Today I did what is possibly the most German thing ever: I applied to be the legal guardian of a patch of dirt.
The word is Gartenpaten, which roughly translates to “garden godparent.” It means someone in a neighborhood who has agreed to look after a “garden” – or in this case, a small patch of dirt around a street tree in the middle of a sidewalk.The sidewalks, street trees, and patches of dirt officially belong to the municipality, or Bezirksamt. Since the municipality wants to spend minimal resources in maintaining these green patches, and residents sometimes like to decorate their neighborhood the way they like, the municipality has come up with a win-win situation in that residents can apply to be the Paten – guardian, godparent – of the tiny green patches in their neighborhood. The resident can then do whatever they want with their little garden, and the municipality has the name of the person on file so they know who to talk to in case there are any problems – namely, if you don’t maintain the garden or if you damage the tree.
My little patch of earth is located down the street a block away from my house. It has a trellis, a linden tree, and lots of lots of weeds. The current guardian explained to me that she used to have a beautiful flower garden, with roses and crocuses and a clematis, but that they’d all been killed or damaged when the city did some construction on the sidewalk. She said she was giving it up because a new phase in her career required her to travel more and she didn’t have the time to maintain it, but I wondered if maybe she didn’t have the heart to start over after all her hard work had been destroyed.
Now i’m starting over with a blank slate, with just one flowering vine left alive and an unknown number of crocus bulbs in the ground. I can plant flowers, herbs, vegetables, shrubs – anything I want.
Although it seems oddly bureaucratic and formal to appoint a person as the guardian of these dirt patches, I think it’s actually a very good idea. It’s a win-win for the municipality and the residents, as the municipality saves maintenance costs and inner-city apartment dwellers get the chance to play in the dirt.
Now the only question is, what should I plant first?