We were on the waiting list just two weeks before getting a call to come see an available garden – usually it takes years. The reason we were bumped to the head of the list – my wife is German by nationality and no ‘real’ Germans apply for gardens in our area, only ‘auslander.’ If that doesn’t taint my reading of Joachim Brohm’s book Typology 1979, a book made of photos of houses in Schrebergartens then I don’t know what will.
Schrebergartens or ‘allotment’ gardens as they are known elsewhere are plots that can be rented inexpensively to grow vegetables and such. They are named after Moritz Schreber, a physician who apparently held rather rigid beliefs on child rearing – of his own children, one committed suicide as an adult, one suffered from mental disease, and the last suffered as an adult of nervous disorders. His youngest Daniel Paul, had written a book called Memoirs of My Nervous Illness which Sigmund Freud later used as the basis of his study on paranoia. Gardening never seemed so tied to mental illness.
As the book’s title points out, Brohm made these images in 1979 while still a student in Essen. He adopted what seems to be the Becher’s methods, not on outdated industrial forms built by engineers (with their impressive designs and stature) but on the different, often hand built, sheds and small houses found in Schrebergarten.
Some look like non-descript brick bunkers while others have personal touches and gingerbread detail like out of a child’s storybook. Some are well crafted and designed while others look like they will barely continue standing through a hard winter. One downside of these gardens is that the small houses get broken into and vandalized often so the owners respond with plywood shutters and other security measures that create the appearance of paranoia and fear rather than neighborly openness.
Brohm’s series is not as strict in its formal approach as the Becher’s. Although the sheds are the main attraction, it is all of the small details surrounding them that make the photographs resonate further. Since they were photographed in the winter months the main attraction to be outside, the vegetation, is mostly all dead or hibernating which turns these plots into uninviting fields of mud and sticks (so the only place you might want to be is inside the shuddered and lonely looking house).
This is my favorite of the recent Mack releases and a “book of the year” nominee in my opinion. It is cleanly designed with smart touches like the 70s puke mustard brown cover, the day-glow orange end pages and the lighter orange pages the essay by Ulf Erdmann Ziegler is printed on.
No doubt, many viewers will snicker and have their comments on bad taste at the ready about; the paint color, shabby constructions, garden gnomes and other gaudy décor. But hopefully most won’t see this as just a one-liner. For me it is about the personalities found within a marginal cultural practice and like gardening to a ‘real’ gardener – it is profoundly serious.
Mack books, 2014