Watering cans in hand, Berlin residents take on gardening duties
By Haiko Prengel Sep 23, 2010, 13:37 GMT
Berlin - Residents of large German cities have started watering trees and taking care of plants in public parks themselves. In some cases it's because government funding for gardening services have been cut.
Their efforts are not welcomed by all city authorities, but what they are doing to improve their living spaces cannot be classified as acts of anarchy.
Don't mess with the young linden tree in front of Brita Bredel's apartment building in Berlin's Kreuzberg district.
Bredel has protected the tender sapling from urinating dogs and careless passers-by by placing rose bushes and nylon traps around it. The 42-year-old pulls weeds around the tree so that colourful flowers can grow in the space, inviting honey and bumble bees to pollinate the blooms.
Bredel's commitment to a patch of ground that is in fact city property is not unique. In Berlin and many other German cities, not many gardeners are employed and thre is too little money available to cover the cost of gardening work. In the hot summer entire Berlin parks wither in the heat because city authorities can't keep up with the watering needs.
The area around the base of most trees in front of rental properties is covered with dirt and dog faeces, a situation that has spurred many residents to start taking care of the trees and bushes in their neighborhoods themselves.
Equipped with watering cans and rakes, citizens increasingly are taking responsibility for public green spaces. Germany's federal environmental protection agency has identified the trend, saying it started a few years ago, particularly in Berlin. Herbert Lohner of the agency called it an 'underground anarchical development.'
It usually starts small with basic care for the areas under and around trees near private homes and carries on through gardening in city parks, Lohner said. He considers it a sign that the environmental consciousness of people living in cities has been increasing for years.
However, these actions often result in conflict because gardening on public property officially is the responsibility of environmental authorities. Lohner recalls how in the middle of the 1990s citizens in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district started planting pansies along the barren Kollwitz Street in what came to be known as 'guerrilla gardening.'
These actions often ended with authorities sending their gardeners in to rip out the plants. They argued that it was necessary because the plants were not put in by the city, said Lohner. Today it's different. In many districts of Berlin, city authorities cooperate with citizens when it comes to gardening duties.
Bredel has fought with city gardeners for years about the green space in front of her house. An 80-year-old silver linden tree previously stood in the place where the young linden tree was planted. Its top was as high as the roof of her building and its leaves rustled in the wind outside her windows on the fourth floor.
Then the tree got sick and authorities had it cut down in May 2009.
It took a lot of effort, but Bredel managed to have a new linden tree planted. She also made sure there was a contract between the city and the residents allowing them to take care of the tree and the area around its base.
A sign hung on the tree says the residents alone take care of the flower beds along the kerb. City gardeners are actually forbidden from watering them and cutting them. Assistance from the city isn't necessary because 'we do the watering every day,' Bredel said.