An outsider’s imagined picture of Berlin may be filled with concrete apartment blocks and gray skies that settle on their roofs, but the real city is tree-lined and full of parks and hidden, almost wild, green spaces. Also surprising is the amount of fruit that can be picked in the city, for free, just by taking a basket to the park.
Mundraub is a local site that lets Berliners virtually forage for fruit before heading out to pick it. The site is crowdsourced, and lets members search for wild produce, sorting by neighborhood, or what’s in season, or even by type of fruit. The largest concentration of trees is in the Mundraub’s home city, Berlin (currently 2,928 sites), but the map–which uses Open Streetmap data–covers much of Western Europe, and even extends as far as the Canary Islands, Israel, and Brazil. Even the U.S. has a couple of cities marked.
The name of the site, Mundraub, translates roughly to “mouth heist,” and indeed some of the locations may be on private land. Because these locations are added by the public, the legal availability of the fruit and vegetables is not certain. To this end, the site has guidelines, which–this being Germany–seem to be fairly well observed. These include checking that trees are on public property before picking and handling the trees and bushes carefully.
The site also encourages community care. “Everyone can take responsibility for the fruit trees listed on Mundraub.org personally, by visiting them not just at harvest time, but also in other seasons,” says the site. This part might be the most interesting, as it harnesses the community of an entire city to tend its own flora.
Looking at my own Berlin neighborhood on the map, I find hazelnuts by the bridge, cherries in a playground, elderflowers in a corner wasteland, and blackberries by remnants of the old Berlin Wall.
The eight-person team behind Mundraub isn’t interested in labels like “commons,” “urban gardening,” or “the sharing economy,” although they have been referred to under all of these terms since the site launched in 2009. “Trends come and go, but there are trees for decades,” says the team.
There’s another side to the harvesting of public fruit. Usually it is left to rot on the ground or trees. Collecting it avoids this waste. But city fruit may also contain pollutants, especially if it grows near a busy road. According to Berlin Online, a 2013 study by Technische Universität Berlin found that over 50% of vegetables tested exceeded the EU limit for lead in food, which seems like yet another good reason to ban cars from our cities.