This is a Kleingarten (aka Schrebergarten or allotment garden), something I’d never heard of before coming here. They can be seen all over Germany—kind of like community gardens with a monthly membership fee for a piece of land and a house, which the gardener has to purchase. Lots of people use them as summer houses and as a way to have a garden, even though they might live in an apartment in the city. Kleingarten communities can be spied from the window of the S-Bahn, tucked in next to a busy street, or adjacent to a city park.
I was disappointed to hear that Kleingartens had such a negative reputation amongst younger Germans, who associate them with crotchety old people who insist on following a long list of dreary rules like how often the grass must be trimmed and how high the hedges have to be. As green as Germans claim to be, I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t some part of the younger population who wouldn’t enjoy gardening and see the possibility of turning these places into something fun.
Well, I’m glad to report that those people do exist. I’ve heard stories now and then about so and so knowing someone who has a garden and no, they aren’t an ancient stick in the mud. Finally, I met a person my age who has one and was invited yesterday afternoon. It was lovely. I was sent home with a bag of lettuce, a zucchini, herbs, and a bouquet of flowers.
The German half of this relationship thinks that my fascination with Kleingartens is equal parts horrifying, crazy and amusing. When it was mentioned to friends last night I don’t think that anyone took it seriously and it was quickly disregarded.
From my outsider perspective, however, they are genuinely interesting. They remind me of miniature suburbs, as if everything has been scaled down to the size of a child’s playhouse in the backyard. But no one lives in these places—they exist separately from their everyday homes and lives.
What is a Kleingarten? It is a piece of land that has room for a tiny house and garden and is part of a Kleingarten community. They often occupy land along the railroad tracks but I have also seen them in Lübeck in a very quiet part of town next to the river. People spend their summer evenings and weekends there, sort of like they would at a cabin ‘up north’ in Minnesota. If there is a sinister side to the Kleingarten, it seems to have something to do with them having a reputation for being popular with a section of the population that likes things to be a certain way and that everyone is always keeping close tabs on their neighbors—what kind of car they are driving, how well the grass is cut, how often they are there or not there, etc.
But I think that there is more to them and am interested in looking a little more closely. They are just too strangely fascinating to dismiss.