Experiencing the rich culture of Eastern Germany seemed like a difficult feat for a few American journalists to solely take on alone. With the help of the MDR, or better known as Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (Central German Broadcasting) interns, it was a journey of exciting revelations down memory lane since the GDR period. Beginning the Travel at the Crossroads of Europe study abroad program, I hadn’t really had a concrete idea on how my culture topic could be conveyed in a personable fashion. That is, until the expert broadcast and radio interns, Marcus and Charlotte, led us to the exquisite beauty that the Schreber Gardens held.
Perfectly allotted squares of fruits, flowers, and vegetables were carefully crafted into gardens that looked like they were painted straight from Claude Monet’s expert hands; I couldn’t believe my eyes at the breathtaking rows of magnificently sculpted landscape. Each one felt alive with a specific radiant personality. Silly gnomes cheerfully smiling among purple wildflowers, German flags displayed in triumphant pride, and even tiny strawberries emerging in the summer heat.
The Schreber Gardens are a means of self-identity with how Leipzig locals convey their utter dedication to the German culture. Rather than splurge on vacations and holidays, these masterpieces are a form of individual retreat for the plot owners. I certainly felt mesmerized by the captivating beauty each garden exhibited. Not to mention, envious of how much hard work has been put into each vibrant patch. Even though living in your own garden full time is not allowed, bathrooms are installed in some and various seating arrangements are compiled in a comfortable porch setting.
Diameters and plant heights within each garden has to be fit to scale exactly how the guidelines state; no exceptions. It seems strict, however, not as harsh as it was back in the GDR. As the interns increased our knowledge on the foundation of Schreber, we learned how these tiny gardens were a lifeline that presented families a valuable trading option. Since food was not easily accessible during the GDR, it’s amazing to ponder the thought of homegrown goods being the only source of putting food on the table.
Working our way through the maze of gardens, practice with the MDR’s state of the art video camera was the best hands on experience I’ve received. Less than tech savvy, I am fully aware of my limited knowledge on filming. Stills are my favorite because it’s an easy process of snap and click to capture the object at hand. Challenges are my guilty pleasure though, so diving into the field practice of filming was riveting. Marcus and Charlotte explained a brief lesson on tips for the camera of using effective white balance, zoom quality, and audio to put together a quality picture. Learning all the gadgets incorporated on the video camera gave me that jolt of journalistic rush; whenever I learn a new piece of quality information, my insides buzz with journalism glee. Even the blue MDR microphones, which looked like they should be used for an upcoming press release, commanded my attention.
The whole process just seemed so official as we sauntered our way through the green fields of glory. Finding an interviewee was not difficult as we stumbled upon a man basking in the sun reading a newspaper in his lawn chair. He politely let us interview him as the interns translated our questions ranging from how he felt about his garden, why he had it, what problems he faced, and so on. As I held the microphone lingering on his every word, I had to remember to keep it close to his face in order to get the full audio recording. Answering, he described his garden as his castle; he came to it, 10 minutes on bike, 15 on foot, whenever the weather permitted. Weeds are his nemesis, as for most gardeners, and since being widowed, he has discovered the habitat to fill him with pure joyfulness and relaxation.
Before leaving the humble atmosphere, our group happened to run into the owner of Schreber and he took us to his own personal grounds. Showing us his gigantic cucumbers and lovely assortment of flowers, the moment I’ll never forget is when he proudly took out the pictures he captured of the family of foxes that pranced around his garden just the day before. They were adorable, obviously, and it made me blissfully content knowing how domestic these animals were. Maybe it was the alluring appeal of the vibrant colors or the tasty treats of the organic goods that brought them into civilization. Either or, these humble pasture cannot help but bring a sense of cultural harmony to the civilians of Leipzig as well as mother natures many creatures.
Our time with the MDR interns was influential and unforgettable. Applying what I learned from them will undoubtedly help my journalism tool kit for future projects. My appreciation for seeing the Schreber Gardens and getting hands on experience with filming was beyond impressionable. Now, when I pass the fields of other gardens among the city, I’m constantly reminded of the graceful presence that day in greenery left me; showing me a world of historical culture tied together in a meadow of admiration.
- Stephanie Gort