The little south German city I come from consists mostly of suburb-style row homes. Every family has that two-story, three bedroom house to live in and a patch of green in the back of it, safely secured by bushes and trees from the peek-a-boos of the neighbors. That, in its very essence, is the German way of life.
Berlin is different (as always). Due to the rising population in the 1870s, a new way of living had to be found. That’s how the tenements, the block of flats, came into existence. The “Vorderhaus” — front house — was reserved for the bourgeoisie, while in the back houses the servants and workmen and the poor people found their homes. Thinking about it today, the block architecture and urban problem solving efficiency of the back-then politicians was a top-notch job. I mean, we’re ultimately facing the same issues (rising population and whatnot) and the only thing people can think about is bullying tourists til they leave again…
Think of the Hackeschen Höfe, or the Schlesische Höfe, or anything with “Höfe” in it. That’s what we’re talking about here.
Anyway. That’s why Berlin is so uniquely endowed with shared backyards. They’re the little microcosms of the Berliners. Sometimes there are three or more backyards basically added to each other, building a row. You’d never guess what’s beyond the gates from the outside, and most people who come for a trip to Berlin wouldn’t even know. Hell, it’s definitely a one-of-a-kind experience. Will it be full of graffiti? Will there be loads of bikes? Is there a story to this particular building?
That’s initially how the idea of series about Berlin Backyards started (with a special thanks to Fousieh who inspired us with a little Instagram series of backyard gates of her own). I went around with iGNANT-Caro last week to check out some backyards we either heard about or just stumbled into. Of course this crosses some boundaries of privacy, so we opted to just go where the doors were open, where our friends lived or where we knew there are public instituions.
In this upcoming series, we’ll feature two different backyards for each article. Sometimes there will be a story to tell, but I decided to let the visuals speak for themselves in many cases. If you have an interesting backyard that you would like us to portray, don’t hesitate to hit us up and let us know. We’ll try to get around the whole city, so whether it’s Prenzlauer Berg or Schöneberg, we’re up for anything we haven’t yet seen.
The first backyard of our series is astonishing in how it’s probably the oldest un-renovated building in Berlin. But alongside that, the residents seem to have fun decorating the backyard itself as well as the staircases leading up to the apartments. One resident we met told us how it gets really cold in the winter and how sometimes grout and plaster crumble from the ancient rooftop. Better not to let your children play here, huh?
The second backyard is a bit more tended to. Obviously not just pretty, but hoarding its little secrets. A little crafts space, wild flowers, definitely where children once played or still run around. A beautiful staircase and an industrial outside elevator add to the backyards flair. Here is not just where people reside, here is also where people work, make a living, own shops or ateliers. Just like that we entered into a parallel universe. Not exactly knowing what all of it was about, it was still capturing enough to have us roaming around there for a good half hour before we decided to move onto the next one.
We will follow up with two more backyards next week. Stay tuned!