A longing for greenery
Gardening is the latest hobby in Germany. Anybody without their own garden can try their hand at urban gardening.
Fashion designer Wolfgang Joop has one in Potsdam, where he spends hours tending his lettuces, pumpkins, courgettes and old varieties of tomato such as the Silesian strawberry; on his own little patch of urban greenery, Dieter Kosslick, head of the Berlin International Film Festival, grows tomatoes and, to feast his eyes on, gorgeous phlox. Johann Lafer says that he could easily have ended up as a gardener if he hadn’t become a top chef, and he indulges his second great passion with an impressive collection of potted plants. For people such as writer Wladimir Kaminer, ice-hockey pro Sven Felski or actor and comedian Dieter Hallervorden, seventh heaven is full not of violins but of seedlings. Just as about half of Germany has recently developed a zest for gardening and the country is now experiencing an unprecedented gardening boom. These are people who enjoy nothing more than having their hands deep in the earth, and backs bent but in their hearts proud of all the blooms that they have grown all by themselves.
The love of gardening, particularly in Germany’s metropolises, is really blossoming. In this respect, Berlin is not only the political heart of the country but also the capital of “urban gardening” as even the Germans are now calling it. In dozens of projects going by names such as Grüne Weiten, Prachttomate or Spreeacker city dwellers are pottering about raised beds or busy with “rooftop farming”, themselves growing the vegetables for the table. Dining on kohlrabi, waging war on slugs, weevils, rabbits and aphids, nurturing delicate herbs, practicing making bokashi, terra preta and compost, and all the while learning many new facts about mixed cultivation and crop rotation, mushroom-growing and bees, as well as about nature’s infinite generosity. “Until I started here there were many things that I just didn’t know. For me, a sage plant was a sage plant but I am now familiar with masses of different varieties and can tell them apart, too. I am really proud of that,” reports Katja, 51, one of the amateur gardeners at Allmende-Kontor (Allmende = commons) on the site of what used to be Tempelhof airport, where an estimated 500 “co-gardeners” indulge their taste for country living at over 250 raised beds. In Berlin alone, the number of gardening projects is estimated at over 200. There are now thought to be almost 500 communal gardens nationwide.
Then there’s the traditional form of urban gardening, allotments, which are still going strong. The person responsible for the German name for this, the Schrebergarten, was a doctor and university teacher, Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber, who back in the mid-19th century was quite revolutionary in calling for public children’s playgrounds. An association was formed, and the educators joined forces with the children to make little flower beds, which were later fenced in. These then became the first Schrebergarten, the German equivalent of the dacha in Russia.
For many years city dwellers considered these typically German bastions of self-sufficiency as the epitome of conformism because of their strictly regimented rules and regulations laid out in the Bundeskleingartengesetz (Federal Allotment Act) which specified the heights of hedges, size of pergolas and just about everything else. And as a result allotments were practically on the verge of extinction. A recent study by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructures states, however, that we are seeing a “new generation”. More and more young families are using such facilities, cultivating their own fruit and vegetables there. And something that plays a role in people’s growing enthusiasm for their own patch of soil is an increased distrust of the food industry and the wish to side-step it by growing fruit and vegetables rather than eating industrially-grown, treated, and modified produce. But we should not forget that we are not only talking about fruits and vegetables. Flowers, grasses and bushes also decorate people’s own plots of land, like their edible counterparts nurturing the highly emotional attitudes that gardeners develop to these special places.
This is a subject also tackled by Spiegel heir Jakob Augstein, the son of Martin Walser, the publisher of a weekly newspaper, Der Freitag, for all Germans and long since an author in his own right: in his wonderful book Die Tage des Gärtners (Hanser Verlag). In which he also addresses the philosophical, poetic and educational dimensions of nature, which we have never quite succeeded in taming. “However much work you invest, you cannot accelerate processes in the garden, this is something that is out of your hands. Plants simply take as much time as they take to grow.” Something he particularly likes is “striking a balance between our own need to be in control and external circumstances, climatic conditions, the nature of the plants and the soil.” (Cicero)
And so it is not only the herbs, veggies and decorative plants that prosper in the garden, so do humans, this is the message. Particularly since nature teaches us humility. So, it must be love, something that does have its erotic aspects. The act of rummaging around in the soil, the scents, the taste of your first home-grown mint. Even if it does come from a tub on your balcony. Gardening is the new sex – this is the opinion of landscape architect Gabriella Pape who, together with her partner, has acquired what was once the Royal Horticultural Teaching Institute in Berlin and has transformed it into a “centre for the promotion of the art of horticulture and garden design in Germany” or so the weekly Die Zeit recently opined. Incidentally, gardening is increasingly becoming a socio-political tool. For example, for some time now locals and refugees have been cultivating fruit, vegetables and flowers together on a stretch of land in the north of Eisenach. As the enjoyment that people in Germany have been deriving from gardens has continued to blossom, so what has really flourished has been their sense of having roots; friendships have grown up, people have developed a sense of community, thus establishing perennial values, the kind that will not be eaten away by aphids, slugs, rabbits or even the Federal Allotment Act. ▪