Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Victory Garden

This is something I never knew about before, but something like the German "Schrebergarten" also existed in the United States during the World Wars. The US government asked citizens to plant gardens and grow at least some of their own food in order to have more available for troops overseas. The garden club where we now have our garden in Dresden was founded just after World War 2, the former airport of sorts and later illegal dump was parcelled off and leased to the hungry Dresdners so that they could grow some food. I read one account from one of the first gardeners in our club, they couldn't start planting things right away, first they had to clean up their parcel, remove things like tar paper, wire, building debris, bricks. Even worse, they had no water to water their plants once they were able to start gardening. They had to schlep it from Königsbrücker Straße, which is a bit of a hike.

This is our victory garden just after we got it about 4 weeks ago. The cottage was most likely built in the 60's, during the GDR, and upon closer inspection, you can see that it is cobbled together of the simplest materials. The roof is a hodge podge of different sized boards. Whoever built the place worked hard to even collect all the necessary building materials. In the before picture above, you can see almost how the place looked when we got it. The only things missing are all of the junk that filled up 2 dumpsters and the lawn furniture strewn about the front yard. I'd already transported the useable stuff behind the house.

Here's how the place looks now, 4 weeks later. We couldn't imagine all of the nice plants that would start popping out of the ground as spring sprung. There are a lot of flowers (roses, peonies, tulips, hyacinths, different kinds of lilies, and lots that I don't know the names of), herbs (lavender and chives), bushes (currants, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries) and fruits and vegetables (strawberries, rhubarbs and today we discovered asparagus!) already there, the beds and the plants just need to be cleaned up and transplanted to fit our vision for the garden. New beds also need to be dug and prepared, since we are required to (and want to) grow fruits and vegetables on a certain portion of the land.
The original plan was to simply plow the place and plant some seeds, but after it became clear what a great selection of existing plants there was, we started transplanting and carefully cleaning up.
So, what's the victory in my victory garden? Obviously I'm not farming for any war efforts. First, it's a victory for my kids. They can wallow in the dirt and get crud under their fingernails just like I did as a kid. They can simply be kids with no TV, no computer, no iPod, no CD player, no room full of toys... They just have lots of space, dirt, plants, snail shells, worms and other assorted creepy crawlies to indulge in. It's definitely a victory against boredom and getting stir crazy at home in our little tiny place. The trip to the garden is a nice 30 minute walk or a short bike ride, there's enough space for everybody to do their own thing if necessary, and oh, is there ever LOTS to do. There's something very satisfying and relaxing for me about pulling quack grass and dandelions. It's a victory for my nerves. I am so fried at the end of the week that it's nice to be able to absolutely switch gears, go someplace quiet, and do something very different. And of course the clearest victory of all: the delicious treats we will soon be harvesting!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What a difference a day makes

Today I documented our walk to the garden. Someone has already put some graffiti on the wall in front of the new daycare where the teacher we had at our first wildly failed attempt at childcare now works.

Here's the Garnisonkirche, built between 1893 and 1900 with a Catholic and an Evangelical wing in Dresden-Albertstadt to serve the military, which was based in this part of the city. This building is so giant and just fascinates me, I adore it. My son thinks it's a castle and got mad when I told him it's a church.

It looks like someone got interrupted while working on this masterpiece.

Here's the addition that's going on to the Military History Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind. From this angle it looks tiny, later I'll post another picture from a different angle where it looks shockingly immense.

I thought this was a nice ensemble, near the entrance to the Military History Museum.

We like to call this "Freedom is not Free" , it's actually a Soviet war memorial that used to stand on Albertplatz a bit to the south during GDR times. In 1993 it was moved here, in front of the Military History Museum.

After a bit of a jaunt, we reached our little dump. It's starting to look a bit more cheerful, the cherry tree is in bloom and we decorated the quince tree with Easter eggs yesterday. My project for today was to clean up under the quince tree (on the right), transfer some flower bulbs to the new flower bed and transfer some strawberry plants from in front of the house to the strawberry patch I weeded yesterday. Other projects for today involved preparing a patch for sowing some more delicious vegetables like spinach and leeks and planting potatoes.

As you can see, we were successful. The flowers have been transplanted, and next to the flowers are where the spinach and leek seeds went in!

These guys were transplanted last weekend.

Here are my strawbs next to the rhubarb that our neighbor gave us. It looks like I'll need to learn how to make quince jelly and rhubarb cake, because I sure don't know what the heck else to do with the stuff!

Ooooh, I can't wait until these pretty little guys turn into delicious sweet cherries! I know just what I'll do with them, camp out under the tree and eat them straight from the tree!

It seems that this year, my luck is taking a different shape. A couple years ago, I found over 30 four leaf clovers starting April 1, this year it seems that we'll be finding lucky mushrooms (Glückspilze, in Germany mushrooms are a symbol of good luck). My friendly gardener called me excitedly shortly before we left this afternoon to show me this lovely morel, a fine delicacy where I come from. We plucked it, carefully transported it home, sliced it up, fried it in butter and ate it with dinner. Mmmm. Let's see what kind of luck this brings.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Future Slumlords

One person called it integration, lots of friends find it very cool, I don't quite know what to think of the fact that we are now owners of a little dump of a cottage and a 560 square meter parcel of garden space in a garden club not too far from where we live.

This is a view back toward the Military Museum from on top of the dump.
Good thing we can walk to the garden from where we live, because our car's been in the shop for nearly 4 weeks. So much for importing a stupid American girly-car! Good luck getting parts. It's actually a very pleasant and scenic walk, even though it doesn't seem too enticing at first glance. You leave our house, cut through the IKEA ghetto that is the Obere Neustadt, go past the imposing Garnissonskirche, cut through the park in front of the Military Museum and gape at the currently under construction Daniel Libeskind addition, cross the big loud busy street, pass the supermarket where you can pick up whatever provisions you could possibly need, from grilling items to fresh sauerkraut to delicious crunchy garlic pickles, pass some more military buildings on the left where there are signs that say "Do not enter, guns are used here" and can peer in and see all kinds of cool tools of destruction, from helicopters to tanks to rockets (the kids are always impressed), cross the bridge over the train tracks (also exciting for the kids if a train comes), and then, here's the really cool part, cut through the dump. The dump is no longer in use, leave it up to Dresden to turn a dump into a park. It's actually pretty nice and quiet, you don't even realize you are smack dab in the middle of the city (and on top of a dump) up there because you are elevated and the noise of the city is very far away. There are paths, meadows, often people are up there flying kites or having picnics, not to mention enjoying the great view. After exiting the dump, we go through a little gate and we are immersed in the joy that is our Kleingartenverein (Small Garden Club). Actually, there are two. On the left are the old Stasi workers' gardens, they are bigger and better equipped. On the right is the garden for everybody else. There are nearly 1000 parcels in our club, it's like a giant parallel universe. When you go for a walk in there you can't see the end of the place or anything else for that matter. You don't feel like you're in the city any more, you feel like you are in some quaint little village with nicely cut little plots of land and tiny little pink houses everywhere. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Here's a view out over our garden club from on top of the dump.

Here's a view back toward downtown, again from the dump.

And there it is, our own little slum. This place is in disrepair, the previous owner inherited it from his aunt who just got too old to really keep up the garden. Well, the nephew had no desire to. You can see the remnants of what was once a very chic garden that was tended with great pride, remainders of curving walkways among rose- and lavender bushes, carefully arranged trees, berry bushes and chives coming up that suggest a well-tended herb patch of summers past. This is all just talk of the garden. The house, oh the house. To put it simply: all the junk and stuff that was strewn about the garden and piled high in the house (and is not shown in the picture because it's already been hauled off or moved to the back part--like the tipped over yard swings, the grills, the bricks, the stones, a giant pile of sandstone...) filled a dumpster to the brim. We didn't pitch everything, we kept the useable items and the neighbors took some stuff. Somebody took the sandstones the guy had been using to build a terrace without a permit, somebody else took the mouse-poo-ridden sofa for their dog to sleep on. Oh, yeah, and the previous owner staked the place out, waited until we were gone and the neighbors were gone to slip in and take a bunch of stuff after his grace period had ended. You see, he'd been kicked out and owed the club money.

That's just the junk. Did I mention the roof? It's sagging. It looks sort of like a horse's back, if you want to picture that. After clearing the house out, my trusty handyman started to tear out the plastic lining that acted as a ceiling and stinky yellow water just poured down like a smelly rainshower. The good thing is that there's a stove that we could fire up to start drying the place out. It's got wet walls, but we've torn out the wallpaper and are airing the place out as much as we can. We're also having a visit from a roofing expert in the family this weekend to hatch a repair plan.

Then there's the water. Last weekend we tried our luck, Handy Man ventured into the 2 meter deep hole where the water can be turned on and off, and we established that when on, water sprays all around the line on the outside of the house.

We were prepared for this, I would say. We consciously didn't purchase some expensive chic-y garden because we didn't want to just take on somebody else's ideas. The plan was to make this our own, and oh, will we ever. This place also certainly has its advantages. It's on the edge of the club, giving us fewer neighbors and a view of something else other than the other gardens. Plus we've got a quince tree, a cherry tree and an apple tree, not to mention tons of annual flowers, plants and herbs and berry bushes. It just all needs to be moved around a bit so that we can also fulfill the requirement of actual fruit and vegetable cultivation on a certain portion of the garden. I've already been busy transferring flower bulbs. The little house is also bigger than you may build them now.

A little about the history of this place: in earlier times the area where the gardens are now was used as a type of airport. After World War 2, it was cleared and converted into garden parcels so that the starving population could have a plot of land and grow their food.

I like to see this as my start on a long career of being a slum lord. You see, I have a penchant for old houses, especially ones in disrepair. Plus, my parents actually thought that a garden club was a place for poor people to live, something like the trailer parks in the United States. This is my starter house. Next comes my first villa, then my second...

Oh no.

What can we do to run this pest out of town?

Being the immature imbecile that I am, I cracked up loudly after spotting this one, most likely to the pure disgust of lots of other mothers who were out with their kids enjoying the sun last weekend :-)