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What else we could plant…

Thoughts by author Otto Balkenbogen on the current situation, which has presented us all with new challenges and circumstances. A text in sisterMAG about what else we could do…

  • Text: Otto Balkenbogen
  • Illustration: Ezbah Ali

What else we could plant…

About the resurgence of garden plots

Let me vocalise some thoughts that have been going through my head. Everyone reading these lines will have survived the past week in some way or another. You’ll hear very different stories: some are frustrated, some delighted by the slower pace of life, while others struggle with financial problems. As restrictions are being phased out, many ask themselves what will come next. Can I go on holiday, when are the kids going back to school, how will life continue? One thing is already clear: how life is perceived has changed drastically. Nose-and-mouth-covered shopping is not much fun, neither is having a drink at the pub without seeing the regular waiter’s friendly face, and the neighbour’s annoyed expression when you forget about a rule disrupts harmonious everyday life. Empty seats in theatres, operas and varietés change the mood among the few spectators that are left. What is this summer going to be like? Are the fun-accustomed and holiday-hungry Germans going to be satisfied visiting local parks, castles and amusement parks? Or could this be the summer of renovating our homes while the usual coasts of Mallorca, Bodrum and Marmaris are locked down with strict restrictions? All of this is now part of real life, after we had to learn that the unthinkable could become a reality from one day to the next. So I think that we have to find something that will make our lives fun outside of the originally planned adventures. Some might say that their usual activities of hiking, biking and outdoor sports come in handy in these times when our immune systems are under attack.

But we also need some activity where we can plan, invest and reap the benefits of hard work in a different way so we can enjoy a relaxed glass of wine in the evening. On my journeys, I have met many colleagues who are very grateful to have their small, previously rugged gardens to take care of in these times. This piece of nature with its sky, clouds and rain suddenly filled the hole that we used to fill by travelling miles and miles. Herb gardens are being planted, roses revived and rows of potatoes prepared! These small retreats are meaningful. The urban, cityslicker in his thirties might smile dismissively – until he knows the joy of a cool beer after a long day’s work in the garden.

He’ll think of ribwort and dismiss the joys of planting, growing and harvesting and won’t recognise that the first small gardens originated halfway through the 19th century for reasons similar to today. A man named Heinrich Karl Gesell built the first beds on a meadow in the Johannapark in Leipzig that had previously been a playing area – to get kids to do something useful. The area was surrounded by a fence, marking the first Leipzig »Schrebergarten«. Moritz Schreber himself did not live to see this development. An orthopaedist and professor at the university of Leipzig, he was the spiritual founding father of the initiative that built the first garden. The gardens and club were named in honour of his work on movement and sports. During his lifetime, Moritz Schreber was known to use strict and, in today’s view, very questionable methods on children, earning him a reputation not only as gardener but also as somewhat of a bogeyman. Today, our enjoyment of a piece of land, a small backyard or garden in a club should not be dependent on the perfectly shaped cucumber or straight rosebushes – »our land« should be an escape that offers relaxation, pride and contentment in times of restrictions. But be careful, once you’re into it, you won’t be able to stop. Have fun!