In parts of Berlin, allotment waiting lists are up to five years long, consisting of around 12,000 people.
This has been put down to a new wave of young Germans looking for green spaces to grow their own produce, as attitudes to consumption continue to change.
Analysis from The German Institute for Construction, City and Space research – states that around 95% of Germany’s one million gardens are now occupied. “This is largely due to growing demand from young households – predominantly from families with children,” says Brigitte Adam, who led the institute’s study. “The growing interest also reflects an increasing need to be more involved in nature conservation and environmental protection, and to make green and open spaces – especially in urban centres – a place of rest and relaxation,” Adam continued.
These allotment-type gardens are quite often referred to as “Kleingärten”, which means “small gardens”. Another word used for them is “Schrebergärten”, after the Leipzig doctor and teacher Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber, who promoted the gardens’ benefits for young people in the city in the 1800s.
He was very much concerned with encouraging children to play outdoors. These type of gardens are known for their neat lawns, brightly-coloured summer houses, and occasional water features. They became popular in German cities during the Industrial Revolution, to provide fresh air and food for the urban poor. Often these gardens were located in the less desirable parts of the city, close to train stations or airports. During the world wars, they became an invaluable food supply, and are now often considered an institution of German culture. However, as the German economy recovered, the allotments became less of a necessity and more of a luxury.
There were subsequent extensive rules and regulations, and those who used these allotments were often mocked for being “bourgeois”. They were sometimes said to have “Schreber garden mentality”, to refer to narrow-minded, rule-abiding members of society.
Attitudes in recent years have changed, however. There is now a huge demand for these gardens, especially among young people looking for a green escape. It is part of a broader urban gardening trend in Germany: from green spaces in car parks and shipping containers to gardens on the roof of high-rises. The rise of veganism, concerns about pesticides, as well as a desire to eat sustainably and reduce plastic packaging, are intertwined with this recent surge in allotment popularity.
Germany is home to Europe’s biggest market for organic produce, and a 2019 study by Forsa also found that 28% of 18-29-year-olds would be willing to spend up to 50% more on ecological produce. The average age of garden association members is now 56 – a fall of about five years since 2011. Just a decade ago, a third of garden association members were aged between 65 and 75.
In Wedding, Northern Berlin, Tilman Vogler, 30, a photographer from western Germany, and allotment owner, said: “After work, I can come here for a couple of hours. I take my shoes off and I’m immediately in a different state of mind,”
“It’s a luxury really, that we don’t have to depend on what we grow…The supermarket’s still down the road. But it definitely makes you more aware of where your food comes from and you know it’s organic.”
Vogler heard about an allotment which had recently burned down, so he took on the damaged plot, which allowed him to skip Berlin’s three-to-five-year-long waiting list.