The Monday volunteers: Initiator Carola Muysers in Hasenheide in Neukölln.
Photo: Benjamín Pritzkuleit

BerlinAn old ironing board. A soggy cardbboard box. Three pairs of trousers and some unidentifiable discarded objects. Art historian Carola Muysers decided to do something about the detritus left by weekend visitors to Berlin’s 14th-largest park.

“I’m not a neighbour but I’m from Kreuzberg. I have a dance group with six or seven people and we always meet here,” Muysers says as 20 volunteers fan out to pick up the garbage. Her friends on Facebook were shocked that they danced in what appeared to be a trash heap.

At first, only three people came to the gatherings Mondays at 10am. The next week there were five. Now the volunteer park janitors have even attracted a sponsor who donated €300 for coffee and cake.

“You don’t have to go into the bushes,” she warns the group before they head out. “That’s hardcore trash.” And by “hardcore” she means used syringes and sleeping bags filled with feces.

Leave no bottle behind.
Foto: Benjamin Pritzkuleit

Volunteer park clean-up troops are nothing new in Berlin but the trash problem has become acute in Hasenheide, which shares a border with Kreuzberg, since residents have been forced outside by the corona crisis – for exercise, for relaxation and for illegal raves. Two weeks ago, a 3,000-strong techno party was broken up by police and garnered global media attention.

Amina Staroste and mother Uta.
Photo: Benjamin Pritzkuleit

“I could use lots more of these kinds of volunteer groups,” says Rainer Sodeikat, who has worked for Berlin’s parks division for 30 years. He and his 20 employees are responsible for the green areas between the Teltow Canal in the south up through Kreuzberg – an area that includes Hasenheide. “We can only focus on problem areas,” he says.

Several years ago a study showed that 25,000 people use the park on summer days, Sodeikat says. “Since corona it’s become even more. The pubs were closed and the clubs still are. And we have a corona party almost every night,” he says.

Sodeikat had 57 steel containers installed in the park – they can hold a cubic metre of trash each – but he needs 200. After a busy weekend, it takes his crew two days to empty all the containers and he doesn’t have the cash or personnel to gather up what didn’t make it into the impromptu trash cans.

“There are two solutions: either volunteers come and clean up. Or everyone brings a bag along and takes their trash with them when they leave the park,” he says. “It’s pretty simple.”

Amina Staroste and her mother Uta are volunteering for a second time – they first learned about the group online.

“It looks really bad,” Amina says. “It’s pretty sad to see how our green oasis is being trashed.” She recently graduated from high school and says she doesn’t know anyone who takes part in the illegal raves.

“It’s not really fun but it’s necessary,” she says.

Clean-up Hasenheide meets every Monday at 10am at the minigolf course. More information at m@berlin-woman.de.