My first day in Berlin I go for a walk, skating aimlessly with a loose goal of finding the museum of musical instruments as they have an exhibit on electronic instruments that I’d be interested in exploring. A bit lost, I ask for directions. A man tells me to get on the metro a block away. I don’t really want to ride the metro. I like skating and getting lost. But I head in that direction. I go down into the metro, and then decide to walk so head back out. On my way up the stairs I see a sign, handmade and surrounded by plants – all the makings of a communal space. I head in and sure enough, there’s a beautiful communal garden and space. I see a gardening workshop of about 15 people, a yoga class starting on a giant plaform, rows and rows of baskets filled with plants, a café and food shop, a seating area fill of people.
I stop to ask two women who are speaking English what this place is. It was an abandoned lot that two men took over to turn into a community garden space. The place is full and the people are welcoming. I explore a bit more and find a library full of social theory texts, a free clothing shop, a wall describing other community spaces, a model home that was built to show how to build your own house, a bicycle workshop, and a metalworking workshop with a man named Hans fixing the roof.
Hans feels like a guide. He is happy to answer all my questions, shows me a prototype of a standing skateboard/scooter he is inventing, and lets me help him build the roof.
Hans explains that the space is the german version of an NGO so it is run with a hierarchy. The two founders are in charge but are currently fighting about something. Essentially anyone is welcome to come and propose a project on Fridays at 1:00. Project proposals are considered by the group and agreed upon if they have the space and resources. In this sense, decisions are actually communal. Current projects include a myriad of art concepts, building a pizza oven, perpetual gardening and crop cultivation, and expanding the workshop. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they have garden meetings, Wednesdays they have open bike and metal workshop hours, Saturdays woodworking meetings. During our conversation, a woman comes over and tells Hans that she had a project OK’d by someone to build a metal shredder and she was told to talk to him. This tells me 1) there are a lot more projects going on that Hans hasn’t mentioned and 2) Hans runs the metal and wood workshop. Hans shows me the welding equipment and woodshed- all available to the public.
Funding for the space primarily comes from the café and restaurant they run with all foodstuffs coming directly from the garden around you. They also rehabilitate furniture and sell those peices, are paid to pick up blackboards that are being thrown out and sell them for further profit as well as other random revenue streams. The space was originally an abandoned lot and they now pay a very small amount per month for the property.
We discuss how everything is fractals. Hans is speaking in reference to our body, but I am thinking about these spaces I have been searching for, the people I’ve met – all fractals of each other, communities with similar purpose, dealing with similar issues that can come together to create a wider network of spaces. He talks with me about evolution and reminds me that we are currently, in this very moment, at the forefront of evolution. You, there, reading my words, congratulations you are it, you are the forefront of evolution.
He also sees us as parasitic but I challenge him here offering my Cancer theory. He agrees that we are one push of a button away from being the greatest catastrophe on this planet, but he also reminds me that the greatest eradication of life came from the introduction of carbon into the planet which is the foundation of all current life, from algae to us. He presents a new potential perspective – We are fungi turning carbon to light. When you fly in the plane and see the city, I see it as a metastatic cancer but he sees it as a fungus.
Hans has traveled a great deal, and mentions that he had a friend when he was younger who was looking for spaces. He accompanied his friend to a space and fell in love with this space, staying on while his friend traveled on. Hans says those who are looking for spaces are really just looking for what’s inside them. I realize he is talking about me and trying to give me advice. He is right. My identity was grounded always in external sources, as an athlete, as a student, as a woman, in politics. I am inseparable from my search. But I also believe that this is necessary. The injustices I experience as a woman, the injustices I cause through colonization, sure must be explored internally, but I also believe we must seek to learn from others who are asking these questions. I am seeking to learn from spaces. I know I am not capable of settling down. I am not looking to find a space to complete me, but from now on I will include myself in discussions of these journeys . What I am experiencing and what the spaces mean to me.
Han’s journey brought him to America, California one time and he says the biggest thing he noticed was the level of consumer slavery. “They buy the car, the house, the couch, the TV. To get in the car to go in the home to sit on the couch to watch the TV and fill their mind with useless shit.” He says america has so much shit, is so cluttered with useless things. Yes there are a lot of good things but most of it is shit. Meanwhile people are living hand to mouth to satisfy their consumer needs. This, he believes, is intentional to create the conditions for consumer slaves.