The pirates of Berlin

One of the highlights of Berlin being blessed with access to water, is Rummelsburger Bucht – a bay where one can find boats inhabited by alternatively living folks, ‘Pirates of Berlin’ as my imagination wants to picture it. Floating community of free spirits, alternatively living, looking-for-substitutes-of-pricey-rent dreamers.

It is not without a sort of an urban romanticism when I think about the Bay. At the border between Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Lichtenberg, a rather centrally located area, an attractive location with direct access to the water! That must have been a tasty bite for investors. And, indeed, it became one. The plans for building new apartments, offices and Coral World have been approved for construction by the City Council.1 Naturally, these renovation plans were met by strong resistance by the citizens. Petitions and protests2 must be taken into consideration before there is further development of building plans. Nobody knows, though, how and to which degree. Is the floating community of the Bay in danger? Berlin, known for its easy going vibe, exploding with alternative ideas and activists, is maybe the very last city on the map of Europe to allow people to anchor freely in the bay without turning such potential into capitalised luxury.

J. N. Wallace in Blue Mind3 clearly explains the fact that a house which is located close to water, or a room has a sea view, increases its price tremendously. Therefore, access to nature becomes a privilege that only the rich can enjoy. Rummelsburger Bucht is an exact contradiction of that!

We met with Leila, who is a part of this floating community. She came to Berlin after years of travelling and was raised between Australasia and South East Asia. “Discovering a floating community made a very strong impression on me. I fell in love with Berlin straight away. Within the first weeks, I saw so many proactive people and initiatives. But it took me a couple of years before I discovered Rummelsburger Bucht. Suddenly, the city had a whole new life to me!”

And so she stayed here for 5 years, living 9 months in the Bay on a boat and growing a strong network of friends on the water.

Some say you have to choose between Ocean and Mountains. Well, not where I grew up – we pretty much had all aspects of nature we could want. For me living in Rummelsburger Bucht makes up the lack of nature that usually comes with city-life.It makes up for the lack of mountains or the ocean in Berlin, and I never expected the wildlife to be so impressive here! It gives a feeling of being refilled.

Living in the bay also provides a kind of a city-escape. “The Boat community is like any other small community. People might have different opinions about how things are done, just like in any community, but we all have similar responsibilities and everyone has a story behind them of why they are here and how. Yet, what is common is that everyone chose to be here and we all have to put some effort to stay.”

For many years, Lummerland has been an important part of this floating community. It is a collective of multiple boats bound together, accepting newcomers, partying, building, repairing and sharing, sometimes going through typical community tensions, adjusting and re-organising. An absolutely vibrant island, symbolic of a floating squat.

But life on the water isn’t always so easy and predictable. The weather has the most profound control over the Bay, with wind and storms determining comfort and safety. “You can never be 100% sure of your anchor, or anyone else’s”, says Leila. “Sometimes people jump into their dinghys4 at anytime of day or night to help out or warn others.” She adds how living on the boat makes you dependent on the weather but also can bring people together or keep you separated. “Sometimes you can fall asleep being rocked by gentle waves and watching the stars, other times you cannot meet with your friends on shore because the wind or rain is too strong to paddle across.”

Dependency on natural forces and needs makes living on a boat can make us much more aware of the ecosphere. “You see what comes in and what goes out on your tiny boat-ecosphere too”, says Leila. “Life revolves around the boat – logistics of collecting water, removing trash, living with only solar power, keeping food without a fridge, even visiting friend’s apartments for showers.” So, alternative living actually means not taking the usual comforts for granted.

However, this alternative lifestyle is now under even more pressure. Some see the Bay and its inhabitants as local folklore, but there are some who would rather sacrifice that folklore for sake of a financial benefits. Nevertheless, talks about a “big change” have been going on for two years and so far, no-one has had to leave their boat! (except Kulturschiff Freibeuter)5

There might be a very dirty reason laying on the bottom of Rummelsburger Bucht that does not make it easy to start new investment. The Bay was a dumping ground for heavily toxic metal wastes from the former industry works of Berlin. Until now, it is federally owned and therefore open for anchoring and living, as anchored vessels in the bay do not disturb the waterway of the Spree. Starting of a new aquarium or building a tourist attraction would mean getting rid of the toxic soil, and that is not so simple nor cheap!

And so there’s hope that Rummelsburger Bucht won’t become a part of the gentrification story of Berlin and will keep its charm alive, both for its floating community and those who hang out in this area, paddling on a SUP or kayak, continuing to provide access to nature for everyone and not just the privileged.


* all names appearing in the article are fictional to protect anonymity of people that agreed to talk with us.
* massive thanks for helping in creating and correcting this article to MātaiMedia.
* you might also like to see that photo-reportage about the Bucht and it’s community 😉




4. a small boat that connects big boat with the land