Mr Reich, could you start by telling us a little about the organisation that runs the Kinderinseln Berlin Nord in Reinickendorf, which now has three day nurseries?
The first facility was established in 2013 for 37 children. There are now three sites and by the end of the year, 150 children and a total of 32 members of staff will come and go through our doors. That includes three caretakers, three housekeepers and administrative staff.
How long have you been involved?
I first entered the childcare sector in 2010 as a founding member of a non-profit association that sought to set up and run a day nursery. Very soon after that, I established and operated two day nurseries in Berlin-Mitte. Kinderinseln Berlin Nord was added in 2013.
The idea of using an old wash house as premises for a new nursery is extremely unusual. How did you come up with it?
Simple: the Reinickendorf-Ost area lacks both sufficient childcare places and suitable commercial units. You have to take a creative approach. To start with, it was difficult to imagine a nursery in the wash house because there were lots of old washing machine pedestals, which are part of the ceiling, and the windows were almost too big. At the beginning, it all felt more like part of a factory, where it would be difficult to control the acoustics too. However, after a lot of hard work, a practicable concept was developed and approved by the heritage protection authorities, fire safety officials and Deutsche Wohnen.
As the owner of the premises, how did Deutsche Wohnen react to the plan?
The wash house had stood vacant for some time and posed a real challenge due to building regulations. Complying with the rules for the preservation of historical monuments in particular made it difficult to use the space. For this reason, Deutsche Wohnen was very receptive when we outlined our idea. The company already knew us as the tenant of another nursery and was able to trust in our vision for the new letting.
There must have been a lot of conversion work and new construction to do. What proved hardest?
There was an incredible number of challenges. The two greatest difficulties by far were the washing machine pedestals and the need for additional soundproofing due to the adjacent business. At first, we thought the washing machine pedestals were simply installations that we could remove. However, the plans showed them to be weight-bearing ceiling supports. In the end, we just removed one pedestal – which was a huge job – and raised up most of the furniture.
What’s more, we only realised after we had signed the lease that the neighbouring heating and power station generates very loud humming noises at full load. It would have been inconceivable for the nursery to open over winter. An expert was called in, who came up with a set of measures that drove our costs up by around €120,000. Luckily, Deutsche Wohnen footed some of the bill and we were able to claim more state funding for converting the property into a nursery.
That must have taken a long time ...
The nursery finally opened almost two years after the original idea of doing something with the wash house. Liaising with some of the authorities took up a lot of time.
What do the neighbours think about you giving the old building a new lease of life?
Most of the neighbours are very open-minded about us, especially as they can see that we’re considerate when it comes to the catchment area of the existing facility around the corner. Whenever neighbours come along to our summer parties, we’re happy to give them a hot dog. Lots of local parents are delighted to have additional childcare places so nearby.