycle repair workshop…
Yes, the bicycle repair man 🙂 I think it’s twice a month.
>> It’s part of the idea that people should meet here and that you’re not on your own when you have a flat tire <<
There are people who have the knowledge. You come here with your broken bike and you kind of do it on your own - because it’s always nice to learn something new - but you get advice from someone who have the skills.
That’s so good, I definitely have to come once! Because I LOVE my bicycle, but I don’t know at all how to repair it. I think it’s great that you really push that people come together and just try new things.
Yes. The new thing is about baking! Because over there, there’s a new oven which we built last Saturday. It’s a stone oven made from mud and clay…
Wow, did you build that here?
We built it together, yes. Many people were helping with that, so it’s a community product. We want to build up a new outdoor kitchen and it’s part of the tuml project - but also for the entire garden and everyone who’s interested. So if you want to learn something new about bread and wheat, just come here.
I love it! So you can bake your own bread…
And Pizza of course!
Oh yes!! Too good, I really have to come back for that soon. And one thing that really grabbed my attention is the engagement of himmelbeet in moving towards zero waste. I think you’re doing some things in the café and I read about teaching others. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Yes, it all started with building the café. It’s made out of palettes and mud and clay, so sustainable materials.
It looks awesome!
It looks really awesome, it has also won some architecture prize... The idea was to bring this concept into the kitchen as well. And now we have a low waste café - so it’s not a non-waste. Because we are no experts (or maybe some of us are by now).
>> At the time we started, we just tried to avoid waste and stuff. But we learn, every day more and more <<
Last year, we also got a bit of funding for a zero waste project. So we did research in this area and talked to Späti* owners and some cafés. It’s incredible how much waste they have! I didn’t realize how much it is, just for the small Späti. It’s the waste you can’t see on the street because it’s in the backyard. It’s incredible. So we ourselves try to produce as little waste as possible. We have no plastic inside, use reusable dishes… it’s a good way to have this topic in mind.
Very right... Okay, coming to the location of himmelbeet: Why do you think that places like himmelbeet fit in so well with Berlin at the moment?
Uff. Generally I think Berlin has a long history of a cooperative “do-it-yourself” culture. And I think the himmelbeet fits into this concept perfectly. So when the people started creating the place - first on the rooftop and later in this area here -
>> ...it was something new. Something people tried to create from the bottom up. And maybe that’s typical for Berlin - and the himmelbeet is one small little part of it <<
It was not made up by the administration, we just grew.
That’s totally what Berlin means for me, people with great ideas, and this feeling of “just go out and do”. Just try and see what happens - and even if it fails, you get creative and have another idea.
Yes. It’s not about the result. It’s not to create the perfect place where everything fits, it’s more about the process I guess. And like you said:
>> even if you fail, you have at least learned something: how to make it better next time <<
Oh yes. And what makes this particular neighborhood the perfect “home” for himmelbeet?
Maybe because it’s Wedding 😉 This was kind of the first project here in this area. It’s changing a lot recently. It’s a bit of a hot topic. If you think of gentrification we also ask ourselves “what do we contribute to it”.
Yeah, it’s kind of a challenge if you create beautiful places and you want to attract people, but at the same time to balance it out.
Yes, for instance on some websites, for the housing market they advertise with “you can see the himmelbeet from the window” and stuff… and that is a hot topic, which needs to be discussed in our team.
Sure. At the same time you want to make the district more beautiful right? So you have to find the balance.
We don’t want people to leave that’s for sure! That’s why we try to offer activities for everyone and not only for the educated new Berliners, but also for those who have been living here forever…
….which is a really nice approach, to bring everyone together. I mean we can learn something from everyone, no matter where you come from. This is what makes Berlin - and places like this interesting.
I think I remember you telling me that you team up with some other projects in the area, is that right?
That is right. There are lots of interesting and cool projects here in Wedding, like the Baumhaus. Or we especially have a lot to do with the Weddingwandler. It’s a so called Transition Town Movement, maybe you’ve heard about that. It’s originally from Ireland and it started when people were kind of fed up of politicians talking about sustainability - they wanted to create something that is really sustainable and local and from the bottom up. And one such movement is in Wedding (the Weddingwandler).
>> The idea is that there are many resources in the area and you don’t have to recreate them all <<
People have skills in so many things, like repairing bicycles, or making bread, or knitting and stuff…
So it’s about sharing your skills?
Sharing economy is a part of it, which in the end could also save some CO2. It also just brings people together. The idea is that it is low cost, that people create groups, just temporarily. And sometimes they need a place to meet. That’s why they come here. Or they have special workshops here…
Oh that’s cool! So that adds to your activities and your program as well, right?
Yes. We have the same kind of ideas, if you think about the ecological transformation (or however you call it)... Also there’s always someone living next to you who has similar ideas, so you could create something new together.
This is such a good idea, because I’m sure that people get really disconnected in their houses. You live next to each other but you don’t really know anything about the other, it’s very anonymous. And then you might need something and there’s someone living above you who just has this thing, or knows how to do it - but you don’t know.
Oh yes, now for my new flat, I always need a ladder and I think, why is there not one ladder for everyone in the cellar - why does every flat has to have its own ladder, this is so complicated!
Cause there are some households who need the ladder daily ;)))
Oh, the Weddingwandler have also built a cargo bike, for themselves, and they placed it here in the garden and you can just come here and rent it for little money. Just a few euros, as security that it won’t be destroyed - but everyone needs a cargo bike once in a while! Unless you have a big car, but most people here in Wedding don’t. So that’s one example how those different organizations and groups interact.
Lovely, lovely, lovely idea! And… What makes you feel really passionate and excited about being part of the Berlin green scene?
Uff… I think it’s a mixture of a lot of stuff I’ve just told you. It’s not only an ecological thing, it’s also about the social interactions. I don’t know how to name it, but just the idea that people interact and help themselves…
And when you wake up, and you think of himmelbeet - what makes your heart sing about getting here every morning?
I think the first thing is the nice people.
>> It’s not the one special thing. It’s the nice people, that give you support in so many different areas <<
And you can be outside here, in this green, beautiful, colorful place…
That’s also a good point, yes. If you enter the garden and if you leave the garden, you’re in a completely different mood.
Nice... Ok, one question that I kind of ask all my interview guests from now If you could change one thing in Berlin within the next 24 hours - what would it be?
… so if I was the ruler of Berlin, I would introduce a law which would be called the “reclaim your city law”.
It’s a connection of many small changes. For instance, I would re-designate which are made for parking slots for cars.I would introduce a law that encourages people to go outside and to talk to each other. And going everywhere by bicycle of course. Or by feet. Just putting couches outside and growing stuff together, planting. And offering instruments - I don’t play an instrument, but others would and I could enjoy it. I would introduce a law, where it’s possible for musicians and artists to fulfill their ideas on every little corner…
SO good Jonas! I’m definitely gonna vote for you!And - If there was one thing you could pass on to the GreenMe Berlin community out there - what would it be?
Erm… Vote for me 🙂 No: go outside! Simple thing but:
>> just go outside and talk to each other. And learn from each other and listen <<
That was a really good finish… Jonas, I’m super grateful for the chance to talk to you and learn more about all those amazing things and your team create! Berlin is just getting so much richer from all your visions, actions and energy - and I’m hoping that lots and lots of people get inspired from the things you do….
So, you guys out there - I honestly cannot imagine that you’re not feeling inspired and curious to check out himmelbeet and meet this amazing crowd here now 🙂 Hop on your bikes (or the metro if you have to) and come over. The team here is doing so much for us and this city, check out their special events or just take a relaxing break from the hustle of the city.
You can find all the details about himmelbeet below the interview, and of course, you can find them on the GreenMe Berlin map. And if you’re not in yet, sign up for the GreenMe Berlin news and you not only get notified once the next inspiring interview is ready - you’ll also get to download a Best of Guide to some of my favorite places.
>> Thanks SO much for listening, hope you have a beautiful day - and remember to keep it green 🙂