Step aside! Here comes the Kiezlabor 

Our time in Marzahn-Hellersdorf

By Nora Eilers

Alice Salomon was a leading German social reformer as well as a pioneer in the field of social work and social pedagogy, so she definitely deserved to have a square named after her in the heart of the district of Marzahn-HellersdorfAlice-Salomon-Platz is a transportation hub and university site which has numerous stores, restaurants and public facilities. As such, it ought to be a vibrant center of urban life and social interaction

But the square is in need of a little freshening up, and the idea now is to achieve this by means of a participation process that is just getting underway. The “CaT – Campus Transferalefunding project at Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences (ASH Berlin) is dedicated to supporting this process, among other things. Funded by the federal-state programme Innovative Hochschule, the project aims to promote the exchange of knowledge between the university and the neighbourhood in order to create a place that enhances the community’s quality of life.

The project involves annual transfer festivals to promote dialog between the university and the neighborhood. The whole thing got underway in 2023 – and what could be a better conversation starter than a six-ton shipping container converted into a Tiny House

So under the motto “Shaping the city together”, we set off for our final location this year to Marzahn-Hellersdorf – and we came back with a whole lot of highlights and impressions, conversations and visions for the future! We’d like to share some memories with you in the article below.

The Kiezlabor is located between Woolworth’s and the city hall on Alice-Salomon-Platz.
We traveled to Marzahn-Hellersdorf with a wild program, lots of play-doh, pens and paper, and the Stadtvisionen AI tool. © Edgard Berendsen

The start was a festive occasion: the opening of Transferale 

For our last location, we had great support in the programming from Elène Misbach, Transfer, Cooperation and Third Mission Officer at Alice Salomon University and project collaborator in the Transfer_Hub – Campus Transferale, who put together the varied events together with the Kiezlabor team, and involved us in the Transferale and the ongoing participation process for the redesign of Alice-Salomon-Platze. On the Monday we were all able to celebrate the opening together with some members of the university management, the Berlin Migration Council and the District City Council. We asked Elène Misbach about her impressions of working with the Kiezlabor team: 

I really enjoyed working with the team. I was impressed by how open, friendly, competent, relaxed, flexible and fun everyone in the team was, also in dealing with unforeseen situations. I learned a lot from them about how to just approach people – doing outreach work in public spaces, so to speak, engaging with the issues and the people on the ground. As a cooperation partner (representing the entire Transfer_Hub team) it seemed perfectly natural for me to become a (temporary) member of the team – certainly not something to be taken for granted. It’s a really great team, and I definitely look forward to doing more projects together.

Elène Misbach, Officer for Transfer, Cooperation and Third Mission at Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences
In Alice Salomon Square, advocacy for a vibrant and climate-smart open space is coming from a variety of places.
© Edgard Berendsen
Elène Misbach (ASH Berlin, Campus Transferale project) actively supported us throughout the week.
© Edgard Berendsen
We started with an exciting panel discussion where different actors shared their ideas for the square. © Edgard Berendsen

Snacking to combat food waste  

Food waste in big cities like Berlin is a widespread problem that results in the loss of valuable resources and has a negative impact on the environment. Despite lots of efforts to tackle the problem, it remains a challenge for many households due to a combination of factors such as overproduction, package sizes, unused leftovers and the rapid perishability of food. We tried to work together with the communal park Bürgergarten Helle Oase to go about tackling the problem in the most creative and sustainable way possible by cooking to combat waste! Here are some insights from Anne Kruse, one of the cooks on the Kiezlabor team:

““The smell of freshly prepared spreads made from salvaged food waste attracted diverse individuals. A lot of passers-by stopped for a moment to casually ask the Consumer Advice Center about the proper storage of food and then try a little of the delicious pastes freshly prepared by Anna of Bürgergarten Helle Oase and the local food sharing group. Older people shared their tips for combating food waste, and various individuals signed up directly for food sharing as well!

Anne Kruse, Kiezlabor team
It can be cooked! Tips and tricks against food waste included.
We are not only full, but also smarter.

Juliane Witt, district councilor for social affairs and citizen services, also reports, “Especially in urban areas, there is so much potential to counter the issue of food waste with creative means. I happened to pass by the Kiezlabor here and am pleased that the topic is finding its way into urban practice.”

Shaping the city together – what does Marzahn-Hellersdorf think about Alice-Salomon-Platz?

What is the potential role of an open, inviting space created by means of a prototyping and placemaking approach and evolving from a participatory process? Alice-Salomon-Platz is to be redesigned, ensuring quality of stay and climate resilience – but how exactly is this to be done? What are the must-haves? We wanted to hear from people on the ground about what they want from their square, so we took along a huge truck tarpaulin from Gruppe F on which the Alice-Salomon-Platz was drawn in detail, our popular AI city vision toolmodular furniture, and DIY materials that could be used to briefly visualize visitors’ ideas. Carolin Clausnitzer led one of the workshops on site and was thrilled at participants’ creativity:  

Residents and citizens were able to gather their ideas for the neighborhood at various stations, using plasticine, drawings, photos, words – whichever medium they preferred for the purpose of self-expression. The results were then placed on the tarp – the visualization of the square. At the kneading station, an oasis was created with a sun awning, a hammock and a small pond, for example. At the photo station, cut-out bushes and trees were visualized next to a half-pipe. The citizens clearly want more greenery on Alice-Salomon-Platz. But the map also included requests for a revival of the harvest festival, as well as various markets and meeting places. It would be nice to be able to produce an overall concept that brings together the various needs and their implementation.”

Carolin Clausnitzer, Kiezlabor team
The tarpaulin is ready for the wishes and ideas of the visitors. © Edgard Berendsen
As the week progresses, more and more visions for the space come together. © Edgard Berendsen
A wide variety of materials are used in the Kiezlabor. © Edgard Berendsen
More trees, a small stream or a completely green facade – with the help of image-generative artificial intelligence, (almost) anything is possible! © Edgard Berendsen

Henriette Närger of the Kiezlabor team listened to lots of people expressing what they wanted for the square: “Over a number of days, the Kiezlabor managed to create a place where people meet, sit down and exchange ideas. A lot of people were initially frustrated and pessimistic about the future of the square, but they had all kinds of suggestions as to what concrete change should look like, including things like more space for people to meet, an attractive design, events such as a weekly market, greenery, water and seating.”

Henriette: “Many children also stopped by to linger, to play, but also to share their own anecdotes and wishes about the place.”

The Kiezlabor – for young and old alike 

The AWO senior citizens’ network Seniorennetzwas once again a guest at the Kiezlabor and was able to introduce its services to elderly people. At first we only received curious glances, but soon a few senior citizens gathered and were able to find out about the online offerings provided by the platform over flat cake from the neighboring bakery and hot coffee. They were also interested to hear about technical solutions for an age-appropriate home provided by the care experts of Pflege 4.0In spite of the fact that it was a rainy October day, Markus Sperl of the Kiezlabor team got talking to people:

The issue of redesigning Alice-Salomon-Platz is something that interests those who’ve lived there for decades, too. But they’ve seen so many changes implemented without being consulted that it’s sometimes difficult for them to take the idea of participation seriously. Nonetheless, if you’re patient, it is possible to tease some good ideas for age-appropriate design out of them – even if it’s just the simple fact that there need to be benches with a backrest.

Markus Sperl, Kiezlabor team
Everyone agrees on one thing: something has to change on Alice-Salomon-Platz. © Edgard Berendsen
Here it was still sunny. But even in the rain, many conversations have taken place. © Edgard Berendsen

Sun and balcony – soaking up the sun one more time before going into hibernation

Saturday! After a gray start to the day, the fog lifted and blue skies and sunshine made for a fitting farewell as Kiezlabor heads into hibernation. The last day was visibly busier than the previous bad-weather days. Migrantas e.V. set up a station at which local residents were able to participate in the design of a work of artfor Alice-Salomon-Platz. People got to choose symbols and icons that best represent the neighborhood and its residents. They were then able to paint the symbol printed on a jute bag, or take it home with them. The last event of the week started in the afternoon: Plan B was our guest and joined us in celebrating an application party for balcony power plants. They brought along with them a real balcony with solar panels, home solar expertise, and an interested group of guests who were guided through the application form at two tables along with representatives of Plan B.

PLAN B’s vision: They are committed to a safe, social and climate-neutral Berlin by 2030.
The campaign for quick installation of balcony power plants finds many supporters. © Philipp Czampiel
The Kiezlabor was able to enjoy a farewell day full of visitors. © Philipp Czampiel

At the onset of dusk, the last guests said goodbye and the Kiezlabor team – tired but happy – set aboutdismantling the setup for the last time this year. Boxes were stacked, small parts were stowed away and the van was loaded. Elène Misbach also lent a hand, and we conclude with her personal highlight:

“For me the absolute highlight par excellence overall was the openness and the curiosity of the locals. There were lots of great encounters and conversations. I especially liked the fact that a group of youngsters came by on their bikes and scooters every day, slurping sodas, asking lots of questions, and doing their circles and laps in between.  To be somewhat euphoric, you might say that the Kiezlabor moved the periphery into the center – or moved the center to the periphery. To be continued …”

Elène Misbach
We pack up and still can’t believe how quickly the first months with our Kiezlabor have flown by.
© Philipp Czampiel
Even professionals still need at least 40 minutes for dismantling! © Philipp Czampiel

So now it’s back to Tempelhof – see you soon, Marzahn-Hellersdorf! We had lots of fun! Special thanks for the great support provided by ASH and the cheerful reception we received from local residents. We’re already very excited about where the Kiezlabor Tour 2024 will take us! Now it’s time for our Kiezlabor team to review the year and go on developing the prototype!