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North Charlottenburg

C Intro

 

For the sixth and final Berlin post I wanted to explore somewhere that would absolutely confirm the theory that Berlin consists of a whole load of Berlins – each one so different you’d swear you were in another city.

Initially I wasn’t interested in Charlottenburg. All I’d heard was that it was affluent and contained a palace (yawn) and a major shopping strip, the Ku’damm.

But when I scrutinised the map for signs of life, I found a small patch in North Charlottenburg that intrigued me – a whole load of tiny streets. What were they I wondered?

Turns out they were the elusive kleingartenkolonien that I’d been searching for ever since we’d arrived in Berlin – small garden colonies also known as Schrebergärten or allotments.

When I read up on Charlottenburg Nord, I discovered that these garden colonies were sandwiched between two churches and a prison memorial that commemorated those who stood up to the Nazis – and were killed for doing so.

Garden colonies next to a prison with a memorial for Nazi victims – strange enough for me.

Quick history… North Charlottenburg is in the west of Berlin and the northern part of the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf borough just south of Tegel Airport. Far from being affluent, it consists of housing estates, allotment gardens, commercial zones and Plötzensee Prison.

Let’s…

 

Part 1: Where am I?

There are more than 100 garden colonies in Berlin but I’d never managed to spot one until I visited North Charlottenburg. Suddenly I was in kleingartenkolonien heaven – there seemed to be squillions of the things, stretching for miles and miles.

Unlike other garden allotments where urban dwellers are given small areas of soil to grow stuff on, Berlin’s allotments also come with small homes – less than 24sqm small.

While they may be petite, they have everything you need – electricity, plumbing etc – to be able to spend large chunks of time in them. And some of them are really sweet and obviously well looked after.

So does anyone live in their miniature homes? Some people I asked said, oh no, it’s illegal. Others said, well, occasionally it’s okay. Only one lady fessed up with what I suspect is the truth – that many people spend their entire summers living in them, only leaving when the weather forces them to.

My next question was, so how do you get one? Those who are lucky enough to know someone who wants to sell their allotment need to shell out a one-off payment of around 10,000 euros and then pay the government 400 euros a year in rent. But many Berliners never get a look in because a large number of the allotments are just passed on from one generation to the next.

Got your spade? Let’s wander…

 

welcome to miniature town

welcome to miniature town

 

 

 

 

The first people I met in this miniature, magical kingdom were Erika and Gunther. Their real home is an apartment, just five minutes away, but for 53 years they’ve been visiting their garden home, “whenever the weather is good”. Their two daughters grew up here and now have their own allotments nearby.

 

Erika in Kolonie Wiesengrund

Erika in Kolonie Wiesengrund

 

 

 

 

'the garden keeps us young' - 72 year old Erika and 80 year old Gunther

‘the garden keeps us young’ – 72 year old Erika and 80 year old Gunther

 

 

 

 

green thumb and lilac fingers - Erika's favourite flower

green thumb and lilac fingers – Erika’s favourite flower

 

 

 

 

Sitting in their garden, it really did feel like I’d left Berlin and was in the country somewhere. Erika produced tomatoes and carrots from her hothouse and showed me the inside of her garden home – it reminded me of a holiday house down the coast from Sydney – just smaller.

Yet as relaxed and rural as it seemed, the allotments are actually sitting on prime urban real estate – Erika explained that the garden colonies cover half the land size that they used to and are in danger of shrinking even more.

 

an endangered species - the gardens are shrinking

an endangered species – the gardens are shrinking

 

 

 

 

On our next visit, Coco and I noticed a whole load of balloons in an allotment just down the path from Erika and Gunther. We were peering over the fence when a couple of kids raced around – a moment later we were invited in for a cherry drink and to hear what the party was all about – Fabrizzio’s daughter had just started school and they were celebrating.

 

party?

party?

 

 

 

 

'soul and blood' - Fabrizzio, half Italian, half Polish

‘soul and blood’ – Fabrizzio, half Italian, half Polish

 

 

 

 

Fabrizzio's daughter, celebrating her first day at school

Fabrizzio’s daughter, celebrating her first day at school

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Sommerfest

I’d seen flyers pinned up around the place advertising a ‘Sommerfest’ in a nearby colony, Kolonie Jungfernheide. With promises of ‘musik und tanz’ (music and dance) we were in.

When we turned up the 80s disco music was blaring but the dancefloor was empty. Instead of having a wiggle, the residents of Kolonie Jungfernheide were focused on winning a stuffed bear, either through an overly complicated ticket system or by picking up a rifle and shooting something.

Clearly we had left Berlin, the world’s hip capital, and were somewhere else entirely.

 

welcome to the Jungfernheide Colony

welcome to the Jungfernheide Colony

 

 

 

 

eat, drink, try to win a bear, and be merry

eat, drink, try to win a bear, and be merry

 

 

 

 

shoot and win

shoot and win

 

 

 

 

aiming to win a bear

aiming to win a bear

 

 

 

 

love bear

love bear

 

 

 

 

white bear

white bear

 

 

 

 

big bear - Judy scores

big bear – Judy scores

 

 

 

 

Not everyone could win the bears though. Consolation prizes included bubbles.

 

bubbles

bubbles

 

 

 

 

Adding to the rather surreal feel of the day was Judy. Judy told Coco and I that she was originally from the Philippines but now lived with her German husband in Kolonie Jungfernheide. She took a shine to Coco and, well, wouldn’t leave her alone. Coco, she’s a cute kid, but it was just a little weird.

 

Judy takes a photo behind the bubble

Judy takes a photo of Coco from behind a bubble

 

 

 

 

As the Sommerfest was winding down – 7ish – we met Wolfgang. Initially it was his badged-hat that attracted me. But as I started snapping I couldn’t help wonder who he reminded me of…

 

Wolfgang

Wolfgang

 

 

 

Then it hit me. Gartenzwerg – the garden gnomes of the garden colonies. I mean, sure, no red hat and Wolfgang is a little taller, but aside from that he’s a real life gartenzwerg.

 

Gartenzwerg - Wolfgang and friend

Gartenzwerg – Wolfgang and friend

 

 

 

 

Garden gnomes have a long history in Germany and abound in Berlin’s kleingartenkolonien. Having never given them a second thought I was compelled to look more carefully at them given their abundance. My favourite one, I decided, is below, riding a pig.

 

 

where gnomes rule

where gnomes rule

 

 

 

 

Finally it was time to leave the disco tunes, the stuffed bears, Judy, Wolfgang and the gnomes, and wander home. Just as things were hotting up on the dancefloor. Or not.

 

dancing with his daughter

dancing with his daughter

 

 

 

 

shadows dancing

shadows dancing

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Arno and his hedge

On our last visit to North Charlottenburg’s garden colonies, we met Arno. I noticed his hedges first – how could you not? They were beautifully turned and quite unlike anything else in the Lilliput-esque world.

Like Erika and Gunther, Arno has had his allotment for more than 50 years and was an equally good advertisement for the health benefits of gardening – he’s 83.

 

the hedge-man - Arno's been taming nature here for 56 years

the hedge-man – Arno’s been taming nature here for 56 years

 

 

 

 

Arno and friends

Arno and friends

 

 

 

 

one-third of the space must be planted with fruit and vegetables

one-third of the space must be planted with fruit and vegetables

 

 

 

 

Arno with his address book - 'see, here, this is my brother's address in Baulkham Hills'

Arno with his address book – ‘see, here, this is my brother’s address in Baulkham Hills, Sydney!’

 

 

 

 

evening falls on Arno's hedges

evening falls on Arno’s hedges

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Gates, letter boxes and flags – lots of flags

The garden colonies of North Charlottenburg are happy places. Fruit drips off trees, over-sized sunflowers stand tall. Letter-boxes and flags smile.

 

one way or another the sun is always shining in the kleingartenkolonien

one way or another the sun is always shining in the kleingartenkolonien

 

 

 

 

purple

purple

 

 

 

 

flower eyes

flower eyes

 

 

 

 

happy birthday Max

happy birthday Max

 

 

 

 

I did wonder though, how would a non-ethnic German get on here? The German flags are as abundant as the garden gnomes and I didn’t see a single non-ethnic German. Until the last visit when we met Shnor. Originally from Iraq, Shnor and her family moved here when she was 14. There are doctors in the family and she has two degrees. She speaks fluent German and runs her own business. But still she says she’s treated differently, especially here in the close quarters of the kleingartenkolonien.

 

flying the flag :: 1

flying the flag :: 1

 

 

 

 

flying the flag :: 2

flying the flag :: 2

 

 

 

 

flying the flag :: 3

flying the flag :: 3

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Gedenkstätte Plötzensee

As I mentioned earlier, the garden colonies are sandwiched between two churches and a prison memorial, all of which commemorate those who were killed by the Nazis for actively objecting to the regime.

I visited the churches first as they’re on the way to the garden colonies. One of them, the Protestant church, is designed around a small, central cell-like window and is filled with highly evocative paintings that depict the incarceration and awful death (hanging or guillotine) of the Nazi opponents.

The churches serve their purpose of making sure no one forgets. But it wasn’t until I saw the Gedenkstätte Plötzensee (Plötzensee Memorial) that I was really freaked out by the sheer horror of what happened. They’ve kept the room where 2,500 men and women were executed for their beliefs. At the far end there are some flowers and a couple of wreaths sitting on the floor under the meat hooks that were once used for hanging. Although the back area is cordoned off I felt compelled to take a closer look at the wreaths. One was dedicated to Heinz Koch from his son and family. The wreath isn’t new but it can’t be that old either. Just the thought of his son going there to lay it and seeing the room where his dad was either hung or guillotined…

On the way back to the U-Bahn we walked past the garden colonies, bursting at the seams with energy and life. Having just left so much death, it was very strange indeed.

 

it wasn't just the Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis

it wasn’t just the Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis

 

 

 

 

the memorial at the prison to those who sacrificed their lives by fighting the 'Hitler dictatorship' of 1933-1945'

the memorial at the prison to those who sacrificed their lives by fighting the ‘Hitler dictatorship’ of 1933-1945

 

 

 

 

the execution room

the execution room

 

 

 

 

families were ripped apart

families were ripped apart

 

 

 

 

'To my father Heinz Koch, in honorific commemoration. Your son Klaus, daughter-in-law Heidi and grandchildren'

‘To my father Heinz Koch, in honorific commemoration, your son Klaus, daughter-in-law Heidi and grandchildren’

 

 

 

 

life and death, side by side

life and death, side by side

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

I was so glad to have finally found some of the kleingartenkolonien that I’d heard about and to have met such lovely people as Erika, Gunther and Arno. May the garden colonies continue to overflow with fruit and flowers and not wither under pressure from developers.

And I hope too that the commemorative churches and memorial to the victims of the Nazis ensures that the memory of those people who sacrificed their lives continues to live on. I know I’ll never forget them.

 

 

 

North Charlottenburg - where they are fighting to keep gardens and memories alive

North Charlottenburg – where they are fighting to keep gardens and memories alive

 

 

 

 

dear Berlin(s), goodbye until the next time

dear Berlin(s), goodbye until the next time

 

 

 

 

Coco - 'Berlin is my favourite because it's so relaxed

Coco – ‘Berlin is my favourite because it’s so relaxed

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

It’s been hectic. This week we packed up and moved out of the apartment we’ve called home for six weeks, finished photographing for this post, flew to Rome to overnight in an airport hotel before catching a nine hour flight the next morning to New York… All of which explains why this post is so late. I thought I’d be able to hit the ‘Publish’ button before we left Berlin on Tuesday but time evaporated and before I knew it, we were sitting in a New York taxi listening to loud reggae and Winston, our very chatty and learned Jamaican taxi driver.

So ‘auf wiedersehen’ and ‘tschüs’ Berlin. You’re fascinating and strange and so much more than just the cool, hip – cheap – city they say you are. At times I found you horrifying and saddening, then surprising and uplifting. And even when I didn’t know quite what to think or feel, I always found you interesting.

I can’t wait to come back in ten, twenty, thirty years time to see how you turned out.

And Coco, well, she tells me you’re her favourite city so far – because you’re “so relaxed”. And I thought it was just because of the frankfurters.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Samantha Heron

 —

It’s already Thursday and we’ve just arrived in New York. So the next post will be either Friday or Monday week. See you then.

 

  1. Lucy says:

    This last Berlin post seemed brighter than the others. Maybe it’s just the break in the weather, or all those flowers, but it feels like a happier week for you than the other weeks in Berlin. And the juxtapositions of the awful execution room and the wreaths of flowers there with the aging Germans in their wonderful gardens are spine-tingling. Congratulations on a great post, Louise. Have fun in New York!

  2. Tim says:

    Thanks again for showing me a side of Berlin I had managed to skip during my living there. The Schrebergaerten are a cultural phenomena not just of Berlin but many German cities. And indeed sometimes (snobbishly) put down as ‘spiessig’ (hard to translate, something like common-conservative-smallminded). Great to see the abundance of life and happiness growing in them.

  3. Magdalena says:

    Thank you Louise and Coco!!! I think this is my favourite post – it reminded me of my childhood, because most of my days I would spend in my gran’s “little garden” – she still has one, unfortunately as she gets older it gets harder for her to get there, but everytime I get to go to Poland I’m there (maybe one day you’ll visit that wonderful country). Those places are like paradise for kids – lots of fruit and vegetables, funky hedges and those little houses (of course they used to be our mansions) and I remeber we would swap for other things with the ‘neighbours’ – we gave them strawberries and they gave us some cherries… it was so much fun… Unfortunately they are also getting smaller in Poland, so much land “wasted” where there could be some residential apartments… so sad… It’s summer in Poland so my parents with their friends are bbq-ing in their ‘garden’ everytime they get a chance… thanks again and good luck – what a trip from Berlin to NY – I bet it’s hot and sticky and million people around… XOXO

  4. Chantal says:

    I love these gardens & little houses – how wonderful to have these in a city like Berlin – a little bit of country in the city & everyone looks so healthy – glad to see that gardening is the fountain of youth ( especially as I am a recent convert!).

    NYC – have a fab time & I look forward to your posts

    CX

  5. suzanne says:

    Brilliant post of colour and heartbreak. Thank you.

  6. Uta says:

    Great post! Can’t wait for NYC….

  7. Bargy says:

    So glad you found these allotments. loved the picture of Wolfgang.

  8. John Ellis says:

    The gaiety of flowers, the horrors of memory and the always slightly disturbing insistence on flags (anywhere). Some wonderful photos here.

  9. Gail says:

    Looking forward to hearing about New York. Don’t forget to walk the Highline!

  10. Louise says:

    Lucy – You couldn’t help feel happy wandering around the garden colonies – and it did finally feel like summer with some absolutely beautiful afternoon light. But it was so strange being so near the hideousness of that execution room.
    Tim – My pleasure!
    Magdalena – So they have these garden colonies in Poland too? I guess they’re in many European cities where there are loads of apartment blocks and long, cold winters. So glad you enjoyed the post!
    Chantal – It was seriously like being in the country. You didn’t hear anything but birds, bees and occasional voices from the neighbours – even though the area is right near the airport and the U-Bahn, main road etc. Good luck with the gardening!
    Suzanne – Danke.
    Uta – We landed in NY with huge thunderstorms blacking out the light at 4pm in the afternoon – but yesterday and today the sky is blue! Can’t wait to get out there and start snapping.
    Bargy – Wolfgang and his hat struck me as so German. Not Berlin but German.
    John – The flags are interesting – we’ve just had Euro Cup football and the Olympics so maybe they were out and proud because of that – but I suspect not.
    Gail – I’ve been to NY a number of times but the Highline is new to me so I’m looking forward to it.

  11. mimi says:

    Absolute favorite of Berlin!!!

  12. Tim M says:

    Louise I am so happy that you found time to get to a garden colony. It really is a fairytale world in there. Back in the day there was no other option for a holiday house living surrounded by the GDR. Maybe this is where the flags came from.

    On this theme, one of the kookiest garden colonies ever was Fichteswiese – an exclave of West Berlin just across the border in the GDR. If you had a plot there, you rang a door-bell and were let through the Berlin Wall by a Volksarmee soldier to go water your plants. And they weren’t too keen on you having your friends over for a Barbie either. Yes, really.

    • Louise says:

      Tim – Fairytale is the word for it, populated by a cast of characters from the smiling gnomes to larger than life sunflowers and smaller than average – well it seemed like it – people. So I can’t begin to imagine what Fichteswiese must have been like – not a fairytale by the sounds of it! Nothing like having a man with a gun stand beside you while you tend to your roses.

  13. Natalie says:

    Hi Louise
    Can’t wait for New York. Just wanted to say don’t ever delete this blog – it’s something people will come back to again and again because there’s too much to absorb in one visit!

    • Louise says:

      Natalie – Don’t worry, I won’t be hitting the delete button anytime soon! Quite the opposite – I hope the project can live forever so people can see what these places were like in 100+ years time. How interesting would that be?? (My first blog, 52 Suburbs in Sydney, will be kept online by the NSW State Library ‘in perpetuity’ for exactly this reason, so that as long as the internet is around, the blog will be accessible. Very cool.)

  14. Ellen says:

    Love the gardens ive been doin lots of nothing really well ok for a while i wSnt reasin coz i was dustracted with readin a charge mums fb page then i just been u no that charge mum was actualy the one i told u bout ages ago that luved in chicago when u were thinkin of places that person sadly passed a greT loss for the charge community love u

    • Louise says:

      Ellen – So sorry to hear about your Charge mum. That’s very sad. Hope you’re keeping well.

  15. Kate says:

    Hi Louise, I’ve recently read through all your posts and it’s wonderful going on these little journeys! I’ve never been to Berlin but am really keen to after your last few posts.
    I remember you mentioning searching out some gluten-free food and now that you’re in NY I wanted to let you know of this place: http://risotteria.com/
    if you’re in need of a gluten-free feast :) (Although NY in general is pretty gf friendly – make sure you get to WholeFoods supermarkets)
    Looking forward to the next post,
    Kate.

    • Louise says:

      Kate – Thanks for thinking of my stomach! I actually know of Risotteria and love it! The best GF pizza ever. And I just loaded up on GF stuff from WholeFoods yesterday. All NY needs now is Europe’s excellent Schar range of GF food.

  16. debbie harman qadri says:

    I have been doing a project in one suburb with lots of smiles, but I think you may have influenced me a lottle with all those amzing things you find in a suburb, both good and bad or obvious, or beneath the surface.
    the blog is called
    smile your’e in coburg

  17. Sharon says:

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your time in Berlin. My son is heading to Berlin in a few weeks so I intend to share your posts with him this week. Your adventures never cease to amaze me. Can’t wait for New York.

    • Louise says:

      Sharon – If your son is under 30 he’s probably going to fall head over heels for the place. It’s such an interesting city for any age group but for those with boundless energy and no kids (!) I think it would be pretty amazing.

  18. Sarah says:

    Another delightful post… And I’m looking forward to NYC – it’s equal favourite city with Paris!! I work to afford to visit one or the other each year (you’ve got to have something to work towards I figure!) I loved all the flower photos – those purple ones with orange spiky centres are echinacea I think… Thanks once again!

    • Louise says:

      Sarah – That’s a pretty good reason to work really. A friend of mine reckoned that was the only reason to work – to be able to travel. I concur.

  19. Jackie Nolan says:

    Hi Louise, Charlottenburg or rather North Charlottenburg was fascinating through your eyes.
    I found the Garden Colonies/KleingartenKolonien
    so interesting. The abundance of fruit and flowers,
    the memorial for the 2,500 executed for their beliefs,
    the inhabitants, the gnomes, the flags and life in
    general. Thanks so much for this insight. I am
    having a great time joining your adventures. J.F.N

    • Louise says:

      Jackie – My pleasure to bring this little quirky corner of the world into your living room.

  20. Rob Steer says:

    A very moving read and I love the juxtapositions of your photographs, kind of like ying/yang.

    I look forward to reading and viewing more of your adventures.

    • Louise says:

      Rob – Danke. So glad you enjoyed it. More coming soon!

  21. Peter McConnochie says:

    Loved it – a place of sun, new life but still under the shadow of the history of the country. A great ending totally unlike other suburbs in Berlin.
    Loved the shot of the strawberries in the guys hands and cringed at the difference between this and the loud suffocating NY scene – looking forward to NY as I’ve not made it over to NY yet. Hope your both settled in well and CoCo is enjoying a more familiar? lifestyle for a few weeks.

    • Louise says:

      Peter – So different. And so different I imagine to the current perception of Berlin as the hip, cool capital of the world. NY will be up soon…

  22. Elisa says:

    Amazing pics like usual. I can’t wait to see NY! Coco said that Berlin is the favourite, but if she knew that this evening I ate a gelato in the ice cream shop in Trastevere, probably remembered that she loved Rome, too!! :-D

    A really big hug to both, Elisa

    • Louise says:

      Elisa – Grazie! You know Coco loved Rome too. How could she not. Aside from the history it had the best pizza, gelato – and you! Hope all’s well with you and so happy to know you’re still following the project. x

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