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  • Spore: Ecology and art find a new home in Neukölln

Growth Spurt

Spore: Ecology and art find a new home in Neukölln

Sustainable thinking is the order of the day at Spore, a new cultural venture that has just opened on Hermannstrasse in Neukölln. 

Spore’s learning garden is found behind the house and functions more like a farm used as a tool for workshops about nutrition, medicinal plants, beekeeping, and ecology. Photo: Spore Initiative

So, what is the Melipona bee, native to Yucatán, doing in the first exhibition of this new cultural space in Berlin? “We brought it here to tell an urgent story. One that tells us that time is running out and that we need to take care of nature’s protectors, like the bees, so that the earth survives,” says Antonia Alampi. “Caring is something we still have a lot to learn about.”

Alampi is the founding director of Spore, an initiative that aims to break new and unusual ground in thinking about many elements in combination: ecology, art, regeneration, social responsibility, neighbourly relations, justice in the neighbourhood and between the Global North and South.

The house represents commitment to a practice, namely craftsmanship and manual labour, but most importantly care and concern for our earth.

The newly finished Berlin branch of Spore can be found on Hermanstrasse in Neukölln. Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Leinenstrasse, the Spore house is hard to miss. Built by AFF Architekten, the floor-to-ceiling windows open the building onto the street on one side and its garden on the other. Ecological architecture with some wow-factor.  

It is the house’s openness that invites a connection between two worlds. At the front, you have the bustling, urban Hermannstraße. At the back is the abandoned cemetery of St. Thomas’ Parish, which merges into a park – a spot in the city with great biodiversity. If ecology is at the centre of Spore, sustainable thinking is the order of the day.

The red bricks of the building’s exterior come from demolished houses, while the interior is dominated by glass, exposed concrete and wood. Concrete struts run along the ceiling, reminiscent of honeycomb; beautiful, but also innovative. The house has no pillars facing the street; its entire weight rests on the garden side and is supported by this organically built concrete structure, internally named the “Spore Ceiling”.

Exhibition view, XooL L’IIn perceiving temporalities.

The Spore Initiative was founded and financed by Hans Schöpflin, and conceived together with Osvaldo Sánchez, a Cuban curator. “The project has made me question how we approach philanthropic initiatives,” explains Schöpflin. “From the very beginning, the creation of Spore has been characterised by listening to those who are first and foremost affected by the climate change emergency”.

The origins of the Schöpflin family’s fortune lie in a general store opened in Lörrach in 1907, which later became a mail order business. Hans Schöpflin, a third-generation descendant, spent an extended period in California as a successful entrepreneur. Social responsibility, democratic processes and environmental justice are important concerns and some of the main driving points for his establishment of the Panta Rhea Foundation in the USA in 1998 and the Schöpflin Foundation in Germany in 2001.

Foundation advisor Lisl Schöpflin, Spore director Antonia Alampi and board member Hans Schöpflin. Photo: Stefanie Dörre

Schöpflin’s commitment to social issues ranges from addiction prevention to projects for participatory urban development. Now Spore is being added to the list. Antonia Alampi started at the initiative over two years ago. Before, she was among other things, a curator in Cairo and co-director at Savvy Contemporary, pushing through themes such as decolonisation and art from the Global South in Berlin. The diverse and international Spore team has now grown to 14 employees, now with freelancers joining the permanent staff. A lot can be achieved with this kind of people power.

Everything is made with care, value and attention to detail, the importance of which can be seen in Spore’s interior design.

Spore has already begun workshops with Berlin schools, before its official opening on 22nd April. However, the aim is not to roll out a ready-made educational programme for as many classes as possible. Each workshop is different, a field for experimentation. “We co-produce prototypes for [workshop] formats,” says Alampi, showing that Spore’s rich programme on subjects such as beekeeping, are more collaboration rather than lecture.

As a rule of thumb, Spore does not impose anything on anyone, but always supports the local partakers in implementing their own projects. This could be school students from Berlin with their proposals as well as communities from India, Mexico or the Caribbean with their own knowledge and experience. The Spore Initiative helps them for example, to make things such as beautifully illustrated books and board games. These are aimed to help teach about the most important indigenous vegetables and fruits in Yucatán, which are now increasingly being replaced by junk food, especially among children there.

Spore Initiative auditorium. Photo: Stefanie Dörre.

The Power of Beauty

Everything is made with care, value, and attention to detail, the importance of which can be seen in Spore’s interior design. Much of the furniture is second-hand, aligning with the principle of sustainability, but it is also beautiful and valuable. Another unusual but great principle of the initiative.

There is no cheap furniture here, the potential destruction of which (most likely by scampering kids) was already considered at the time of purchase. But the children are trusted to do something: there’s space for them to touch and therefore appreciate, a glazed ceramic bowl, an exposed concrete wall or a solid wood shelf made by a Berlin carpenter.

Exhibition view, Kuxaan Suum: The Living Rope

The house and the furniture represent the power of beauty and the commitment to a practice, namely craftsmanship and manual labour, but most importantly care and concern for our earth. This is how the house on Hermannstraße connects with the beekeepers in Yucatán.

About Spore

An open house for anyone and everyone without admission fees – that is what Spore wants to be and what it will be. However, you do have to pre-register for workshops and other events. Spore is open on weekends without registration, there are events, art exhibitions and a café. A learning garden is being created behind the house. You can find the programme on the website.

  • Spore Initiative, Hermannstr. 86, Neukölln, details.

Adapted from the German version by Annabel Wood