Berlin and beyond: The mysteries of the KGA | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 23.06.2017
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Berlin and beyond: The mysteries of the KGA

It's that time of year again. The time of long days and short nights. The time, when as Tamsin Walker found out, Germany reveals some of the secrets forced into hibernation during the bitter chill of winter.

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WorldLink: Germany's small garden complex

When I first read the acronym KGA, there were still enough visible remnants of life behind the Iron Curtain to send my imagination into overdrive. Spies, I thought. Or some other shadow of Germany's segregated past.

But a little digging revealed a truth more innocuous than ominous. More unifying than dividing. Because those three letters actually stand for Kleingartenanglage, which literally translates to small garden complex. And less literally, to allotments.

These little plots of land are popular all over Germany. As in there are a million of them. And nowhere more than right here in Berlin, which boasts a proud 75,000. Another accolade for a city of superlatives. Though it wouldn't be a stretch to think this one was spawned by a growing green consciousness, and though the gardens do play a vital eco role, their roots run much deeper.

All the way to northern Germany at the start of the 1800s, where a socially-minded vicar and a benevolent land owner offered their respective townsfolk low-rent plots on which to grow their own food.

The concept flourished, and against a backdrop of ongoing industrialization and subsequent yearning for green space, soon spread to other parts of the country, really coming into its own during WWI, when food was in short and unvaried supply. Legislation was drawn up to dictate the terms of garden use and KGAs became an official part of Germany's physical and societal landscape.

A realistic snapshot

But if, by now, you're seeing images of millions of people tilling muddy plots of land - images such as my own childhood experiences would lend me - I'm going to have to disappoint. For the contemporary German allotments are brightly colored miniature worlds replete with pools, ponds, tiny houses, hammocks, recliners, barbecues, and the list goes on. And on.

Garden house with garden gate

A little house for a little garden

Which is not to say nothing grows there, because it does. There is often idyllic greenery among the accoutrements, and in fact, a third of the plot must, legally, be devoted to growing fruit and vegetables. What tenants do with the rest is up to them. Well, almost. As long as they plant what's allowed, don't make noise during the daily "rest" period, ensure their hut is no bigger than 24 square meters, and their hedges are no higher than 1.25 meters (roughly four feet).

I once dabbled with the idea of becoming a KGA-holder myself. I had my name on a waiting list and went to look at a couple of not so idyllic places, but the rules and the thousands of euros previous owners were asking - as is often the case - in order to recoup their own investments, put me off.

Others are evidently made of more dedicated stuff, because waiting lists here run well into the hundreds, and eBay is littered with people willing to pay top dollar for a tiny urban oasis. And once they find one, they have it for life.

Unless, of course they get really unlucky, and find themselves, having planted their primroses, facing investment issues of a much more challenging nature: Construction groups who have their eyes firmly trained on prime location garden colonies upon which to erect buildings far higher than the standard 1.25 meter KGA hedge. And in so doing, casting over that misleading acronym, not shadows of things past, but of those yet to come.

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