With retirement looming I decided that I really wanted to have a garden. Since we love our downtown apartment in Mannheim and don't want to move to suburbia or the German equivalent thereof, I decided to look into getting an allotment garden. That seems to be the English, or at least British, translation for a German institution known variously as "Schrebergarten", "Kleingarten", "Koloniegarten", or "Laube".
In Germany, the Schrebergarten movement, named after the Leipzig physician Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber, began in the second half of the 19th century. Some of Schreber's ideas were bizarre and pretty abominable really, but what he's remembered for is being the namesake of the movement to provide the working population in the industrial age with cheap lots for gardening, growing vegetables, and getting exercise out in nature. Today, most German cities lease land, often quite close to city centers, to gardening clubs, which in turn lease individual plots to members and attend to administrative and organizational matters.
Cities like Mannheim, with its long industrial and workingman's tradition, often have quite a number of gardening colonies. I know of at least 10 in Mannheim. A typical plot is between 200 and 500 square meters in size (i.e. 2000 - 5000 square feet). In Germany that's quite a piece of property. Due to the dense population, purchasing a house with a lot that size near any major city is beyond the budget of most people, so leasing a plot in one of these colonies can give you the best of both worlds: remain in your urban apartment with all the advantages of access to utilities and public transportation, and have a garden the size of a suburban yard for a tiny fraction of the price.
Garden plots usually include a small building and a shed, often of strictly regulated size, and depending on the colony may or may not be electrified or offer access to city water and sewage. It's not allowed to live in the colonies, and whereas at the beginning of the movement and certainly during and after the world wars their main purpose was to enable the population to supplement their diet with home-grown produce, they have now become a free time activity for Germany's myriads of enthusiastic gardeners. It's hobby number one for both males and females here.
In my next post I'll describe my adventures in trying to find a garden plot to lease.
Some interesting links in English about German Schrebergärten:
Article in English version of Spiegel
Food for All - Applying the Schrebergarten idea to impoverished countries
Paper delivered at a conference of the American Community Gardening Association