Vienna has a love affair with small suburban gardens, a parallel world of pruning, planting and peace of mind
For many Viennese, crossing the Danube has long meant venturing into uncharted territory, a journey not to be undertaken lightly. Even though rising rents in central Vienna have softened this elitist view of “the other side,” getting off at Donaustadtbrücke in the “Transdanubien” 22nd district still feels like crossing a threshold.
Among other things, it is where the magical world of Schrebergärten begins.
Here in the private garden allotments, leisure counts more than work, where pruning roses is more relevant than the next deadline. Gone are the tourists, the hustle of the city center and constant rumble of urban noise. Instead lucky Viennese don hats and sandals and carry lawn chairs in through the gates to enjoy the first warm rays of sun.
“It’s Gryphon’s first day in shorts,” said Megan Lynch-Ploszczanski, an American, proud of her 16-month-old toddler in his stroller. Together with her Austrian husband Leon, the young family is headed toward their green hideaway – their Schrebergarten, a stone’s throw from the Alte Donau. With a particularly picturesque wooden cabin surrounded by a generous garden plot, the Ploszczanskis’ Schrebergarten is a cleaned-up version of Pippi Longstocking’s house.
“It’s nothing like the hyper-modern constructs near the water,” Megan said, referring to the Bauhaus-style all-year-homes further down. Instead, the family is proud of keeping things traditional. “We’ve got it all – cherry trees, peach trees and those wonderful little strawberries that just grow over there” – Megan pointed at the garden, even though “outdoors” is not her domain.
It is Leon who comes out here about three times a week to prune the trees and to look after the plants. “We don’t have a car so I take the U-Bahn. It’s really quick,” he said. “And it’s out here I can relax, not in the 8th district.”
Somewhere that’s green
The Ploszczanskis’ Schrebergarten has changed little from the way it looked in Leon’s grandfather’s day in the 1920s, apart from the upper floor, which was added later for a bedroom. Like many of the roughly 29,500 Schrebergärten that are owned or leased in Vienna, the property has stayed in the family through the generations. And demand continues to be high: According to the Zentralverband der Kleingärtner Österreichs, ZKÖ, (Austrian National Garden Allotment Society), around 5,000 to 7,000 people are currently interested in buying or leasing a Schrebergarten in Vienna – with roughly 250 plots currently available. It’s a challenge for the city, to keep pace with the demand.
For the time being, “the City of Vienna has stopped reclassifying new land for this purpose,” explained Friedrich Hauk, deputy of the ZKÖ. “There is only so much we can do.” At the moment, the Society can only reoffer existing plots as they become available, although Hauk admitted that there is land available in Vienna “which could be reclassified if the City wanted to.”
The barrier, ironically, is the Green party. “They are militantly against the creation of new Schrebergärten since this would potentially mean more private gardens and fewer public green areas,” he said. “A new City government would make our situation a lot easier.” The Green Party confirmed this to Metropole, referring to Schrebergärten as “gated communities” and reiterating their support for more “community gardening” instead of private green spaces.
The Green Party call Schrebergärten ‘gated communities’ and prefer ‘community gardening’ to private green spaces.
Subdivided we stand
Since their creation, Schrebergärten have been a fixture of Viennese life. Inspired by the ideas of orthopedist Daniel Gottlieb Schreber, and first launched in 1864 as therapy for handicapped children, the Schrebergärten quickly became an affordable means for workers and their families to get out of town and get some fresh air and recreation. During the Second World War, many Schrebergärten converted into kitchen gardens, sustaining whole families with vegetables hard to find in shops. After the war, having a Schrebergärten became a sign of newfound prosperity, and interest only grew.
Although sometimes belittled by sophisticated urbanites as “narrow gardens for narrow-minded people,” allegedly trimming their lawn with nail scissors, the local Kleingartenvereine (allotment clubs) developed into closely-knit communities, known for throwing parties, hosting BBQs or organizing scavenger hunts for the children.
Today, this is changing. “A Schrebergarten is not the Klein-Schönbrunn of yesteryear anymore and it’s becoming harder and harder to find people who are willing to take on the commitment for the organization of those Schrebergarten societies,” regrets Friedrich Hauk, who himself has been the head of a Kleingartenverein for over 30 years.
Still for Leon and Megan, their Schrebergarten in Transdanubien remains an idyllic parallel world: “It’s here that Gryphon will learn how to swim and ride a bike,” Megan said. “It’s so different to everyday life.”