An urban communal garden
Pflanzstelle, socio-cultural and urban agriculture in Cologne: A city garden community
In the current context of the crisis in Europe, a sense of individualism increase between the Europeans countries and between people in a country. In a social point of view, cleavages become important between different socials classes and conditions of life. Behind these observations, some people found alternative communities who allow building social links. Then, in Germany, Cologne, I have met the “Pflanzstelle” which means the place where we grow vegetables. It’s an urban garden. How it works?
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, cold and gray I went to Pflanzstelle, located in the district of Kalk-Kapelle. A German friend who accompanies me and called Fadi acts as interpreter for the interview I am about to undertake. At a street corner, I arrived at the scene where the famous urban garden. It is bordered by a long green wire and is facing houses. So it seems to me not see anyone inside, I saw a woman who is trying to close the gate. I call it.
Her name is Martina. She has 50 years working in marketing and joined the community that live Pflanzstelle. What a nice surprise when she tells that in addition to German, she speaks four languages: French, English, Spanish and Italian! The language skills of Fadi suddenly lose all prestige, but it does not detract from the pleasure of his presence by my side this afternoon gloom. Martina gives us visit the garden while answering some questions.
Since the place was a Brownfield, the soils are contaminated. So, we don’t seed directly in it but in jars and palettes. The water is difficult to access. The garden is composed by vegetables and aromatics plants. We don’t use chemicals products and fertilizers. We can’t sleep in Pflanzstelle. During summer and spring, it’s opened everyday from 9h until 20h. But in winter and autumn, it’s more closed. Activities are established like potluck, sensitization of the nature and urban environment with many meetings, concerts, exhibitions. Financially, the seeds, the tools come from pockets of the community and donations outside.
The community includes forty people. Some of them are vegetarians and the others are vegans. Therefore, a new project on the food was created, the spread project. A group of twenty people eat every week one glass jar of vegans spread. That means every person has to produce one glass jar, shop, cook, twenty minutes of preparation, a lot of spoiled energy. In the project there is one person per week who prepares the spread for all people in the group, brings the glasses to the Pflanzstelle where the others come to take it. The system is a rolling system so, one person have to prepare forty spreads for the forty the week. In the meantime, the others prepare for you. The spread is composed with beans, garlic, cayenne pepper and salt from the ocean without iodine.
The people who come in the garden are mostly the neighborhoods and foreigners who represent 70% of the population in Cologne. There is an Iranian of 65 years old and I come every day to cultivate tomatoes and tobacco.
This reappropriation of abandoned space brings a new dimension to urban life and can bring people from different backgrounds and cultures through a manual activity-and especially! – Useful: maintains a vegetable garden. It is a rediscovery of the nature and means of preserving it. The garden is also a way of protest, the image of the “Ecological Footprint” fighting against intensive farming and overabundant consumption of meat, one of the disparities between rich and poor.
A place where we can exchange smiles, advice, opinions … and vegetables! Martina, for his kindness and availability, seemed to personify the will of humanism at the origin of this experience. Clear proof that, whatever the circumstances; nothing can replace the daily exchange with each other.
The urban garden initiative exists in other German cities as well as in other major cites around the globe and seems an effective way to preserve human relations within the city.
The meeting with Martina deeply affected by her generosity and her joy of living. I ‘am feeling hopeful for a more consolidated world.