Spandau, between the outskirts and the Havel. There are fewer houses here, but they get bigger and bigger. They grow in height and in width. But something that hardly grows here at all is what’s on offer in terms of public spaces. Places where people can meet, exchange ideas and play, learn and spend time, talk and fool around.
This has changed at Blasewitzer Ring 50. Since December 2019, the high-rise estate, with its colourful façades and round balconies, has been home to an apartment in which no one really lives, but everyone is at home: the second Open Family Apartment.
Ein Besuch vor Ort
The February sun is low and bathes everything from the 10th floor upwards in rich gold, while children walk home from school along the shady pavements. Transport tickets dangle in plastic covers around their necks as they hurtle to the apartment block’s entrance on bicycles and scooters.
Kids run around in the apartment on the first floor; the four-room apartment’s walls are painted in vivid colours and the shelves are filled with toys. Adults sit at the table drinking coffee and having a chat. In the thick of it all is Dorthe Kreckel.
“For a long time, everyone in the neighbourhood was aware that there wasn’t a place where people could meet,” she recalls. She is a social education worker at the sponsoring organisation casablanca and coordinates the project, which involves Gewobag and casablanca, the Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing, the Youth Welfare Office, the Urban Planning Office, the Job Centre and the neighbourhood management in Spandau.
“Every participant in the district was confronted with the tenants’ problems and was familiar with their worries and needs”, explains Dorthe Kreckel. The financial situation often plays a role. Many families in Spandau are struggling with unemployment, poverty and are, as a result, dejected. “For some families, it’s not easy to send a child to a music school or a club. There are few public spaces where you can go without paying anything or participating in a fixed programme,” adds Dorthe Kreckel. It quickly became clear that something was missing here: a safe and warm place for children, families and neighbours, a place that improves the quality of life for children and families in Spandau.
In 2016, participants and partner organisations in the district joined forces and launched a pilot project that is special in Germany: the first Open Family Apartment. This is also in Spandau, about five kilometres away, on Kraepelinweg.
“Children were running all over the place”
The concept has gone down well: around 400 children and 200 adults come to each family apartment every month, and around 30 requests for advice are made every month.
“We’re not about classes and registrations. You don’t have to commit to being there. Those who want to come can do so. No one has to do anything,” explains Beate Amler, who, like Dorthe Kreckel, works at casablanca.
Visitors can be themselves here. The social project is a “normal” apartment, so people quickly feel at home here. It is a good starting point to find out together what families need individually, to build up mutual trust and to reduce inhibitions towards administrative offices.
“The project has been well received from the start. First came the children; they ran around all over the place. That’s how we got to know the parents and, little by little, the neighbours,” continues Beate Amler.
“We’re here, we’re open”
Exactly what the Open Family Apartments have on offer is based on families’ daily schedules. At the district breakfast, parents and neighbours find a sympathetic ear in conversation with others. At the same time, they can also make use of the social counselling service. In the mornings, there are playgroups and toddler groups for parents with children up to 3 years old. In the open playtime in the afternoon, children can do their homework, help themselves to something from the dressing-up box, play or just chill.
“We are here; that is actually the heart of our offer: to meet people again and again, to approach them and simply invite them to come by and maybe find what it is they need at that moment,” explains Dorthe Kreckel. For her, social work means: “Full contact with other people and life”, and that’s exactly what she likes about her work.
The smell of waffles and a buzz
Numerous guests from the neighbourhood and partner organisations came to the opening of the second Open Family Apartment on Blasewitzer Ring. At the opening, the representative from the Youth Welfare Office gifted nothing less than the whole world in the form of an electric globe. It was turned on immediately and has been on ever since.
“Crazy, I know how it looked before: just bare walls, bare floors,” recalls a neighbour in the hallway. It’s lively here now. Now something can grow here, too.”
Photos @ City-Press)