Updated Thu, Jul 19, 2012 12:11 pm
The Kleingartner Museum is a collection of small gardens in Leipzig, Germany that showcases the gardening of local residents. These residents rent the small properties to plant and care for a garden throughout the growing season for roughly 500 euro a year. The practice goes back decades and is one of the most consistent traditions that has sustained through the world wars, the GDR, and reunification. The properties are roughly the equivalent of a small American backyard garden with a small quaint cottage on the property designed more for the gestalt of the garden and not built for living quarters. Our production group with the Scripps J-School study abroad program visited the Kleingartner with the intern staff from MDR during our first week in Leipzig Germany. The purpose of the visit was to acquaint ourselves with the in the European PAL format video cameras that MDR uses to shoot programming.
The personal highlight to me was listening to the jovial and gregarious musings of gardener Georg Konig who is the caretaker of garden number 107. From the information marker on his gate, Konig has been maintaining this particular garden since 1951. That time period covers most of the GDR period and the area after the wall fell. The plaque also lists the Jahren Family gardening through the 1940s, Kaufmann Helmuth Wenck took the property in 1928, with Christian Salzmann being the earliest gardner listed beginning on the site in 1909. Konig not only has carried on a long German tradition but has lived through all of the historic and unique cultural transitions that East Germany has endured. It fascinated me to just observe him and fantasize about what history he has lived through and could share in a personal interview about himself and not just about the garden. He may be one of those individuals that will not speak of the past, much like many veterans of the world wars are believed to behave, or only speak of it in positive terms. He may be an individual that actually agreed or disagreed with parts of the history that became his personal history. It is the history that reached the world and affected the world, but it probably affected him in a very personal way that is a combination of all of his experiences. It could be a history that is a reflection of how the larger history affected his family, how it affected his career or income. But with so many possibilities about how he has a personal history, there are also many questions about why he leases the garden.
The tradition of the garden represents a leisure activity that not only is a hobby for the tenants but local pride of their culture. If someone was disgruntled about any of their cultural history, would they continue to strive to grow the best garden? They could be gardening for personal satisfaction in spite of their cultural history. Gardening may not be any part of their cultural history but a reflection of as their personal history. Konig spoke, through our MDR translator, of his lifestyle as a gardener. During the gardening season, he either walks or bikes to the garden every day. It appears as an oasis not only for the eye of the visitor, but for his personal lifestyle. He is obviously retired and has painted a picture of tranquility and reward for a long life that witnessed many historic events. Those historic events may have nothing to do with his garden. It could just be about having a relationship with his roses. His nemesis and friends could be the overpopulation of foxes in the Leipzig area that visit his garden to feed on mice and snakes.
It is impossible to know what motivates him to strive to have the best garden. His demeanor while we were his visitors was warm and inviting. This may be his last hurrah as retirement is meant to be in many cultures. It may just be a form of relaxation after many years of hard work. But it could not escape my imagination of the possibility of a personal interview with Konig. What happened during his life? What is his personal history? What are his cultural and historic memories? Does he ever think of Hitler while tending his roses and fighting off those pesky weeds that seem to invade gardens of any country? He is the only one that will ever know, until he shares it with a lifelong friend, a personal diary, maybe a spouse that no longer is with him, or possibly a journalist. But why would he want to share it with anyone when he can share it with his blossoms or personally dismiss it and focus on his personal history as a gardener.
I have interviewed many Americans of Georg Konig's age and the questions were always focused on the historical, political, and cultural events of their time. But the smile comes to their face when they reminisce about strolling down the boulevard when they met their mate, or raising their children, or doing something as personally fulfilling as growing a garden. The historical events of a persons life can have a major impact on their personal history, but it may not matter when they retire to their garden. Adolph Hitler may have been a character in a play as far as they are concerned. The GDR may have the same impact on their personal history that Reaganomics had on a farmer in Appalachia. Sometimes it is more important to enjoy your personal history than it is to reflect on your cultural history. I will never know what is in the mind and memories of Georg Konig. But I will always wonder what it would be like to listen to his personal stories that parallel his cultural history.
- Paul Jacoway