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Parasite Parking: A guerrilla art project in Berlin reclaims parking space

A guerrilla art project in Berlin reclaims parking space. A Berlin artist has spent a week and a half living in different parking spaces to inspire the city’s residents to reimagine public areas

Paul Krantz

By Paul Krantz

Paul Krantz is a Berlin-based journalist focusing on the intersection of business and the environment

19 Oct 2023

@PaulKrantz4

Walking along Mariannenstrasse in Berlin this summer, one might have seen what appeared to be a small studio apartment set up in a parking space – as if someone had begun building a tiny home, forgot the walls, and then just left it there. But this strange scene was no accident. It was part of an art intervention called Parasite Parking, staged by local artist Jakob Wirth.

The “parasite” is a 12 square-metre platform on wheels, designed to be mobile and fit within a standard parking space. On top of the platform, Wirth installed furniture including a bed, simple wooden shelves and countertops, a dining table with seats, and a small bookshelf.

This summer Wirth lived on this platform for 11 days and nights in various parking spaces around the city’s Kreuzberg and Neukölln neighbourhoods. His intention was to spark conversations around the use of public space in urban environments.

“I want people to imagine the possibilities of what it means to be in a public space, and what can be done with 12 square metres,” Wirth tells The Parliament.

He developed Parasite Parking with researcher and activist Alexander Sacharow. They launched the project in Chicago, where the city’s billion-dollar deal to lease 36,000 public parking spaces to a private firm for 75 years has led to problems – such as preventing the city from making infrastructural changes like adding cycle lanes or street-side gardens.

I want people to imagine the possibilities of what it means to be in a public space

The duo took inspiration from French philosopher Michel Serres, whose book Le Parasite compares human relationships to the relationship between a parasite and its host. Serres suggests that, by being a pest, minorities or small groups can have a great impact on public dialogue.

“Serres examined order and disorder, and also information, and what society needs to not stand still,” Wirth explains. “The parasite comes from outside, lives on the edges of a system, and irritates it by being there.”

While the intervention elicited a wide spectrum of responses, Wirth says he received mostly positive feedback from locals. Some of his temporary neighbours offered him the use of their showers, and others got involved in co-creating events in the space, such as a karaoke night, a film screening, and public discussions. Berlin reclaims parking space

Wirth is not the first to publicly question the decision to commit so much public space to car parking. The Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD), an advocate for environmentally and socially equitable mobility, has been organising the so-called Park(ing) Day in Berlin since 2009. Similar to Parasite Parking, participants occupy parking spaces in order to explore what else they could be used for.