On the border where the Berlin Wall once stood, there is a plot of land unlike any other in most European cities. The triangular area features a garden area, greenery, but most noticeably, a handmade shack. This area once backed onto the outer defence of the Berlin Wall, a construction of the East German government to stop its citizens from leaving the country to West Berlin. One Turkish immigrant saw an opportunity to brighten lives, none more so than his own, through a legal loophole created by the conflict between two political forces.
Osman Kalin immigrated to West Berlin in 1982 after retiring from construction work in his native country of Turkey. Most of his life was spent with similar surroundings of countryside and farmland, the change a city on the brink of world war seeming to be the polar opposite. Kalin quickly realised he would struggle to change his lifestyle from being active to the typical city lifestyle of spending much of his time at home.
Outside, the neighbourhood was becoming an eyesore for most, with one plot of land legally belonging to East Germany, but standing outside of their control due to the Berlin Wall. This area was used as a dumping ground for most, with the West Berlin authorities anxious to clean it up amid the ongoing tensions with the East. Kalin took it upon himself to clean the area up with his vast amount of free time, and began to grow crops.
After a number of years, Kalin built a shed, expanded it into a hut and eventually into a house. This came through the popularity of his crops with the local community, and a need for more and more storage and tools to be used. The house eventually became a landmark not just to those living nearby, but also the East German border guard who would regularly greet Kalin and accept his gifts of freshly grown produce.
Initially, the East German Border Guard were suspicious of Kalin appearing to be tunnelling under the wall, however, after further inspection, deemed it an appropriate use of the land as long as a distance of 3 metres from the wall was observed. It was the West Berlin police who began to cause Kalin stresses, asking him to vacate the area. Kalin was notoriously stubborn and refused to move, asking why and on who’s authority. The police had no grounds to move him and thus left him alone.
The attention brought through this conflict initially worried the Border Guard, however, after seeing the hassle it was bringing to the West Berlin police, an advantage was seen. Kalin was a friendly soul, giving his produce to friends, family and locals as well as selling it at a local market. He became a friend to everyone, with his land being nothing of a political statement, but for this reason, became one. Locals would support him through issues with the police, his personality being shown not only in his actions, but in the building itself.
After the fall of the Wall in 1989, the area was immediately claimed back by the reunited Berlin authorities. The community came to Kalin’s aide again, and protested his ownership of the area. It was not until a nearby church unearthed a document almost three centuries old that stated their ownership of the plot. This evidence would naturally appear flimsy in court, however, the council decided the hassle was not worth it, and allowed Kalin to continue working on the area undisturbed.
Osman Kalin refused to stop working on his garden and house, tinkering all day even through meals. He would often eat his crops whilst working in order to continue the many jobs of maintaining the area. His family began to help him with the area in his old age, and have made use of the crops through a family business of selling Turkish cuisine cooking ingredients.
Kalin died in April of 2018, but the area continues to live on still through his family working on the plot. There stands a plaque commemorating the work and stubbornness of Osman Kalin on the front door, as well as a permanent desk in front displaying information about the building. The plot can be seen from all around the area, the greenery standing out against the constantly changing urban landscape around it. Many developers have asked to purchase the area, but the Kalin family have so far kept up the strongest trait of Osman.
What started as nothing more than a retired immigrant looking to busy himself with newly found free time, has now become a memorial to the issues raised through the Berlin Wall, but also a sign that community can triumph over bureaucracy, in the right scenario.