German word of the day: Der Schrebergarten

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German word of the day: Der Schrebergarten
Hip to be square: Schrebergärten are undergoing something of a revival in Switzerland. Photo: AFP

Today's word of the day is more than a word for some people – it’s a concept, a goal, a way of life.


Now that the days are getting luxuriously long, the temperatures are (very slowly) rising and the plants are sprouting again, you might find that a lot of Swiss people aren’t confined to their homes anymore. Instead, they have ventured outside, to find some peace in their Schrebergärten (or, as the Swiss might say, Schrebergärtli).

Literally translated into English, Schrebergarten means something like “Schreber's garden.” If you look it up in a dictionary, though, you find another translation: “allotment” or “allotment garden".  A Schrebergarten in German can also be called a Kleingarten (“small garden”) or Familiengarten (“family garden”).

Read also: German word of the day – 'Frühlingsmüdigkeit' 

The most common High German word for this type of garden, however, is Schrebergarten, so let’s have a look into the word’s history.

The first Schrebergärten (Gärten is the plural of the word “garden”) were called Armengärten (“poor gardens”) and were constructed for poverty-stricken urban populations living in poor housing conditions. They allowed people to grow their own food and get some fresh air.

One of the first Armengärten was established in Kappeln in northern Germany in the early 19th century.

In the late 19th century, Moritz Schreber, a doctor from Leipzig, together with some other academics, created a new concept: to use the small gardens as a place for physical exercise, for everyone. After he died in 1861, the concept found more and more proponents.

Hence, the small gardens in allotment areas were named after him.

Nowadays, almost a million people in Germany, from all socioeconomic backgrounds, are members of an allotment garden association and use their gardens for all kinds of purposes: parties, gardening, family gatherings...the list goes on.

These gardens are also popular in Switzerland. The Swiss Schrebergärten association currently has around 24,000 members around the country. In Zurich alone, there are some 5,500 allotments in 13 different locations.

Swiss allotments are also undergoing something of a revival. For a long time, having a Schrebergarten was considered something slightly tacky – something for old people and full of garden gnomes and trestle tables.

Now, however, that image is no longer the full picture. There has been a generational change and many younger people interested in gardening and keen on natural ingredients are moving in.




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