THERE is no real translation for the Kleingarten.

The literal "little gardens" is a better stab than the dictionary "allotments". You may see the occasional row of spuds or sprouts tucked into a corner but these are secondary.

They are nothing like the open plan rectangular plots separated by mud paths, each dedicated to the single-handed production of an EEC vegetable mountain, its command post a shed made from old doors off a building site held together with string and the odd nail so familiar in our cities as a solitary male refuge from wife and kids.

By our standards the Kleingarten are often rather large. Each has its garden house, often a sturdy and well-built affair, with room inside for armchairs and a dining table for the family, and outside it a lawn. They are fenced just like we would fence our gardens, with neat stone or concrete paths from the front gate.

Perhaps the, simplest way to describe them is that they are like an English garden in which the house has shrunk.

Someone has to cut the grass and tend the flowers, but the important thing is the sitting - and then there's the eating and the drinking too. But one garden intrigues me; covered with small Christmas trees. In a few years the family Braun will have their own small but private forest.

A few kilometres from town we come to the real forest. The road is straight and wide with little traffic, and fortunately none of the tanks or lorries shown on the military road-signs with their two speed limits; for one-way use, attack or retreat, and for two-way when they are not quite sure.

Our purpose is no more cold-war-like than a trip to the country and we stop at the parking place. Here part of the forest has been cut down and rearranged to make swings and climbing frames and a wild-west stockade for the kids. Then, just to make sure they don't just play and forget that competitive spirit, there is an obstacle race track.

When we get bored to tears with watching the kids play we decide to take the woodland trail. This is not quite what we expect.

Germans surge past us at a brisk canter, leapfrogging posts, climbing bars and ladders, performing pull-ups, swinging along monkeybars, lifting weights, hurdling fences and kicking balls into holes as we take the easy way round at a moderate stroll.

Despite the obvious signs of Waldsterben, with many dead or dying trees, the woods are still pleasant to walk through; the spring of pine needles, light through the branches, the occasional bird or flower or lichen to admire and the smell of apparently clean air in a pine forest.

Refreshed we reach the parking place where further refreshment awaits us in the of beer and sausages in the cafe.


All pictures and text © Peter Marshall, 1985, 1997

Photograph © Peter Marshall 1985

Photograph © Peter Marshall 1985

Photograph © Peter Marshall 1985

 German Indications

  Photographs and text by Peter Marshall

photography and writing are necessarily
fiction-creating enterprises
Any resemblances in this work to actual people places or events
are simply resemblances