In southwestern Berlin in the middle of a residential neighborhood, there is a spot on the map: the site of the Dahlem Domain, an open-air museum for agriculture and food that includes 10 hectares of Bioland operations, with its motto: From Field to Plate
The site of the Dahlem domain – formerly a municipal property, then used for agriculture by the Free University of Berlin – was to be sold by the city as building plots. In 1976, the citizens’ initiative “The Friends of the Dahlem Domain e.V.” (https://www.domaene-dahlem.de/ueber-uns/foerderverein/) saved the area from development and created the “Dahlem Domain Open-Air Museum Domäne Dahlem”. Initially through voluntary commitment, then professionalized by the event-organizer group, the Dahlem domain was mainly financed through the large market festivals, such as harvest festivals or Advent markets, some of which still exist today. In 1987 the museum received a grant from the Berlin Senate and from 1995 to 2008 it became part of the Berlin City Museum Foundation (https://www.stadtmuseum.de/). Since 2009, the Dahlem Domain Foundation – Country Estate and Museum has been an independent foundation under civil law.
When the open-air museum was founded, the “Wall” still separated Berlin from its agricultural surroundings. Perhaps that is why the intention from the very beginning was to show the big-city audience how food is produced on fields, in pastures and stables, and how it ends up on the plate. Additional exhibitions and events on agriculture and nutrition were to take place in the baroque manor house and in the old stables.
The alienation of “consumers” from the origin of food has increased since then. Young city dwellers in particular often only know the local farm animals and plants from television or the Internet. On the other hand, older visitors and people from the countryside – often also from other countries – like to remember their past when watching agricultural work.
More than 1000 guided tours a year make clear and tangible the connections and details on topics from the field and stable to the plate. In small-group workshops, farmers and gardeners pass on their specialist knowledge in a highly practical way.
School classes and day-care centers have easy access to the open-air museum thanks to the Dahlem Domain’s connection to public transport. Admission is free and hence enables access by people with low incomes. All of this is reflected in the number of visitors per year – around 300,000.
Unguided visitors also like to use the Domain – not only to educate themselves, but also to relax in an agricultural environment within the city.
In order to be able to show everyone farming that is as authentic as possible, the organic farm of the Dahlem Domain is run as economically as possible. If vegetables and meat are to sell well in the farm shop, this requires high quality animals and plants.
Organic farming is particularly well suited to all of this. Apart from a largely pollution-free environment for the visitors, there are many points of contact with the past, but also with the future.
For example, old cultural techniques – such as working with draft cattle in the fields or mowing small areas with a scythe – can be integrated, preserved and presented here. But connections, innovative ideas and trends for the future can also be shown here particularly well: subjects such as “Where does our food come from”, environmental and climate protection as well as biodiversity are highly topical.
As a Noah’s Arc Farm, the Dahlem Domain raises rare domestic breeds from the GEH Red List (Society for the Preservation of Old and Endangered Livestock Breeds), such as German saddle pigs or Red Highland cattle. Selling breeding animals and especially the sale of meat and eggs from our own animals via the farm shop and our own gastronomy truly bring to life our “From the Field to the Plate” motto.
The same goes for arable farming and vegetable growing. We grow almost exclusively seed-saver varieties, often historical or conservation ones. Potatoes and vegetables are sold fresh in farm shops and restaurants, and we work with seed conservation organizations such as VERN e.V. (Association for the Conservation and Recultivation of Crops).
The particular profile as an open-air museum for agricultural and nutritional culture with an ecological focus was further developed through the two exhibition houses, the Culinarium and the Mansion House.
Here the museum preserves and conveys cultural history through its collection. Current and permanent exhibitions (https://www.domaene-dahlem.de/museum/ausstellungen/) illuminate the agricultural and nutritional history of farmers’ work, through processing and trade, to consumption.
The 1560 mansion is Berlin’s oldest residential building. In our 600 m2 exhibition space, we display a permanent collection of objects for beekeeping, the food trade and housekeeping over two floors. Changing special exhibitions with an ecological focus are presented in addition to this.
The Culinarium in the early 19th-century renovated horse stables presents Germany’s first permanent exhibition on the cultural history of nutrition from 1850 to today. In the hands-on exhibition “From the Field to the Plate”, visitors can join in, try things out and learn exciting facts and connections to food production and consumption.
Authors: Astrid Masson (Head of Farming) and Dennis Novak (Head of Management and Collection)
Editor’s Note: Article originally published in AIMA Newsletter N°17, reproduced here with permission of the author.