[Video] How a man challenged East & West Berlin with a vegetable garden
Everybody agrees that Berlin’s history still feels very vibrant today, like it has “just finished”. The fall of the Berlin Wall is still relatively recent, and you can see traces of that everywhere in the city. The East-West divide lingers.
It’s also probably because there are plenty of stories to tell, by people who were there, who lived them. The generation who lived those events is still alive to talk about them, and some of them still live right where it happened.
An unassuming hut in the middle of Kreuzberg is the perfect example of that. An ordinary man who challenged history and both of the superpowers of the time.
A human error with cascading consequences
On a fateful night in 1961, barbed wire and concrete poles split the city in two, to prevent East Berliners from fleeing to the West. That was the start of the Berlin Wall.
This also happened along Bethaniendamm in Kreuzberg. However, not all went to plan. It’s still unclear why, but those building the borders didn’t lay the barbed wire along a little corner of that road, laying it straight ahead instead.
This little oversight meant that a little bit of East Berlin would be stuck in West Berlin for the next 40 years to come.
Osman Kalin, an ordinary hero
In 1982, a man Osman Kalin saw this bureaucratic mistake as an opportunity. Since neither West nor East Berlin authorities could claim that 350-square-metre triangle, Osman decided to claim it for his own.
He cleaned the patch up and started to plant a vegetable garden. By then, the barbed wire fence had become a wall with towers and guards. Soon enough, East German guards came to check on him, but they let him stay provided he stayed away from the Wall.
Soon after, West Berlin guards also paid a visit. They asked him to leave the premises. However, thankfully, he received official authorisation from DDR authorities to stay, in a turn of events that can only be described as pure pettiness.
He stayed there for the next 30 years, outliving the Berlin Wall and becoming a local legend.
The tree house on the wall today
After reunification, it took a while for new authorities to decide the fate of this anomaly. When the patch of land was returned to Kreuzberg, he was allowed to stay. The tree house is still there to see, even after Osman Kalin died in 2018. His son has taken it over and wants to turn the place into a museum about his father.
His story has grown in popularity and you will often see tourists stop by for a minute or two.
We hope his legacy lives on and that it can resist the appetite of real estate developers, who are always looking for free patches of land to build on.
Thumb image credit: Sergiy Palamarchuk / Shutterstock.com