Transition tales #21: A village within a city

From the best parties in town to city-making, only in Berlin

May 1st 2017 marked the opening of Holzmarkt25, an urban experiment as alternative as the capital city it takes place in. Berlin is setting an unconventional precedent by allowing city quarters to be built by local nightclub owners and party organisers. The shiny, glossy views of property developers are being replaced with recycled wood and secondhand building materials. The Holzmarkt development trades the luxury high-end apartment complexes for a more human-scale approach: a sustainable urban village.

Located on the right banks of the Spree river, close to Berlin’s Ostbahnhof station, Holzmarkt promises to be a unique cultural village within the innercity of the German capital. The 12,000 square meters area includes an eco-sustainable complex for the local creative community, a public park that revives the river banks, ateliers, a restaurant, a hotel and a club that brings back the grittiness of the underground subculture. Aesthetically, the Holzmarkt captures the ever-changing cultural and visual landscape of Berlin through an informal, artistic and contrasting melange of wooden constructions inside or alongside industrial surfaces.

The urban village of the future ©Architektengemeinschaft-Holzmarkt/carpaneto.schoeningh/Hütten Paläste Urban Affairs

The project is a pioneer of urban transformation resisting the capitalist strain, a win for the commons going against property developers. Holzmarkt prides itself on representing the 2008 citizen-initiated referendum against Mediaspree, a municipal urban-renewal group responsible for organising property developments along the Spree river. The initial development plan set by Mediaspree had all the components of the capitalist sphere: office spaces, luxury lofts, hotels, company headquarters, and an overall 80,000 square meters of floor area. Around 87% of the local population signed a petition in 2008 against the top-down development, asking for a more local-oriented transformation. This led to no avail, and the site was due to be regenerated as planned. According to The Guardian, the lucky break came in 2012, when discussions between the municipal group and private investors feel through. The plot of land was later acquired by a Swiss fund, which leased it back to a cooperative founded by regulars of Bar25, a local venue that represented Berlin’s post-millennial underground culture. You can read the full article here.


‘If your position is that you are always against everything that is changing in this city, then you’ll eventually get overrun and left behind. You have to learn to use the system to your advantage’. – Juval Dieziger, co-founder Holzmarkt (source: The Guardian)

The Holzmarkt project is set up as a three pillar network based on Quarter Management, Civic Participation and Capital. As a cooperative network, it functions on the principles of fairness, balance between creativity and capital, transparency and participation. The goal is to transform the area into an unique urban village, an organic developed community where all involved can inspire each other, foster local diversity and work within the sharing economy.

The creative space is protected against the interests of capital.’ (source: Holzmarkt: Konzept & Architektur)

The challenge for the next couple of months will be wether Holzmarkt, as an organic development, is able to function coherently and integrate in the city’s structure without a clear set of regulations and limits. Berlin has been setting the trend of bottom-up initiatives at a European level, becoming a model for other cities in terms of the openness towards innovative ideas and local initiatives. Unconventional projects, such as Holzmarkt, can strengthen Berlin’s character as a role model of city-making, yet at the same time can pose challenges due to its ‘constantly changing place with sparkling energy’ (source: Holzmarkt: Konzept & Architektur). 

The future of Holzmarkt ©GRAFT and Kleihues+Kleihues

Based on the experiences with the temporary use, the Holzmarkt is to create a structural framework to promote and stimulate change. Temporary leases keep the Holzmarkt in motion and at the same time make room for new and young talents.’ (source: Holzmarkt: Konzept & Architektur)

With the Holzmarkt officially opened for the past two days, time will tell if this urban experiment will be a success. Nevertheless, it seems that Berlin tirelessly evolves, with new energies that shape its surface and character.

Feeling inspired? Watch Juval Dieziger, co-founder of Holzmarkt, tell the story of the innovation project in the video below.

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