Dead Zone Alive

Images are author's unless otherwise noted

As soon as I arrived at this park I was met with music and pure energy. Seemingly endless, the 20-acre park features countless street artists performing in their own corners of the park. Bear Pit Karaoke, built into a hill along a preserved section of the Berlin Wall, treats a diverse audience to amateur singing and other performances. A basketball court bustles, a playground stirs, one of Berlin's largest flea markets flows, and the park breathes as life exists once again in a former death strip. 

Like most areas in Berlin, Mauerpark has a deep history. Originally a military training ground, in 1872 a goods station opened on the land. After the first world war, part of the park was devoted to gardening while another part was turned into sport areas. With the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and given that the park lay right along the border of East and West Berlin, Mauerpark was recommissioned as a border or "death" strip, unaccessible to Berliners, a lost piece of greenery. In fact, in order to help guards watch the area clearly, toxins were put into the soil devoiding the area of any plant growth. When the wall came down, though, residents from Wedding (in West Berlin) and Prenzlauer Berg (East Berlin) quickly reclaimed the land, planting whatever would grow. In 1993, toxic soil was removed and replaced and the following spring began a more organized effort at repopulating the land with native vegetation. 

Today the vegetation continues to grow across the park that now offers a whole range of activities. The preserved section of the Berlin Wall that runs along the park is constantly reworked by graffiti artists, swings atop the hill (created by war debris) provide beautiful views of the area, the flea market offers everything from journals (I bought one in fact) to an old first-aid kit, and the space certainly dawns an aura of sustainability. In fact, it's an active experiment in recreating a park and demonstrates that while natural elements deserve attention, the human element cannot be ignored. A truly sustainable space requires a human interaction that both helps maintain the space (i.e. by planting trees and restoring polluted soil) and define it (with music, graffiti, and even journals). And by asking for an active involvement, the space ensures a more significant impact.