Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Politics of Community Gardening
in Germany

Gert Gröning
FG Gartenkultur, FB 2
Hochschule der Künste
Berlin, Germany

Paper presented at the 1996 Annual Conference
of The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA)
"Branching Out: Linking Communities Through Gardening"
September 26 - 29, 1996, Montréal, Canada

[Images from the author's talk are not included.]



  1. The development of the number of allotment gardens in Germany

  2. The reflection of the meaning of allotment gardens in urban zoning plans and citizen participation in urban politics

  3. The contribution of community gardeners to a democratic urban culture

  4. A few remarks to the future of allotment/community gardening in Germany as part of an urban culture

  5. References


The presentation addresses four points. It starts with a few quantitative data about community gardening in Germany and gives an example which relates to the difficulties to provide urban land for small gardens in Berlin, Germany.

The second point refers to the zoning law in Germany. This law affects community gardens with respect to their legal status. Since the plans which this law requires must become approved by a local council, the provision of land for allotment gardens is a concern for local elections also. Here the long-standing democratic traditions in many community gardening associations prove to be very helpful. This includes various commissions on local and state level which have become established as a consequence of the first 'Small Garden and Small-Rent Land Law' of 1919. In this context a special dimension of open space politics during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and its meaning for community gardens is shortly sketched. It is the idea to integrate community gardens into people's parks. Much later, in the 1970s, community garden development plans were commissioned as part of comprehensive open space plans in order to get an overview over local conditions, and help to meet the demand for small gardens. Here again the city of Berlin serves as an example of the ongoing struggle for urban land for gardening.

The third point has a closer look at the contributions of community gardeners to a democratic urban culture. It includes a short reference to the consequences of party-political streamlining during National Socialism (1933-1945) for community gardeners associations. Another aspect relates to various public celebrations organized by allotment holders. Additionally the meaning of community gardens as expressed in literature and in songs is briefly addressed.

The presentation concludes with a few remarks to the future of community gardens in Germany as part of an urban culture. Here, again only briefly, the meaning of gardening as a leisurely activity for people in a highly industrialized society and the need for organized action is pointed out.


More than 150 years ago a special garden arrived in many European cities, the community garden or as it is also called the allotment garden, the jardin ouvrier, the volkstuin, the Kleingarten, and so on. Given the long history of cities this may be regarded as a fairly short period.

Image: garden areas in the surroundings of Athens, Greece, around the 4th century B.C. (Carroll-Spillecke 1989:29)

So we know from antiquity, for example from the city of Uruk in Mesopotamia, that about one third of the total area was covered with gardens. We also know that the citizens of ancient Athens in Greece had their gardens along the shores of the rivers at the periphery of the city. Nobody called these gardens community gardens or allotment gardens or the like. Nevertheless I believe we are not completely off the track if we imagine these gardens similar to the community gardens which we are accustomed to see for more than 150 years in cities.

Image:medieval garden work

Now, I do not plan to go through the cultural history of small gardens as part of the worldwide process of civilisation. Rather I want to focus on a fairly recent aspect of gardening.

Image: Japanese community gardens / allotment gardens in Fukuoka, Kyushu, site plan with rules for conduct

Community gardens are a world-wide phenomenon. {cf. Gröning, Gert and Joachim WOLSCHKE-BULMAHN: Von Ackermann bis Ziegelhütte, Ein Jahrhundert Kleingartenkultur in Frankfurt am Main, Studien zur Frankfurter Geschichte, Band 36, Frankfurt am Main 1995} They are part of Chinese as well as Japanese, Russian, Brazilian, American, Canadian, and, since I want to talk about that, of German, and many other cities around the world. Allotment gardens in German cities, such as Berlin, Hannover, Leipzig, and elsewhere, are the result of a multitude of interests. Private as well as municipal, and state interests are involved.

In Germany the private interest in a community garden is often associated with the name of Daniel Gottlieb Moritz SCHREBER (1808-1861). In the first half of the nineteenth century SCHREBER was the head of the orthopedic clinic at Leipsic, Saxony in Germany. This association is misleading since SCHREBER himself had nothing in mind with community gardening. If, then SCHREBER may become connected to community gardening since he demanded outdoor physical training for children, and this was an early interest in community gardening in some areas in Germany.

Image: sign Kleingarten Schreberverein, community gardening association, Leipsic, Germany

Since open space for children's play had become reduced considerably within the inner city quarters in Leipsic, several citizens formed an association on 10 May, 1864 and decided to have a children's playground established somewhat further out of the city. This goal was achieved on 22 August, 1864. {for a history of the early garden associations in Leipsic, Germany, see BERTRAM, Christian and Gert GROENING: Leipziger Schrebervereine und ihre gesellschaftspolitische Orientierung zwischen 1864 und 1919, Frankfurt am Main 1996} In 1868 Carl GESELL (1800-1879) who supervised the activities of the children, had the idea to subdivide part of the playground and provide the children with small garden beds. The children, however, were not as patient with gardening as was needed, so soon their parents took over and enlarged the tiny beds of their children to somewhat larger lots which were called 'Familienbeete', i.e. family beds. They were dedicated on 7 June, 1869. Soon after it was decided to fence them in and have little arbors or huts erected. A first set of rules for conduct was developed and by 1870 around 100 gardens were established. Since these gardens were located around the playground area, which the association had rented, and since this association had named itself "Schreberverein", i.e. 'Schreber Association', the gardens there became known as "Schreberg ärten", 'Schreber gardens'. This association still exists today in Leipsic, although they once had to move their gardens and their playground from one location to another in the city.

Oviously the community gardeners in Leipsic have been quite successful. A statistical survey of 1890 may indicate this.

Image: 'Schreberg ärten' and 'Familieng ärten' in Leipzig 1890, Hasse 1891. So much for the private interest.

Then there is a municipal interest in community gardens. It is reflected in various ways of communal self administration. The municipal parks department, the planning department, the real estate department and other municipal authorities deal with community gardening.

The state interest precipitates in acts and successive orders. So there is the federal law for community gardens of 28 February, 1983 and the most recent amendment of 1 May, 1994. This amendment provides new rules for the rent which may be collected from allotment gardeners. { The amendment changed paragraph 5 of the 'Bundeskleingartengesetz', the federal law for allotment gardens, such: "As rent, related to the total area of the garden site, not more than the fourfold amount for what amount may be taken for local professional growth of fruit and vegetable may be taken"; the German original is: "Als Pachtzins darf höchstens der vierfache Betrag des ortsüblichen Pachtzinses für erwerbsmäßigen Obst- und Gemüseanbau, bezogen auf die Gesamtfläche der Kleingartenanlage, verlangt werden".} For the new states which joined the Federal Republic of Germany an especially added amendment to paragraph 20, paragraph 20a, rules a time differentiated rise of the rent. Für die neuen Bundesländer gelten folgende in 20 a getroffene Übergangsregelungen: Ab 1.1.1996 darf höchstens das Dreifache, ab 1.1.1998 höchstens das Vierfache dieses Pachtzinses verlangt werden. All these interests are related to each other and ultimately shape the politics of community gardening in Germany. If the interests of allotment gardeners are served or not depends upon their strength as an organisation. And this is what community gardeners in Germany have understood quite well early on.

Image: First Reichs-community gardeners conference in Berlin-Neuk ölln in 1921

Generally one cannot buy an allotment garden, although quite a few people own their lot. Usually one rents an allotment garden by joining a community gardeners association and signing a sub-lease with this association, like you rent an apartment from a housing corporation. The municipal union of the allotment gardeners associations rents all of its land via a general lease with the municipality. This lease rules, among other things, that the municipal rule for gardening, the 'st ädtische Gartenordnung', must be followed. Not only lower courts (Amtsgerichte), but also administrative courts (Verwaltungsgerichte), and even the federal constitutional court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht, {So hat z.B. das Bundesverfassungsgericht in seinem Urteil vom 12.6.1979 die Chancen, einkommensschwacher Bevölkerungsgruppen einen Kleingarten zu pachten, die ohnehin gering waren, weiter verringert. Das Bundesverfassungsgericht stellt in diesem Urteil zwar fest, daß "die Bereitstellung von Kleingartengelände zu den Aufgaben der Gemeinde gehört", nimmt gleichzeitig aber auch eine "erzwungene Mangellage" (BVG 1979:48) der Gemeinden zur Kenntnis, die es ihnen unmöglich mache, "dieser Verpflichtung - gleichgültig aus welchem Grund - nicht oder nicht in ausreichendem Maße nachzukommen" (BVG 1979:47).} decide on legal matters which concern community gardens.

Image: Permission to build an arbor in an allotment garden, and attempt to bribe the authority by the offer to take the officer to a peep-show, cartoon, Zitty 1986.

I do not want to go into the manifold branches of legal debates which relate to allotment gardening in Germany. I will rather address some more general political aspects of community gardening as part of an urban culture in Germany.

I thought the following points can be of interest and may stimulate debate afterwards:

  1. The development of the number of allotment gardens in Germany and a few examples

  2. The reflection of the meaning of community gardens in municipal planning and citizen participation in urban politics

  3. One example for the urban dynamics of allotment gardening

  4. The contribution of community gardeners to a democratic urban culture and finally

  5. a few remarks with regard to future prospects of allotment gardening in Germany

1. The development of the number of allotment gardens in Germany

Image: allotment gardens in the site 'Lindener Berg' in Hannover, um 1910

From a few hundred lots in early nineteenth century the number of allotment gardens in Germany rose to about 450 000 in the early 1930s. In 1949, four years after the end of World War II the number was about 800 000. Today, in 1996, the federal union of allotment holders, Bundesverband der Gartenfreunde e.V. counts about one million members, {cf. GARTZ 1995:20} who have organized themselves in about 14 000 associations all over the country. {cf. WALZ 1994:63}

In the old states of the Federal Republic the statistical figure is one allotment garden for 120 inhabitants. In the new states this ratio is about one garden for 30 inhabitants. Given that the ratio in the new states gradually approaches the one in the old states then there will be about 650 000 households who have organized themselves in an allotment gardening association.

Image: Leipsic Johannistal, community gardens established in 1832, still on the old site of 1832 near the observatory, X 1993

For various reasons quite a few of the community gardeners do not join an association. Around 1960 their number was believed to be as high as the one of those who were organized. {cf. HESSING 1958} Although there are no statistics available for those gardens I assume that their number has decreased considerably over the past decades and may now be near 100 000 in Germany. Many of these gardens belonged to what was called railroad-agriculture, "Bundesbahnlandwirtschaft" because they were established on lands which the state-owned railroad company holds as reserves for future railroad purposes. {In the 1990s the railroad company felt it would no longer need this land and offered many of these community gardeners, who often were employees of the railroad company, to buy the land for their garden, and many did.} In 1990 such community gardens counted for about seven percent of the total area in Berlin (West). {about 3 500 allotment gardens on about 150 hectares} Other non-organized community gardens are located on areas which belong to private land owners, public institutions, churches, and large companies.

In 1996 about 78 000 allotment gardens belonged to the state-wide allotmentholders union. {cf. the table 'Kleingaerten im Bezirk' , Berliner Gartenfreund, 5/5, May 1996, which counts 78 043 allotment gardens for Berlin. The number of inhabitants was 3 475 392, this is one allotment garden for 44 to 45 inhabitants} This is about 10 000 more than in 1931 for the 'Provinzialverband Groß-Berlin', the provincial union of Greater Berlin. In the same year the union merged with the allotmentholders union in the state of Brandenburg, and now represents the people who operate some 160 000 small gardens.{this number was given by FRIEDRICH, the head of the Brandenburg union of allotment holders, at a meeting by the Naulin-Stiftung, Naulin-Foundation, in October 1995; in 1931 about 10 000 allotment holders (cf. GUTMANN 1931:89), in 1995 about 75 000 (cf. GARTZ 1995 and membership table in Der Fachberater, 43, August 1994, 145), were organized in the provincial union of Brandenburg}

As part of the urban culture allotment gardens mirror the dynamics of urban development. So their number decreased between 1950 and 1960 since the need to produce fruit and vegetable for economic reasons on one's plot gradually ceased. If community gardens vanished after 1960 because the land was needed for new schools, for new residential developments, for new roads, new commercial and industrial districts, for new track and field facilities, and even for new urban parks,{cf. GR ÖNING, Gert: Tendenzen im Kleingartenwesen, dargestellt am Beispiel einer Großstadt, Beiheft zu Landschaft + Stadt, 10, Stuttgart 1974} then they re-emerged somewhere else in town with the help of the municipal authorities.

Image: allotment garden site 'Am Segen' in Dortmund, established in 1959

Where municipalities had no strategy for the acquisition of municipal real estate, conflicts with allotment holders associations tended to become harsh, and sometimes lead to organised political protest.{Minor demonstrations for the preservation of community gardens are common.The most recent demonstration occurred in July 1996 in Berlin. It related to a fairly large number of allotment gardens which should become destroyed for the widening of a shipping canal and a sluice as a consequence of increased ship traffic due to the German unification in 1990.}

As one example for the reasons which endanger existing community gardens in Germany in late twentieth century I refer to a once fairly large area in Berlin-Charlottenburg.

Image: considerations for relocation of allotment gardens in Berlin (West) 1985, e.g. Charlottenburg-Nord

In the early 1950s there were about 15 000 allotment gardens in this area in Berlin-Charlottenburg. More than 12 000 were lost over the years. Residential areas such as the satellite town of Charlottenburg-Nord, the Paul-Hertz-Siedlung, the Berlin wholesale market (Großmarkt an der Beusselstrasse), the prison for women, the fire engine station Siemensstadt, the James-Moltke-School, the highschool center (Oberstufenzentrum) am Halemweg, several industries (Industriebetriebe), a comprehensive road network (the Rudolf-Wissel-Bridge, the Kurt-Schumacher-Damm, the Goerdeler Damm, the Jakob-Kaiser-Platz, the enlargement of Heckerdamm, the Friedrich-Olbricht-Damm and the connection road to Tegel airport) were all constructed on earlier community gardens. { cf. Berliner Gartenfreund 1985:3, 13}

The remaining 3 000 allotment gardens on about 115 hectares suffer extreme pressure since several years. The blueprint for the land use plan of 1984 - a zoning plan which covers the entire territory of a city - dedicated about 40 of these 115 hectares to industry and commerce. If implemented about another 1000 gardens would have been lost since there was no land available in those days for the walled-in city of Berlin (West). However, the gardens still are there and their holders still fight.

It is the city, however, which also offers chances for community gardens. These chances must be recognized and they must be used creatively for the establishment of gardens. Allotment holders in cities in Germany know that. Time and again and with admirable perseverance they publicly announce their interest to garden in an urban environment, especially when local elections are ahead. So far they have been fairly successful. Part of the success story is their publicity work. {cf. the volume 'Kleingaerten and Kleingaertner im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Bilder und Dokumente' by KATSCH, G ünter and Johann B. WALZ, which was edited by the 'Bundesverband Deutscher Gartenfreunde' e.V., Leipzig 1996; cf. also KATSCH, G ünter: Deutsches Museum der Kleingartnerbewegung Leipzig, Saechsische Landesstelle fuer Museumswesen and Foerderverein 'Deutsches Museum der Kleingaertnerbewegung' Leipzig e.V. (eds.), Leipzig 1996} For that the journals which the allotment holders produce are helpful.

Image: Berliner Gartenfreund, title cover, April 1993, We celebrate and we demonstrate together

Early in May 1993 z.B. the Berlin Senate approved of a program to secure 85 percent of the allotment gardens in Berlin. Without constant and massive presence of the representatives of the organized allotment holders such a decision would not have been taken. In 1994 the Berlin Senate approved of the land use plan for the entire city which showed these 85 percent.

- Point to the motto 'Gemeinsam feiern und Demonstrieren'

There is no end and there will be no end for the fight for community gardens in cities. Urban land use always was a fight for various interests. When community gardeners feel they must no longer fight for their gardens other urban land uses will take over.

Now, my second point.

2. The reflection of the meaning of allotment gardens in urban zoning planning and citizen participation in urban politics

The zoning law in Germany requires public authorities only to follow the land use plan but not private companies and private people. Nevertheless it serves as an overall guide line for land use. Therefore it is essential to secure areas for community gardens in the zoning plan (Bebauungsplan), which is the legally obligatory (rechtsverbindlich) plan.

This double-bind system of land use planning has been called into question for a long time. In Berlin about 80 percent of the building acticity in recent years needed exemptions from valid zoning plans.

Image: blue print for a zoning plan for allotment gardens, publicly announced in a local newspaper with a city-wide distribution, publicly laid out, citizens invited to participate, announcement in the newspaper 'Der Tagesspiegel', Nr. 14004, 18 October 1991

Community gardens which have become part of a zoning plan are harder to relocate. With respect to community gardening this means that only where gardens are shown in a zoning plan a certain medium to long range, five to twentyfive years, guarantee for their use is given. Most of the allotment gardens in Berlin do not have such a permanent status. {cf. GROENING et al. 1985}

Image: different status of allotment gardens in Berlin (West) 1985, Gröning 1985

In 1985 in Berlin (West) only 112 hectares, i.e. only 2 779 lots, or less than six percent of the entire area for allotment gardens were granted that status. The legal term for these gardens is 'Dauerkleingaerten', i.e. permanent allotment gardens. However, since many of the other gardens are included in the urban land use plan, they are believed to be fairly safe. With that in mind the importance of local elections becomes obvious. The Berlin Senate coalition between Christian Democrats and Free Democrats had to step down in 1989 not the least because it could not offer satisfactory answers to the questions the allotment holders had asked with respect to the provision of sufficient land for gardens in the 1984 land use plan. The following coalition of Social Democrats and Greens did better work but had to step down as a consequence of the re-unification of Berlin. The coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats which rules since then approved of the land use plan which saved 85 percent of the allotment garden area in Berlin.

Nevertheless much tension hangs around in urban community garden matters in Berlin. There is no longer the need to find land for gardens within the territory restricted by the wall which defined Berlin (West) until 1989. However, since the recent question whether the states of Berlin and surrounding Brandenburg should merge or not was clearly answered with 'no' by a majority of about 60 percent, strategies which would allow for an inter-state plan for the provision of land for community gardens need considerable sophistication.

Who wants to preserve and develop community gardens for the future as part of an urban culture, must engage well equipped and well prepared in the permanent debate about urban land use.

Image: session of the urban committee for environmental protection and green spaces in Hannover, 1989, Gröning und Wolschke-Bulmahn 1989

This includes to recognize and make use of the chances for citizen participation in urban open space politics. Democratic decision processes are essential. For the first time in Germany such procedures could be followed during the Weimar Republic in the years between 1919 and 1933. They were immediately reflected in allotment gardening. Self responsibility and self administration became important. { cf. PAULY 1930:630-631} Strong political associations of community gardeners and a state interest in allotment gardens made for the first act for allotment gardens, the KGO, the "Kleingarten- und Kleinpachtlandordnung", the allotment-garden-and-small-land-rent-law of 31 July, 1919, and the rules for implementation which followed on 27 January, 1920. The Prussian version of these rules advised all larger communities, especially the large cities, to establish a local authority for community gardens and recommended it to work in close co-operation with municipal authorities which were there already, and which had to do with real estate and residential housing.{"Allen in Betracht kommenden gr ößeren Gemeinden, insbesondere den Großst ädten, ist die Einrichtung solcher Kleingarten ämter eindringlichst nahe zu legen, die ihre T ätigkeit in enger F ühlung mit den sonst vorhandenen st ädtischen Aemtern, deren Aufgaben mit der Boden- und Wohnungsfrage in Beziehung stehen (Tiefbauamt, Wohnungsamt, Grundst ücksamt) auszu üben haben und gegebenenfalls mit einem dieser Aemter verschmolzen werden k önnen"F ÖRSTER 1924:13}

Further on these rules demanded to establish expert commissions who would have to present opinions with regard to all rent prices, and other important matters. Consequently such authorities and commissions became established in most major cities. In Hannover e.g. a municipal authority for small garden horticulture and the promotion of allotment gardening became established in summer 1919. A commission, who operated as commission for the promotion of small garden horticulture, "Ausschuß zur Förderung des Kleingartenbaus", was also established. {the commission started to work in 1925, cf. WOLSCHKE-BULMAHN, Joachim and Gert GRÖNING 1989:207} The city of Frankfurt on Main established 'a mixed commission for small garden horticulture and small animal breeding', "Deputation für das Kleingarten- und Kleintierzuchtwesen", who had to deal with all questions related to small garden horticulture and small animal breeding on 14 February 1921.{ cf. GR ÖNING and WOLSCHKE-BULMAHN 1995:17}

Whereas democratic rules seem to have been observed in community gardening relatively early, the Weimar Republic seems to have been crucial for the establishment of democratic planning procedures.

Image" demand for an eight-hour-work-day, poster Weimar Republic, 1920

In 1920 e.g. the 'German Society for Garden Art', "Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gartenkunst", which had lay persons and experts as members, combined the demand for an eight-hour-work-day with the demand to provide allotment gardens.{ cf. ANONYM 1929:165}

Image: Gartenkunstbestrebungen auf sozialem Gebiete, garden art on social territory, title cover of a brochure which assembled lectures with that topic. The lectures were given at the annual meeting of the German Society for Garden Art in Nuremberg in 1906

Other people believed in the educational value of allotment gardening. They felt that the more the allotment holders associations shape themselves according to their special needs and bring the individual gardeners together as a team, the more they will contribute to an education which is needed for the citizen of a republic. { cf. SILLER and SCHNEIDER 1920:6} So the organization of small garden holders in local associations, in state-wide and nation-wide unions, serves as means to enliven the democratic constitution of a country. In Germany the state of Schleswig-Holstein has the oldest allotment garden state law. It dates back to 1948. Based on it a state-wide small garden commission, "Landeskleingartenausschuss" became established. The commission advises the state ministry for food, agriculture, forestry, and fishery. The law rules that the voice of the members of this commission should be heard in all basic administrative matters with regard to community gardening.{ cf. WEHKING, Dietmar: Aktive Zusammenarbeit im Landeskleingartenausschuss Schleswig-Holstein, Der Fachberater, 46, 1996, 3, 117}

It is a prejudice that gardeners tend to neglect politics. Rather one must point to the engagement in democratic elections in the associations and unions of the community gardeners. { cf. KAMPFFMEYER 1926:72-73}

In late twentieth century there are more than 100 000 persons in allotmentholders associations in Germany who serve as presidents, vice presidents, cashiers, certified experts in plant protection, in commissions for the evaluation of gardens and arbors, gardening consultants, and volunteers in various other matters of community gardening self administration. { cf. WALZ 1994:63}

Image: my arbor is my castle, Lindener Berg, Hannover

Some even discover a creative dimension in the construction of their arbor. Although arbor construction has to follow a set of rules nowadays, there is still some chance left to follow unconventional ideas not only in arbor construction but other areas as well. This interest was seen early on in the Weimar Republic {cf. BEHNE 1920:439} and then even stimulated architects to support this creativity as a means to promote the art of people.{This was the 'Arbeitsrat für Kunst', the work-council for art, who had leading architects of the 'Neues Bauen' as members cf. BEHNE 1920:439-440}

A special dimension of open space politics in the Weimar Republic was to integrate allotment gardens into the publicly accessible open space of cities. Thus community gardens could no longer fall prey to other land uses. They served as supplement to the various attractions public open space provided. The paths which lead through the gardens and to the playgrounds were opened to the public. Additionally the provision of open space in densely populated areas was guaranteed by community gardens. They proved productive both for their private operators and for the cities because the rents brought some municipal income. {cf. ANONYM 1929:165}

Image: small garden permanent site in connection with track and field area and municipal school gardens in Hannover-Burg, 1929; head of the municipal parks department in Hannover (1913-1934) was Hermann KUBE (1866-1944)

A new concept for peoples parks combined playgrounds, track and field areas and allotment gardens. The "Zentralverband Deutscher Arbeiter- und Schreberg ärten", the Central Union of German Workers- and Schreber-Gardens, demanded in 1919, "to save from future building activities, in the interest of the state and the municipalities, such small garden areas with especially favorable location and infrastructure if they are ready to offer their infrastructure in a mutual benefit way to the public. As play- and work-parks they must become part of the new urban land use plan, as are the public sites, and must be given to their operators in hereditary tenure". { cf. Zentralverband 1919:3; cf. also CHRISTIAN 1914:42; BROMME 1919; MIGGE 1925:141-142; KAMPFFMEYER 1926:10; VALENTIEN and BAILLY 1931:103} Landscape architects such as Ludwig Lesser (1869-1957), Harry Maasz (1880-1946) and Leberecht Migge (1881-1935) repeatedly published articles about community gardens in peoples parks in the journal "Der Kleing ärtner", 'The small gardener', and elsewhere.{cf. F ÖRSTER, BIELEFELDT and REINHOLD 1931:37}

Image: bird's eye perspective of a peoples park with community gardens, published in Lesser's book "Volksparke heute und morgen", 'Peoples parks today and tomorrow', Berlin 1927

Image: "Peoples Park", 'Volkspark Rehberge', Berlin Wedding, 1922-28, design by landscape architect Erwin Barth (1880-1933)

For the first time the interests of community gardeners became visible in urban politics during the Weimar Republic in Germany and became part of the struggle for urban land use.

- below Hohenzollernkanal, Pl ötzensee, to the right Seestrasse with Goethepark to the west, above Afrikanische Strasse

Image: letter from the municipal labor office in to the office for community gardens Hannover, Germany, with the request to provide for land for small gardens, 1931

- another example for the municipal interest in community gardens during the Weimar Republic

Anger, frustration, and feelings of loss which were associated with the unexpected cancellation of contracts and relocations of small gardens which often have been cultivated on barren land early on elicited the demand for permanent garden areas.

Image: water provision, Sillergaerten in Vienna, Austria, XVI. district, Siller and Schneider 1920, fig. 15

In 1911 already the "Verband der Laubenkolonisten Berlins und Umgegend", the 'Union of Arbor Cultivators', jointly with the "Gemeinnützige Gesellschaft zur Hebung der Lage der unteren Klassen", the 'Charitable Society for the Improvement of the Situation of the Lower Classes' had voiced such a demand.

In Frankfurt on Main Otto Ernst SUTTER claimed that the main task of the municipal community gardens authority which he demanded was the "establishment of permanent sites for small gardens which must be taken into account for future urban land use plans". {SUTTER 1917} Nevertheless thousands of small gardens were lost over the years but re-emerged time and again elsewhere in the cities.

The community gardeners stuck to their demand for permanent land for small gardens and gradually succeeded. Around the 1970s the first municipal plans for the provision for allotment gardens were made in some cities in Germany. The more complex the urban structures had become in the course of the twentieth century the more difficult it became to solve a land use problem on a given spot. More so many municipalities had no overview of who provided what land where for whom for small gardens.

Image: community gardens development plan with a set of goals, Wuppertal 1978

So "Kleingartenentwicklungs-plaene", community garden development plans, were commissioned, which should help to get an overview over local conditions and which should suggest how the existing demand for small gardens could be met. Although these plans did not answer all of the questions related to the provision of land for community gardens, for this kind of open space, they demonstrated a new quality in the struggle for urban land use.

Image: Logo, Grün für Berlin, title of a brochure which communicated the value and meaning of small gardens to the public, 1994

Before the wall came down in Berlin a program for the provision of allotment gardens was part of the political debate. All of that then became superseded by the events of 9 November, 1989, when the wall was opened, which consequently led to the re-unification of the city. Now there were thousands of community gardens in East-Berlin as well, and they still are there. The city then had to develop a new land use plan. It was approved in 1994. The community gardeners then were one of the most active groups who fought for their interest in urban horticulture and ultimately succeeded in an unprecedented way. They were able to secure 85 percent of the land which was used for allotment gardens in this new land use plan. They showed that for them gardening on small lots is a major asset of life quality in a big city.

So much for the second part of what I wanted to communicate. And now a few words about the contribution of community gardeners to a democratic urban culture.

3. The contribution of community gardeners to a democratic urban culture

Image: community gardens project, Stadtgarten Johowstraße, city garden Johowstrasse in Gladbeck, Northrhine-Westfalia 1987

Since there is no doubt about the socio-political aspects of community gardening it also has attracted scholars from early on. In 1897 appeared a piece about "Die Bedeutung der Kleingartenkultur in der Arbeiterfrage", 'The meaning of small garden cultivation for the workers-question'.{cf. SCHMIDT, Paul: Die Bedeutung der KLeingartenkultur in der Arbeiterfrage, Der Arbeiterfreund, Zeitschrift fuer die Arbeiterfrage, 35, 1897, 221-270 and 302-310} In 1911 the landscape architect Friedrich COENEN published a brochure about community gardens in Berlin, their deficits and their reform.{ cf. COENEN, Friedrich: Das Berliner Laubenkoloniewesen, seine M ängel und seine Reform, Goettingen} Between 1930 and today (1996) more than 20 doctoral dissertations have been wirtten on various aspects of community gardening in Germany.{recently VERK, Sabine: Laubenleben, Eine Untersuchung zum Gestaltungs-, Gemeinschafts- und Umweltverhalten von Kleing ärtnern, Volkskundliche Kommission f ür Westfalen, Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe (eds.), Beitraege zur Volkskultur in Nordwestdeutschland, Band 86, Muenster 1993} This scholarly interest is a sign for the significance of this kind of gardening in Germany.{years in which doctoral dissertations about allotment gardening have appeared in Germany: 1930, 1933, 1939, 1955, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1993, not complete}

Image: Stadtgarten, city garden, Johowstraße in Gladbeck, Northrhine-Westfalia, community gardens which seek to promote horticultural interest of urban people other than German also, here people from Morocco and Turkey have their community gardens, established by parks director Dr. Klaus Rautmann, today head of the parks department of the city of Bremen

The states in Germany support community gardening in various ways. Additionally the cities support allotment gardening with millions of Deutschmark.

Democratic procedures have a long tradition in many of the allotment gardening associations. However, this has not been so ever since. When the National Socialists took power on 30 January, 1933 they required National Socialist streamlining and enforced it on 29 July, 1933. Consequently the articles of the associations were changed. This meant blood-and-soil-ideology, no more elections, the NSDAP, National Socialist Workers Party, appointed the 'leaders' for the community gardening associations, and no Jews as community gardeners, only 'Germans of Aryan descent' could operate a garden. {cf. GR ÖNING und WOLSCHKE-BULMAHN 1995}

Image: letter of 3 June, 1937 from the Gestapo, the secret state police, to the authority for small garden horticulture in Hannover about the dissolution of community gardening associations

During National Socialism the secret state police dissolved community gardening associations who resisted the destruction of their democratic organisation.{ cf. WOLSCHKE-BULMAHN und GRÖNING 1989}

This helps to explain why after the liberation from National Socialism the administration under Allied command in Germany had to specify that "democratic procedures must be observed, i.e. secret elections at a membership meeting, for the election of a president of a community gardeners association, must be guaranteed".{GRöNING und WOLSCHKE-BULMAHN 1995:37}

Image: school garden lessons in Zdar nad Sazavou 1992

An important meaning of community gardens as part of an urban culture is to introduce into the consciousness of a city and of a society values that are associated with gardening. Values which show that gardening is an enjoyable activity, it makes life outdoors enjoyable, it is a social activity. In more generic terms, community gardens can help to become sensitive for a proper handling of non-human nature in an urban environment.

- it need not be school gardening lessons but why not

Image: the head of the garden-work-school in Berlin-Friedrichshain, Herr Encke, demonstrates a spade especially developed for children

Image: allotment garden of a retired industrial worker at Eberswalde, Brandenburg, who rebuild part of his work environment in a miniaturized version in his garden, 1992

Community gardens are much more than just an assembly of lots and arbors. They are important spaces for the garden facet of urban culture. Politics-related activities of organized allotment holders or community gardeners serve their political representation as part of the urban fabric. They serve, however, also, to provide a social frame for a number of garden-related activities which many perceive as enhancement of their quality of life in an urban environment.

Image: summer party in allotment gardens, Sommerfest in der Laubenkolonie, painting by Baluschek, 1909

In Berlin the community gardeners celebrate once a year with the help of the Wilhelm-Naulin-foundation. Their festival for everybody is called in Berlin slang the 'Laubenpieperfest'. It is just one example of such acticities. For a long time after World War II, Wilhelm NAULIN was head of the state union of the allotment holders in Berlin. Additionally, as long as Bonn was the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany, the community gardeners organized a 'Laubenpierfest' in Bonn and invited all the politicians there.

Image: summer party in Berlin-Charlottenburg-Nord, Kolonie Bismarcksruh, 1988 The tradition of the summer parties, where the public is invited to see the gardens and celebrate with the community gardeners is very much alive and a well-known part of the urban culture in Berlin

In recent years quite a few of the allotment holders associations celebrated their 25th, 50th, 75th, or even 100th anniversary and for that reason published the histories of their associations. We have documented some of these in our study on allotment gardening in Frankfurt on Main which was published in 1995.{cf. GRÖNING, Gert and Joachim WOLSCHKE-BULMAHN: Von Ackermann bis ZIegelhütte, Einhundert Jahre Gartenkultur in Frankfurt am Main, Studien zur Frankfurter Geschichte, Band 36, Frankfurt am Main 1995}

Such histories show, not only for the members of the association but also for a larger public, the many aspects of social life in a community gardening association. The Berlin magazine for the friends of gardens, "Berliner Gartenfreund", is full of such historic accounts.

One such history discovered the Berlin singer Claire WALDOFF as a community gardener on a still existing site 'Kissingen' in Berlin. WALDOFF was a very well known singer in the days of the Weimar Republic. She sang in shows and her songs are still known in Germany. The community gardeners at "Kissingen", named one of the paths which leads through their gardens, "Claire-Waldoff-Weg", Claire-Waldoff-Path, and a building which the community gardeners had built for their own social activities was named "Cafe Claire". The building is also used as a meeting point for senior citizens in Berlin-Wilmersdorf.{cf. KLEMKE, Rainer E. (ed.): 70 Jahre Kleingartenverein Kissingen e.V., Kissinger Gartenhandbuch, 107, Berlin-Schmargendorf 1989}

In a line of her song "Wat braucht der Berliner, um jlücklich zu sein?", 'What is it a Berliner needs to be happy?', Claire WALDOFF answered:

"-'ne Laube, n' Zaun und n' Beet!", an arbor, a fence, and a flower bed.{cf. WALDOFF, Claire: Wat braucht der Beliner, um jlücklich zu sein?, Museum 'Berliner Arbeiterleben um 1900' (ed.), Parzelle, Laube, Kolonie, Kleingaerten zwischen 1880 und 1930, 37, Berlin 1988}

In her song about allotment gardens, "Laubenkolonie", her sympathy with this kind of gardening is obvious. The second stanza reads:

Image: lovers, perhaps on their way to a community garden, painting by Baluschek, 1923

Jibt et denn wat Sch öneres Als wenn Sonntags so Quietschvergnügt und froh Sie ihm unterfäßt Und sich führen läßt Schon am Morgen früh In de Laubenkolonie.

Is there anything more beautiful than when on a Sunday morning she takes his arm and lets herself be guided early in the morning to the allotment garden

Image: allotment garden of butcher master Ernst Sch äfer, painting by Liselotte Schramm-Heckmann 1980 A comparable sympathy for community gardening is expressed in the painting by Liselotte Schramm-Heckmann, which shows the garden of butcher master Ernst Sch äfer

Literature also reflects social and cultural aspects of community gardening. In 1936 Paul GURK wrote a novel "Laubenkolonie Schwanensee". It was reprinted in 1987.{cf. GURK, Paul: Laubenkolonie Schwanensee, Ravensburg 1987} GURK tells a story about community gardens which gradually vanish since their land is needed for the construction of a new road. In another novel by Georg LENTZ, life on the allotment garden site "Tausendsch ön" between the end of World War II and the building of the Berlin wall in 1961 is the main issue. It appeared in 1989. Here the gardens were replaced by a residential development.{cf. LENTZ, Georg: Weisse mit Schuss, Berlin 1989; "Muckefuck" and "Molle mit Korn", are the other two earlier parts of the LENTZ' trilogy. In 1989 they were made into a ten-part TV series. The film was made in an old allotment garden site in he southwest of Berlin, which was located immediately next to the wall, Kolonie Schlachtensee-S üd. The series was first shown on 12 May 1985, the 40th anniversary of the Berlin blockade by the Soviet Union. On 6 May 1995 the series was repeated in the B1 program for Berlin.}

Why some architects and landscape architects tend to despise allotment gardens may illustrate a sentence from the novel by LENTZ: "For the international building exhibition SCHAROUN and GROPIUS made their residential machines out of concrete. At the same time Buseberg (one of the allotment gardeners, G.G.), tried to glue upon the facade of his arbor a fake of panel-work. A philistine? (Ein Banause?) After that it was warmer in Busebergs arbor. The next summer arbor vitae climbed the white areas between the dark beam-work (Einen Sommer darauf rankte sich wilder Wein an den weißen Fl ächen zwischen dunklem Balkenwerk)".

Especially community gardeners who had to relocate their garden have a deep rooted distrust in planners.

Image: Kleingartensanierung Mecklenheide Tannenkamp, Hannover 1974-77

This holds true even if renewal programs for old community garden sites try to find a compromise between the manifold urban claims to land use. A rhyme, which I am unable to translate appropriately into English, voices this distrust. I will read it first in German and then try an English translation:

Gott schütze uns vor Not und Feuer May God protect us from emergency and fire

Vor der Stadtplanung und der Steuer. From city planning and tax.

This is the end of my third point and I will now conclude with a few remarks to the future of allotment gardening as part of an urban culture in Germany.

4. A few remarks to the future of allotment/community gardening in Germany as part of an urban culture

Image: he says his position as president of our association has contributed considerably to the development of his self!, Fachberater fuer das deutsche Kleingartenwesen, 1994:64

A less prejudiced, sober, self-critical approach to community gardening seems appropriate and necessary. It is not just physical design and planning but always the social and historical and urban context of community gardening which matters. Only this approach allows for adequate solutions to urban horticulture which must become developed in a mutual process of exchange and learning by the allotment gardeners and other urban groups.

- an example for self-critical assessment of small gardeners

Image: a delightful garden dwarf - this is a compliment I can return, Fix und Foxi 1986

On the occasion of a garden competition a member of the jury is surprised by the beautiful garden dwarf and the speaking dwarf returns the compliment "Whatever may be said against community gardening as an ideology - one can not say that it is indecent to ask for one location on earth where one can prove one's identity". {cf. SACK 1972:14-17} I would be delighted to learn about many community gardens where the wealth of chances for urban gardening is explored.

Image: standardized arbors, Frankfurt standard 1931

An attitude which finds that community gardens are only acceptable to the public if they follow a uniform design, can be looked at from every corner, needs to be changed. Economic reasons may advise to use standardized materials, as a basic guideline standardization is misleading, however.

Many allotment gardens express joy of life and originality, some even caricature mildly a society where consumption seems to be the only standard.

Image: the chain dog in an allotment garden may be this is a hint for dog owners who visit this garden to attach the leash to this chain

Such caricatures are an indicator for tolerance. Some of the constructive work in allotment gardens communicates to me that here at least, a job situation, which has become meaningless for whatever reasons, is compensated for in a kind of 'Gesamtkunstwerk'.

Even if some of the attempts to give meaning to leisure at least may appear clumsy, what is wrong with it?.

Image: an allotment garden as a 'Gesamtkunstwerk' in Leipzig-Johannistal, 1993

One could argue that here people try to make sense of their lives in the field of reproduction, whereas it is more important to make sense of one's life in the field of production. But is that not miles away from social reality? Not to mention that many of those who ridicule community gardens show no interest to have a closer look at this context?

Image: allotment holders enjoying their garden, Dr. Schreber site, Leisic, Germany 1996

The sphere of production tends to loose meaning for many people in the highly industrialized countries of Europe and North America. The hopes of full employment for all seem fairly futile. It may be an illusion to assume that the job in a factory or a commercial business will remain the central contents of a life. Times of unemployment tend to become longer and longer and in certain city quarters become more and more publicly visible.

The interest of the industrialized societies as such will be to allow all of their members to survive on a minimum scale, which means the more affluent will pay for a certain 'income' for those unemployed for whatever reasons. Interests to spend leisure in an autonomous way may then be followed. There will be, however, strong other interests which will do all to prevent such autonomous use of leisure and try to allow for it in a very restricted way only.

One field which can develop enough power for autonomous use of leisure may be the community gardening of the 21st century. This needs organized activities of self conscious citizens in a more and more urbanizing world.


Behne 1926:

Bromme, Max 1919: Die Kleingartenkolonie als dauernde Anlage im Stadtgebiet, Die Gartenkunst, 32, 155-163

Christian 1914:

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Migge, Leberecht 1919: Das Grüne Manifest, Worpswede

Pauly 1930:

Sack, Manfred 1972: Reglements für deutsche Gartenlauben, Zeitmagazin, 33, 14-17

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Zentralverband 1919:

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