In 2009, two friends with little gardening experience started planting simple herbs in one of the many vacant lots in Berlin’s city center. At the time, the area was pockmarked by bombing damage from World War II and littered with mattresses and car tires. Today, Prinzessinnengarten is a thriving urban farm in the heart of the city with a cafe and vegetable stand that sell the very produce grown on the community-run farm.
Documentary filmmaker Robert Shaw was inspired by the community gardens he’d seen while visiting Havana, Cuba. He applied a similar collective repurposing of unused urban space to this project in Berlin, a city that’s no stranger to urban abandon. Together with Marco Clausen, he selected a vacant lot beside Moritzplatz that had sat neglected for 60 years, within view of where the Berlin wall once stood.
Since they were merely renting the lot from the city, the farm was designed from the beginning to be mobile. Everything is planted in sandbags, crates, boxes, or raised beds. The garden became a hobby and icebreaker of sorts for the patchwork neighborhood, where older Turkish women might instruct German tech workers on how to properly plant tomato seeds. Families bring their children by day to run among the garden beds, while younger crowds visit come nightfall to powwow in the shade.
The farm grows not only an array of vegetables such as fennel, carrots, radishes, and kale, but also herbs from tarragon to thyme to basil. A beekeeper takes care of the 10,000 bees who pollinate the farm’s abundant flower beds.
Without funding from the city or private sponsors, the farm runs on money made from its vegetable stand and cafe, a converted shipping container selling coffee, beer, and simple dishes such as pizzas, toasts, and sweets that incorporate the farm’s bounty.
The space also holds community organizing functions, if providing Berliners with a taste of organic produce and a serene spot to drink a beer weren’t enough.