Neukolln gardening school celebrates: school in restlessness

The gardening school in Neukolln is turning 100, but director Yasmin Mosler-Kolbe sees more than just reason to celebrate: there is a shortage of staff.

Educational work with sheep: the August Heyn gardening school in Neukolln Photo: picture alliance/Carsten Koall/dpa

Just three stops by U7 outside the S-Bahn ring, a few steps from Parchimer Allee station, Neukolln is suddenly very green and smells of sheep: the district’s gardening school on Fritz-Reuter-Allee is located behind a row of apartment buildings. If you step through the garden gate, you walk past flower beds, to the right a path leads to the bee house, straight ahead to the sheep. A gardener pushes a wheelbarrow through the idyll, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this weekend. Soon you’re standing in front of the school’s main building, where the director, Yasmin Mosler-Kolbe, has her office – and she immediately puts a dent in the idyll.

The fact that the district has always taken good care of this learning site for the daycare centers and schools in the district, which covers more than three hectares – about five soccer fields – is "really something positive," says the educator. Unlike gardening schools in other districts – "such land does, after all, arouse covetousness" – the site has never been up for discussion, she says.

Nevertheless, Mosler-Kolbe says it’s "getting really tight": she will no longer be able to offer the current projects – 80 different offerings – for schools and daycare centers to the extent they have been: "We’re short of staff, and quite significantly so."

The gardening schools, of which there are 15 throughout Berlin, are so-called extracurricular places of learning. School classes and daycare groups can learn here in projects: for example, how to felt sheep’s wool or how to make soup from pumpkin. They can dig up flower beds with the gardeners, microscope leaves, grind grain and learn where the bee gets its honey. Mosler-Kolbe has about four groups of students per day, about 30,000 children and young people per year. She has exactly one pedagogical position available for this, namely herself.

The first: The August Heyn Garden Work School in Britz, Fritz-Reuter-Allee 121, was the first of its kind in Berlin, and there are now 15 – in all districts. Founding father Heyn had very similar intentions for the school at the time as politicians do today: to give big-city children access to nature.

Fall Festival: On Saturday, September 5, there will be a celebration from 1 to 6 p.m., but only on the outdoor grounds because of the corona rules in force. Berlin’s other gardening schools also present themselves, and apples, honey, jam, plants and wool products are sold at a small market.

The district office is responsible for the gardening schools. From there come the funds for material expenses, 45,000 euros per year are in the current double budget – about 20,000 euros more than in 2019. "The material funds are not the problem," says Mosler-Kolbe. The six gardeners are also paid by the district; in addition, there are 3,000 euros in honorarium funds per year for freelancers. But above all, Mosler-Kolbe relies on the long-term unemployed assistants ("one-euro jobbers"), who in turn come through the job center.

These jobs cannot be planned in the long term, and that is the real problem: the assistants who help the students weave baskets and felt come from independent organizations in the district’s youth work. They, in turn, work on a project-financed basis, and the positions assigned to them are temporary. This is a crux that many players in the field have long complained about – because the sustainability of educational offerings usually falls by the wayside.

Mosler-Kolbe taps on a flipchart she has set up behind the entrance door of the main building, emblazoned with a large smiley face with the corners of its mouth hanging down: "We’ve gone from 24 employees in 2013 to just four this year," says the director. "There’s also a lot of knowledge being lost, especially."

From the district office, it is said that the school city councilor Karin Korte (SPD) is looking "very hard and constructively" for solutions to the personnel issue. But the Senate Education Department is responsible for permanent pedagogical positions. And there, the issue apparently does not have a high priority; the administration did not initially respond to a taz inquiry. Spokesman Martin Klesmann then points out that, after all, 210 school hours are "not given" across Berlin – in other words, not given – "despite a nationwide shortage of teachers" – because they are earmarked for teachers who are on assignment in the gardening schools.

Mosler-Kolbe says that in the future she only wants to offer projects on the homepage of the gardening school for which she also has the staff to supervise them.