von Lucie Heath
Since I began volunteering in Berlin two months ago, I have been lucky to experience the creative and varied ways in which activism continues to thrive within the city. In a time when local problems appear impossible to extract from global forces, it is truly inspiring to witness the innovative (and fun!) ways in which grassroots Berlin initiatives are working together to find solutions to the big issues facing our society today.
Das Baumhaus is a project that aims to both echo and facilitate the collaborative and organic nature of Berlin’s social impact scene. Since 2012 project founders Scott Bolden and Karen Wohlert have united local businesses, social initiatives, artists, immigrants and ordinary volunteers to work together and build an indoor sustainable treehouse in Wedding where local change makers will be able to meet, connect, exchange ideas and host events.
With the space now entering it’s final stages of renovations I decided to have a chat with project co-founder and activist Scott Bolden about his thoughts on Berlin, sustainability and volunteering. Read on to find out more and don’t forget to attend the project’s upcoming social networking event and launch of their latest crowdfunding campaign at the art loft berlin next Sunday!
Hi Scott! In creating Das Baumhaus you hope to create a hub where local changemakers can connect. Can you tell us about your own experiences in Berlin’s social impact scene?
My experience of Berlin’s social impact scene is that there are a lot more nice initiatives out there than there were just 2 or 3 years ago and that is encouraging! It seems like more initiatives are popping up every month, and that is a good thing.
I have met with many of the people who are engaged in organising these initiatives and those who have participated. In many cases, I see that people find satisfaction in their efforts but still want to do more and have a greater impact. Specifically, I get a lot of feedback that people want to get involved in projects that have the ability to address problems at their roots as opposed to actions that just address the consequences.
“Specifically, I get a lot of feedback that people want to get involved in projects that have the ability to address problems at their roots as opposed to actions that just address the consequences.”
An example of this might be the big refugee situation that we are facing. While people are happy to help shelter, feed and integrate refugees, I see that there is a yearning to stem the root causes of what creates the refugee situation, namely, armed conflict and climate change. Both these root causes are in a current feedback loop that is growing in intensity and scale and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future unless we can have some sort of meaningful impact in those areas.
One of the main ideas behind the Baumhaus is to create a hub for local community engagement in all things sustainable. So far, we are actually having an impact on our community where people are getting to know each other better, trust each other more and collaborate more across the cultural, political, religious and social barriers that normally exist.
Das Baumhaus is based on the concept of sustainability – a word that has somewhat lost its meaning in recent years. What does the word ‘sustainability’ mean to you and how does that relate to what you are trying to achieve with Das Baumhaus?
My point of view is that it’s time to reclaim the word sustainability and reframe how we think about it because it can be a concept that carries with it a lot of resonance that is intuitively understandable and potentially universally motivational. Its helpful to start by broadening our understanding of sustainability. If a system is sustainable then that means it is in some state of dynamic balance. So the root of sustainability is about creating and maintaining balance.
I have come to recognise that balance is a concept that is naturally and deeply rooted throughout almost everything, and I mean everything…! There is life on the planet because we are in this dynamic balance at just right distance around the sun to have enough heat to sustain life. Until recently, we had the right balance of temperatures and gaseous mixtures so that a wide variety of life forms could coexist and thrive.
When I hurt myself or someone hurts my feelings then I experience a physical or emotional imbalance. Democracy is based on establishing a broader balance of decision making power and self-determinance. Law is supposed to be based on the idea of creating balance to avoid or manage situations of conflict; even the symbol for law is often the balancing scales of justice. Most of the technology we have developed is based on understanding ‘exact balance’ i.e. “=” in the form of mathematical equations, chemical models, biological models etc… all based on balance! In theory, even economics is supposed to based on balance, a good or service traded for an equal value of a currency… or balancing the books. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
“If a system is sustainable then that means it is in some state of dynamic balance. So the root of sustainability is about creating and maintaining balance.”
Most often the term sustainability is just interpreted in the context of the environment; how can we humans live in balance with nature? (As we are an integral part of nature this makes sense). We have come to this recognition because we witness the consequences of environmental imbalances. However, if we ask ourselves what are the root causes of this environmental balance then we quickly come to understand that it is us and our behaviour. We are the ones who have developed the (dis)organisational constructs guiding the world, we are the ones with the destructive behaviour. Therefore it seems clear to me that our environmental sustainability is a direct consequence of our personal, social, cultural and economic imbalances.
So it is our goal with the Baumhaus project to focus on several root dimensions of sustainability (balance) that we as regular citizens can have a direct, constant and lasting impact on. Namely, personal, social, cultural, ecologic, economic and aesthetic sustainability. As it turns out, if you rearrange these dimensions they make a nice acronym, PEACES. So to sum things up, the Baumhaus is a space dedicated to supporting initiatives, projects, people and efforts to bring more balance to the world across a broad spectrum of dimensions.
Why do you think it is important for such a project to exist in Berlin, and Wedding especially?
Berlin is a city that already has so many great advantages. It is still relatively cheap, liberal, green, there are still open spaces, its international, it has a functioning social system that alleviates a lot of desperation, it’s chilled out but action packed and it’s a city that is characterised by constantly reinventing itself; it’s still possible to exercise your sense of initiative here! At the moment, I can’t think of another major city in the world where it is possible to create significant shifts in consciousness and culture that the world needs other than Berlin. In fact, I feel so lucky that I feel a sense of responsibility to take advantage of these great conditions and do something to make a real difference!
“At the moment, I can’t think of another major city in the world where it is possible to create significant shifts in consciousness and culture that the world needs other than Berlin.”
I think that every Kiez in Berlin could use several more spaces for meaningful engagement but Wedding is where I ended up at so it’s where I am currently focussed. That being said, there are some specific advantages to starting something up in our particular neighbourhood. First, this neighbourhood is very mixed culturally, racially and socio-economically with a wide range of age groups to boot. The next big advantage we have here is that we have developed a loose coalition of collaborative relationships with many of the people who own and run most of the local event spaces, shops and organisations, who also happen to be neighbours. So the people who make things happen in our neighbourhood have developed a sense of commonly shared fate and we all feel that we can have an influence on that.
So if things work out well here then we hope to help inspire a movement of more networked spaces for meaningful engagement in sustainable development that can bring local communities together on a regular basis. The idea is that if we can get that to work here in Berlin to some effect then maybe this is a model that can be spread more globally.
What is the most inspiring thing you have learned during the creation of Das Baumhaus so far?
The most important thing that I have learned is the mantra of “patience and persistence”. If you really believe in something, are committed to it and never give up then you will find a way to make it happen. I can think of about 20 times over the past 4 years where we were faced with impossible odds or desperate situations that seemed to be fatally catastrophic. Every time, we stayed cool, stayed focussed and something happened to bring things back on track. There must be about 15 times when the right person walked through our door at just the right time to save the day, each one a coincidence…
As someone who has built a project that is hugely dependent on the hard work and expertise of volunteers, why would you say it is important that people get involved with volunteering in Berlin?
Probably the most inspiring, humbling and joyful experiences I have had over the course of this project have to do with our volunteers. It amazes me when people come along and share our vision and inspiration enough to spend their time and effort to help out. Without our interns and volunteers there is no way this project would exist. I guess there are a lot of initiatives in the city who could also say
that. So volunteering is a critical act that makes it possible for new experimental perspectives to come into being here in Berlin. Volunteering is a way to act on and contribute to creating and living the values we want to see in the world; values not yet reflected and integrated into our current world.
So here is a big “Thank You!” to all those volunteers who have contributed to our and many other great projects across Berlin and beyond. We’re doing it! We are making the world, our world a better place! Is there any other sane choice?
To find out more about Das Baumhaus have a look at the project’s website and facebook page. Don’t forget to attend the project’s upcoming social networking event and launch of their latest crowdfunding campaign at the art loft berlin next Sunday! They are also always looking for volunteers with all types of skills including builders, designers, bloggers, videographers, translators and graphic designers. As always you can get involved via the vostel website!
Lucie is originally from Scotland and has recently moved to Berlin after completing a degree in History and Politics at the University of Edinburgh. Aside from working as a digital marketing intern, she is currently spending her time trying to assimilate into Berlin by volunteering and drinking a lot of Club Mate.