Costing 200,000 euros per meter to construct, the 3.2-kilometer (1.9-mile) extension of Berlin’s motorway ring road was always controversial. If completed, it would bring 130,000 cars per day to south and east Berlin by 2022. As the political will to act on the climate crisis builds, the extension is starting to look like an expensive and ugly mistake. Morgenfarm offers a utopian vision for Berlin’s infrastructure where toxic fumes are replaced by green space and healthy vegetables.

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A busy highway full of cars.

Berlin’s A100 motorway partially circles the inner city. It was constructed as part of a campaign in the 1960s to make Germany’s capital a ‘car friendly city.’ The southeastern extension from Sonnenallee and Treptower Park has been the target of several protests. Now, a new concept would turn the excavated path of the motorway into a vertical farm. The proposal hopes to inspire city dwellers with a vision of what’s possible when urban planners stop prioritizing cars.

Related: Construction of Europe’s largest vertical farm is underway

A bird's-eye view of a highway being constructed.

Campaign leader Perttu Ratilainen is convinced that the ‘Autobahn’ belongs to a bygone era. “It feels like we are stuck in the 60s when you hear about new motorways being built, surely we have progressed since then?”

Developed by non-profit ‘Think and Do Tank’ Paper Planes e.V., this farm would save water and energy plus reduce the need for long haul transportation involved in conventional agriculture.

A bird's-eye view of a busy highway full of cars.

Major investments are being made in the emerging market of sustainable urban farming, particularly in Asia and the United States. Europe’s largest vertical farm, Nordic Harvest vertical farm in Denmark, was completed in 2021 with 14 stories of stacked edibles. It acts as a living feasibility study for vertical agriculture.

A bird's-eye view of a highway being repurposed as an urban farm.

Vertical farms are buffered from external influences (sun, rain, heat or cold extremes), which means they can produce food all year round. Current vertical farms produce fruit, vegetables, edible mushrooms, algae and insects. These farms make more efficient use of resources than conventional industrial agriculture and do not require any pesticides. They provide a reliable supply of fresh and vitamin-rich food for the local city population, even in times of crisis such as the drought conditions Germany has experienced in recent years. 

A rendering of people walking around an urban farm with vertical gardens.

Another crisis this project could address is the housing shortage in Berlin. With the Autobahn repurposed as vertical farming space, the areas next to the road could be used to construct housing. With the upcoming German election, there has again been debate about building housing on Berlin’s most popular park, the repurposed airport Tempelhofer Feld, so freeing up land that roads make unusable could be a big plus for the capital city.

A plan showing the main floor and lower level of Morgenfarm.

Fridays for Future has announced a strike in Germany on the Friday before the election. Thousands are expected on Sept. 24 for a massive demo in Berlin, calling on politicians to rethink the system we live in and move faster on “Energiewende” and “Mobilitätswende,” the move away from fossil fuels and motor vehicles to better public transport, cycle infrastructure and renewable energy.

A bird's-eye view plan showing how Morgenfarm fits into the city.

Rather than a concrete proposal, the Morgenfarm project encourages the space needed to rethink the urban environment. If the Berlin city administration really wants to deal with climate change, then projects like this should be discussed.

What do you think about turning over roads to grow food? Would this approach allow more space for rewilding projects on the edge of the city? Do you have a vision about how Berlin should reconfigure this road-building project?

+ Morgenfarm Berlin

Images via Paper Planes eV