In Summer Germans Flock to their Allotment Gardens

WM 2006 - Privatmann nimmt Fußballfans im Schrebergarten auf Enlarge image (© dpa / picture-alliance)

Most Germans may live in cities, but they still remain attached to nature. That’s why those who can’t afford their own house and garden often have a small allotment, enabling them to get away from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives and work. Generally located on the outskirts of cities, these allotment gardens are grouped into so-called “colonies”. 

As soon as the first rays of spring sunshine tempt people out of doors, the allotment colonies come to life: everywhere there are people working, painting, planting and sowing seeds. Then, in summer, everything is in full bloom, the lawn-mowers are droning, and fruit and vegetables are being harvested. There is often competition between the amateur gardeners over who has the loveliest garden, the most original flower borders, the most colourful and most varied selection of flowers, the most beautiful rose – and perhaps even the best-tasting carrots or apples. Nor is it unusual to see little garden gnomes grinning at you from among the flowers. Derided by some as kitsch, these little “imps” are, for others, what really make a garden plot complete.

When they’ve finished their day’s gardening, neighbours often get together – not only to exchange tips on the best places to get seeds but also to comment on current political events or the latest football results. If the weather’s fine, the TV set is sometimes taken along too, and the mild summer evening is spent watching the matches together live – and discussing them. A cool beer and a crispy barbecued sausage help take care of the viewers’ bodily needs.

According to the Gartenfreundeverband (Garden Lovers Association), some four million Germans are users of allotment gardens. Long considered mainly the preserve of pensioners, allotment gardens are now beginning to attract others, especially young families. The average age of allotment holders has now fallen from 60 to 47. What makes allotment gardens so attractive, especially for city-dwelling families, is the fact that they are not only inexpensive but also offer parents the chance to relax, enjoy fresh air and nature, while their children play out of doors.

The German allotment gardens community has since become “internationalized”: 1998 saw the founding in Göttingen of the Internationale Gärten e.V. (International Gardens Association), which sets out to promote contacts between migrants and Germans through gardening and related leisure activities. Having proved highly successful, this concept is now being applied in other cities, e.g. in Berlin by the Working Group Intercultural Gardens in Berlin and Brandenburg. More and more immigrants are taking up the Germans’ favourite hobby, and instead of the usual “bratwurst”, you occasionally find foreign specialities on the barbecue, such as halloumi cheese, which originally comes from Cyprus. And it doesn’t matter anymore which team wins international matches – there’s always someone able to cheer on his or her home team.

Germany’s tradition of allotment gardens dates back over 200 years. As early as 1806, Landgrave Carl of Hesse ordered “Carl’s Gardens” (named after him) to be laid out. His main objective was to counter the increasing poverty and give the hungry masses the chance to overcome food shortages by growing their own vegetables. Then in 1864, the school principal Ernst Innozenz Hauschild introduced measures to offer city children a place where they could play out of doors under supervision. Small flower-beds were actually laid out for the children, but they preferred to devote their energy to playing. And so the parents soon took over the gardening, which eventually led to the first family gardens. The first organized association of allotment gardens was then set up by Dr. Moritz Schreber some 150 years ago, which is why such allotments are still frequently referred to as “Schreber gardens”. Since 1996, the German Allotment Garden Museum, located in the clubhouse of the Dr. Schreber Allotment Garden Association, has offered visitors information on the history of the allotment garden movement and the ideas of the schoolmaster E. I. Hauschild.

Mit dem Zeppelin über München: Kleingärten Enlarge image (© dpa / picture-alliance)