Space in the city: our Kiezlabor in Graefekiez

By Pia Gralki
Highlights of our Kiezlabor on a neighborhood tour – this time in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg!

Our location on the corner of Dieffenbachstrasse and Grimmstrasse at the heart of the lively neighborhood of Graefekiez made us feel both hopeful and excited: will residents feel restricted by the fact that we’ve taken over the sidewalk on this corner, or will they respond all the more curiously to a newcomer in their neighborhood? Our Tiny House is compact, but it still takes up about the space of two parked cars: will some people be bothered by this in an area where parking space can be in short supply, or will they welcome the new sight on their doorstep?

Our Kiezlabor in Graefekiez. Foto: Holger Gross

Addressing these questions immediately catapulted us into our focus topic on site: space in the city.How and for what purpose is public space used, and what visions for the future are there in the neighborhood itself? How is it possible to provide more cooperative housing on a social-ecological basis  and also improve mobility? How can digital tools and methods be used to visualize ideas of this kind? We worked with the Graefekiez project from September 6 to 17 in order to get a grip on these questions, also inviting experts to come to the Kiezlabor  to initiate lots of fascinating debate with visitors and residents through workshops, meetups and presentations.

For spontaneous ideas that need to be tried out particularly quickly, modelling clay is available at the Kiezlabor.

It was also important for us to test in practice how public space can be used in different ways and what formats are possible when flexible street furniture is suddenly available at the side of the road or parking spaces are unsealed, freeing up new space. In this review we share some of the highlights from this varied program and the numerous inspiring discussions that it gave rise to.

Always with us: our Kiezbot. Foto: Enzo Leclercq
These three personalities from our Kiezbots must not be missing from the Kiezlabor – amazing conversations are guaranteed. Foto: Enzo Leclercq
With our idea cube, the pavement is spontaneously transformed into a funfair. Foto: Enzo Leclercq

Topics such as the transportation transition, parking space management and unsealing have a major impact on people’s everyday lives. So measures of this type not only have to be well planned but also explained. In our Kiezlabor, we can use digital tools to bring complex concepts to life and explain them to interested citizens. This enables us to genuinely engage in dialog with each other.

Lena Osswald, Participation Coordinator at the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Roads and Parks Department, at her open consultation sessions held during the Kiezlabor opening times
Our colleague Anna Meide presented her exhibit on the topic of land sealing and groundwater in the neighbourhood lab. Foto: Enzo Leclercq
A woman explains the exhibit to her child. Foto: Enzo Leclercq

Familiar faces: the citizen center vocational training department as a permanent guest

We got to welcome Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg citizen center vocational training department to our Kiezlabor  – not for one, not for two, but for four whole days. Spending so much time together really generated a common team spirit – we even braved the first downpour together and spontaneously moved the citizen center from outdoors into the compact but exquisite space inside our four walls.

During the rain, the employees of the Citizens’ Training Office set up their office in the neighbourhood laboratory for a short time.
A visitor spontaneously uses the service of the training citizens’ office in our neighbourhood lab. Foto: Enzo Leclercq.
In bright sunshine, the citizens’ office takes place outdoors and directly on the pavement.

Here, too, there were lots of happy faces: “It was great to see how easy everything was. As one local resident told us after a spontaneous appointment: “I drive past here every day on my way to work, so I felt like I was in a dreamland when I got an appointment just like that”. One mother applied for ID cards for her three children and was delighted to see that there was space for the kids to play, providing plenty of distraction while she took care of the formalities. And the citizen center training department felt at home in our Tiny House, too: As one employee said, summing up the visit: “The reactions from everyone were consistently positive – even if we weren’t able to offer a requested service here on site, everyone was grateful for us being there and glad to have the opportunity to engage in dialog, and they thanked us for our work.”

There was even more good humor when Berlin’s Chief Digital Officer Martina Klement paid a visit to the citizen center training department at the Kiezlabor – and spontaneously shared the program on social media herself.

Foto: Enzo Leclercq
Chief Digital Officer Berlin Martina Klement with CityLAB employee Anne Kruse and the employees of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg training centre. Foto: Enzo Leclercq
Foto: Enzo Leclercq

Robots: now they can even paint!

Together with artist Tee Kundu and interested passers-by, we hacked toys and turned them into drawing machines for using street chalk. Using loops and wooden strips, we then transformed our own bodies into drawing machines, too, and imitated the robot. Make use of public space in this way with our own bodies, movement and tools was immensely enjoyed by adults and children alike.

The Berlin Volunteering Days: learning from neighborhood legends!

Of course we’d be delighted if our Kiezlabor was elevated to the status of a neighborhood legend one day, but at least we got to learn from the pros – in this case Kalle Witzkowski – at the Berlin Volunteering DaysPrimeTimeTheater . While Kalle’s enthusiasm for volunteering had a contagious effect on those around him, the author of Die NährstoffgeschichteMaren Bucec, provided information about healthy food for children and got them involved in creative play and craft activities. For anyone wanting to follow in Kalle’s footsteps, the charity organization Paritätischer Landesverband Berlin offered great volunteering opportunities as they shared insights into craft projects, environmental protection initiatives and support services for children and young people. We were delighted to be part of the Volunteering Days and were impressed by the level of commitment that is already there in the neighborhood.

Kalle Witzkowski from PrimeTimeTheatre with a visitor. Foto: Holger Gross
Foto: Holger Gross
The neighbourhood legend in person. Foto: Holger Gross

Developing visions for a green neighborhood together

How can we bring more nature into the city? How can Berlin become more climate-resilient? How can we create a community for gardening in our own neighborhood and promote biodiversity in the process? Together with the 1769 Urban Resilience Lab and local residents, we addressed these questions using Design Thinking at our Smart Garden City Design Thinking Workshop. This creative method of finding solutions to problems and realizing visions seemed to go down well: “The workshop was great fun! I found it interesting to learn about methods and ask new questions. We went from big and crazy ideas to concrete, feasible possibilities for the neighborhood. I thought the best thing about it was that children could simply join in and were involved in a completely normal way. They see our surroundings with very different eyes – and that really enriched the group session”, one participant told us.

Participants of the Smart Garden City Design Thinking Workshop

“My mental map of the Graefekiez became more colorful today! It was my first workshop in the neighborhood where I live and it was great fun. The variety of ideas and the energy around the table was really great – after a bit of magic and a colorful mix of methods, the project ideas are now ready for implementation and people are very motivated. An excellent basis for a greener neighborhood that is a better place to live.”

Participant of the Smart Garden City Design Thinking Workshop

Opening of the 2023 Summer School

The popular Summer School format returned and was ushered in right away at the Kiezlabor. It involves students working on various challenges based around a particular focus – in this case the topic of “Prototyping for the healthy city”. Blending an interdisciplinary approach with a practical orientation, this year we devoted ourselves to the vision of a livable city of the future, taking a closer look at the factors of noise and noise levels and how food can be produced in an urban context. 

At the Kiezlabor , the Summer School got off to a busy start, and everyone was very excited about this year’s program: “I’m delighted that we’re able to start the Summer School at this special venue this year. The Kiezlabor is all about prototyping work that is rooted directly in the urban space. Here, students can incorporate real-life challenges and different perspectives in their projects”, said Professor Olga Willner, who is involved in the project. We also look forward to seeing the students’ ideas and final theses for the city of the future.

Kick-off of the Summer School 2023

Bringing ideas to life with artificial intelligence

The Graefekiez district is to be converted to a traffic-calmed neighborhood. After Graefestrasse and Böckhstrasse, the other streets are also to be adapted, not least taking into account the needs of local residents. We often only see what disappears, not what new space is being created for. What might these new areas look like? How could they be used? With the help of image-generating artificial intelligence, we visualized various concepts and preferences in no time at all – and we invited an entire school class to the Kiezlabor for this purpose. The children’s imagination was boundless, but they also came up with some very concrete suggestions, such as planting more trees to provide shade in summer and to be decorated in winter.

“I observed the children’s faces during the workshop – and what struck me was their enthusiasm when they were able to contribute their ideas so easily and even get a visual impression of them at the Kiezlabor. The kids were aware of a wide variety of needs: one suggestion was to have a café where parents could meet when they get together at school”, said class teacher Veronica Rodriguez, who also attended. We can’t promise whether Graefekiez will eventually get its own ice cream van and a play area for puppies, but we will certainly keep our fingers crossed on behalf of all the children (and adults)!

A meadow for puppies and a small pond? Thanks to artificial intelligence, such ideas could be tried out spontaneously.

Conclusion and look ahead

The people of the Graefekiez district responded very positively to our Kiezlabor and were quick to explore it and make use of it. Lots of people dropped by in passing, enabling us to spontaneously engage in conversation and invite them to take part in the program. We also enjoyed seeing more and more familiar faces as the days went by.

A workshop in the neighbourhood lab. Foto: Enzo Leclercq
Part of the Kiezlabor team. Foto: Enzo Leclercq
The workshops unleashed a great deal of creativity – including for new urban visions. Foto: Enzo Leclercq

Our use of a large area of the sidewalk was also quickly accepted as an invitation to come in and hang out. A great deal of creativity was unleashed in the discussions, lectures and workshops, and we managed to initiate productive dialog on the use of public space – which is exactly what the Kiezlabor aims to achieve.

Foto: Enzo Leclercq
We always collect feedback from our individual locations. Foto: Enzo Leclercq

We’re now going to take this positive energy with us to our final location for this year before it’s time for our Kiezlabor to go into well-deserved hibernation: Marzahn-Hellersdorf, here we come! From October 16 to 22 we get to use Alice-Salomon-Platz to explore the theme of “Shaping the city together”. You’ll soon be able to view the program on our website – and we look forward to seeing you there as always!