Berlin colony says no to more ‘non-Germans’ in its gardens

A public Berlin garden colony has come under fire for denying two Turkish families allotment spaces, saying there are already too many 'non-Germans' using the allotments.

Berlin colony says no to more 'non-Germans' in its gardens
One of the many small garden colonies in Germany. Photo: DPA.

A leading member of Berlin’s Peace Colony (Kolonie Frieden) in Tempelhof told The Local that they already have too many 'non-Germans', and specifically too many Turkish people, with some 25 percent of their members coming from an immigrant background.

“The social equilibrium has to remain in balance,” the Peace Colony member said on Thursday.

“We are open-minded, but somewhere there has to be a limit for social proportions,” said the member, who asked not to be named.

“We want a neighbourhood colony.”

'Not German-German'

Garden colonies, called Schrebergärten or Kleingärten, are public allotment gardens found across the country, which may appear to outsiders to be little green slums on the fringes of city life.

The concept started up in Germany in the 1800s as so-called “paupers' gardens” for poor, urban populations to grow their own food and enjoy nature. The original intent was to improve the living conditions for people living in poor housing conditions, often suffering from malnutrition and social neglect, but they are now popular across socio-economic groups. 

The Peace Colony has come under fire after an anti-discrimination network reported this week that two Turkish families were rejected from their applications to lease one of the Peace Colony’s allotment gardens.

One man had applied in March of 2015 for a garden with a poorly-built garden hut which he was willing to repair. But he was told that he was not “German-German” because he was Muslim, and the colony had already met its limit of foreigners, the Berlin-Brandenburg Anti-discrimination Network (ADNB) told The Local.

Another woman had separately submitted her request as early as 2013 for leasing a garden, but was also told that she would not get a garden because she was not German.

“When she asked whether showing a German passport would help, she was told they meant ‘German-German’, not Turkish-German,” Kerstin Kühn of the ADNB told The Local.

Both families have also been rejected from joining other gardens, though Kühn said it was not clear why, and both are considering whether to file a lawsuit against the Peace Colony.

When asked about the cases of the two families’ rejections, the Peace Colony member said he could not give details on individual cases “off the top of his head”, but did say that the colony already had many more non-Germans than other garden colonies.

One complaint voiced by colony members, he said, was that Turkish families in particular don’t integrate themselves: they don’t always go to the colony celebrations and don’t always respect national holidays.

“I have been here for decades and I have met many people like this.”

Misinterpretation of the law

The Federal Small Garden Law regulates certain aspects of the use of small gardens and the general rule of thumb is that the next person on a waiting list can get a garden, but each colony’s leadership may also have their own rule books.

Kühn explained that garden colonies like the Peace Colony think they can discriminate against applicants because of their misinterpretation of a law actually meant to foster diversity.

German equal treatment law states that “in the case of rental of housing, a difference of treatment shall not be deemed to be discrimination where they serve to create and maintain stable social structures regarding inhabitants and balanced settlement structures, as well as balanced economic, social and cultural conditions”.

Kühn explained that this law is used to allow landlords to boost the diversity of their buildings by, for example, giving preference to certain minority groups.

But the law also only applies to housing landlords, not to gardens. And other anti-discrimination laws prohibit bias against race or ethnicity.

“In our view, the Peace Colony cases are clear discrimination,” Kühn said.

“It is scandalous that these gardens have done this and that they still today have not changed their opinions and have not changed their practices,” she continued.

Should the families pursue a court case, “they have a good chance of success.”