unusual project in Berlin – DW – 06.06.2023

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2023-06-06 10:51:00

Shared breakfast is part of a daily ritual. If you can, come down at 9 am to the bright room on the first floor. All eleven members commune “Life in the community Mendelstraße eV” in the Berlin district of Pankov (Pankov) not always possible to get together. But for people, something else is important. “Here I always have someone to talk to,” says 80-year-old Heidemarie Mehlau. “We live together despite all our differences,” she adds. And this, according to the elderly woman, is a pleasant feeling, especially when someone needs help or in case of illness – it’s nice to have the support of the people with whom you live under the same roof.

There are 11 people in a multi-generational commune

Waltraud, 71, puts it this way: “Living here is like winning the lottery.” For a long time she enjoyed a quiet life in the village, but then she wanted a change. Here in Berlin’s Pankow district, the housing project is a bit like living in the countryside. “You help and care for each other, share your life with others and don’t feel alone,” adds Waltraud, who does not want to give her last name.

Members of the commune, although it is officially called an association, range from 13 to 90 years old. In total, 11 people live in it. Different life situations are united by common concerns: all members of the commune do not want to live alone and anonymously. In a large modern residential complex of 351 apartments, the commune has its own common house. A small island in a big project. Each member maintains their own self-contained rental unit. The size varies from 43 to 100 square meters, but each apartment is considered barrier-free, that is, housing is designed not only for young people, but also for people with disabilities and the elderly. The association finances a common room with a TV and a kitchenette, where meetings are also held for joint breakfasts. This is a kind of shared housing estate with opportunities for privacy.

Initiator of the Commune Cornelia ApelPhoto: Volker Witting/DW

65-year-old Cornelia Apel was at the forefront of this project, which is now more than ten years old. Finding a developer who could offer a multi-generational housing project was quite difficult, recalls Cornelia Apel. “I tried to get in touch with various cooperatives and other developers, but often they didn’t even respond to my inquiries,” she laments. In Germany, the life of different generations under one roof is still the exception to the rule.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of 2014, a cooperation agreement was signed with the Berlin housing association “Gesobau”. Members of the association were able to move into the new building complex in 2019. At that time, 13 applicants were looking for and found a new home in the community. “Two of them have already died,” says pension consultant Cornelia Apel. 14 years ago, together with her husband, who is no longer alive, she moved to the commune. “I didn’t want to be alone,” the woman emphasizes.

Benefits of living under one roof

Living under the same roof of several generations of people has many advantages. People remain independent, but they have new opportunities for social contacts. The diversity of life experiences, education, hobbies and professions of the inhabitants of the commune stimulates everyone individually. This is what Heidemarie Melau says: “There is always someone to talk to and exchange ideas with.” Another advantage of living under one roof for several generations: working parents can entrust their children to women of retirement age. Living in such a commune is much cheaper than in a nursing home.

During a joint breakfast in a common room
During a joint breakfast in a common roomPhoto: Volker Witting/DW

Ingrid Meyer-Riegel has lived in the commune since its inception. The 86-year-old woman, by her own admission, “is no longer afraid of loneliness.” She considers such housing projects promising. “Too many old people are lonely in a society where there are more and more old people,” she emphasizes.

And this trend is global, especially for highly developed industrial societies like Germany. The number of 65-year-olds in relation to the total population is increasing rapidly. According to statistics, in Germany the proportion of people over 65 is 21.8 percent. In Italy, this proportion is the highest in the European Union: 23.3 percent.

Numerous studies show that feelings of loneliness increase with age. A 2021 survey by public opinion research institute Forsa shows that one in five people over the age of 75 feel lonely. People over 80 are at risk of social exclusion.

A multi-generational commune is located in the courtyard of this apartment building in Berlin's Pankow district
A multi-generational commune is located in this apartment buildingPhoto: Volker Witting/DW

Therefore, Joachim Wirtz has long understood that he wants to live in a commune with representatives of several generations. Being in such a commune was a “happy accident,” says the 74-year-old man. Communication with the two youngest residents of the commune, who are 13 and 22 years old, always pleases him. They can also discuss topics such as climate protection. “Here I am happy,” emphasizes Joachim Wirtz.

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