14 February 2007
Mein Eigenes Kleingarten
You see these all over Switzerland, usually near the motorways and train tracks. At first glance, they appear to be an odd slum that is strangely out of place given the orderliness of the Swiss. Upon closer inspection, you realize they are
minuscule plots of land with gardens and small buildings of varying sizes and elaborateness.
Some of the structures are barely deserving of the name "shack," mostly composed of pieces of 4x4's and plastic sheeting. But there are others that are quite large and it is obvious they have running water and electricity.
But do not think that these are great places for camping. Staying overnight, or mowing on a Sunday, is strictly verboten! Signs are posted that clearly state the police will be called to deal with the offenders.
In Germany they are frequently called Schrebergartens, named in honor of Dr. Daniel Schreber who came up with the idea of urban plot gardens in the mid-19th century. The concept is simple -- give city dwellers a plot of land and the opportunity to experience nature and sustain themselves from the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors.
I'm not certain if the same term is ever used in Switzerland, but I have heard them called Kleingartens (translated as "small gardens" or "hobby gardens").
During the summer the gardens are full of urbanites communing with nature, tending their gardens while their children play. And even socializing with friends over picnics and barbecues.
During the winter the gardens are mostly quiet but for the occasional staunch gardener. And last weekend we happened upon a group having a garden party. Although the sun was shining, it was still rather chilly for outdoor entertaining. Yet the determined lot held on and continued, even though they stood huddled in their coats, hats and mittens in the rather sad-looking garden.
I am anxious to see these gardens come back to life in the spring and summer.