The little south German city I come from consists mostly of suburb-style box 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.
Berlin is different. 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.
That’s why Berlin is so uniquely endowed with shared backyards. They’re the little microcosms. Sometimes there are three or more backyards basically added to each other, building a row. 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 institutions.
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.
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.