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September 2005

German Ecology and a Regenerative Design Tour
by Roland Oehme, Landscape Architect

In Germany there has been for hundreds of years a closeness to the environment that is the enduring principle of planning of its infrastructure and of the lifestyle of its people.  Parks for people and/or wilderness parks are constantly being added to urban, suburban, and country landscapes. Off-road bicycle trails runs everywhere in cities and out to the country allowing Germans to commute or recreate virtually anywhere on bikes.  The country is building a national bicycle trail system.  Bikes are common on trains and subways.  The reason for all of this greenness is that Germans love nature and want to live with nature and enjoy its beauty.  New laws are being enacted that are strengthening environmental protection, such as the mandatory consumer packaging recycling program.  Germany currently recycles the most paper of any country in the world.  I truly admire Germany's conviction to make the environment an asset and one to be actively enjoyed and protected and I would like to see some of these measures adopted in the US.

While Germany is perhaps more known for its old world charm, today the country has undertaken a leadership role in all facets of sustainable and ecological living.  Germany recycles the most paper of any country in the world, has the world largest solar power plant, is committed to phasing out nuclear power, the federal government is actively promoting the use of renewable resources produced from agricultural crops, such as hemp and flax, global warming is being dealt with head on by joining the Kyoto Protocol and whole towns and cities are focused on phasing out fossil fuels and increasing their use of renewable energy, the precedent setting federal law requiring product manufacturers to take back their packaging for reuse or recycling thereby reducing waste, roof gardens are required in some cities to improve the air quality and beauty of the surroundings, the automobile’s presence is being lessened in inner cities and towns so its citizens may enjoy a better and safer living environment with less noise, pollution, and more room for pedestrians, architects are designing buildings that creative and less detrimental to the environment, and landscape architects design memorable and natural gardens and parks.

All of this green thinking and living is admirable, but in Germany it permeates to a larger consciousness of living in harmony with the Earth.  This ideology has shown itself recently as the country passed the first animal rights law giving animals the same rights as humans.  Germans also enjoy very much being in their gardens and in nature, and place a high priority on having plants all around them, even in urban environments.  Freie Koerper Kultur (free body culture) or public displays of nudity was popularized in Germany many years ago and is still enjoyed today, as can be seen in downtown Muenchen along the Isar River and in the Englischer Garten.  Instead of relying on harsh chemicals at swimming pools, Germany has started what are called "swimming ponds" that recreate the natural cleansing processes that take place in ponds in a larger size to allow safe and nontoxic swimming with frogs and fish.

A gardening culture exists within Germany where people actually live with their gardens providing food, aesthetic beauty, a place for physical activity, and stress relief.  Furthermore a natural, ecological garden style, with a certain degree of a wild aesthetic, prevails where people grow perennials and grasses, generally don’t mind some wild plants, and allow the garden to grow to its full exuberance, or as we call this in the US, "to become overgrown."  This natural garden aesthetic allows humans to derive some use of the space, but also is crucial to humans feeling one with nature, and furthermore, is vital to wildlife’s health and continued survival. In this scenario, nature is not seen as a force to be combated, but to be enjoyed and brought into our lives.  Examples abound of this strong horticultural ethic from the "Schrebergaerten" or community gardens found in every city where apartment dwellers spend their free time growing fruit trees, vegetables, and flowers organized in orderly rectangular grids, to the bountiful flowers proudly displayed around many houses and buildings in towns and cities, to richly planted school gardens, to the intensively planted and well maintained burial sites in cemeteries that people visit often and function as public parks, to the use of dry stacked natural stone retaining walls, and to the "Obstwiese" or orchard meadow.

One of the most important examples of Germany’s strong garden culture is the one of its kind "Bundesgartenschau" (BUGA) or Federal Horticultural Exhibition, hosted in a different German city every two years.  The garden show is the Olympics of the landscape architecture and horticulture professions with a large budget from federal, state, and city funding.  There are design competitions for the master plan and each of the various concept areas.  Millions of visitors typically visit the show which runs from spring to fall and thereafter continues as a public, urban park.  The garden show typically includes large planting areas, a conference building, various dining facilities, music performances, seating areas, recreational facilities for all ages, landscape artworks, cemetery space, agricultural fields, a sustainable natural resources exhibit where hemp is prominent, and wildlife habitat.  Serious investments in infrastructure include new roads, trains, busses, and pedestrian facilities. These innovative garden shows were started over fifty years ago to help rebuild war ruined cities and continues to this day.  Over the past decade, several shows have taken place in eastern Germany greatly improving cities with new infrastructure and healthier, green living spaces.

Later this month, we invite you to join us on a unique regenerative design tour of southern Germany highlighting the country’s beautiful gardens, parks, and landscapes, but also the ecological designs found in all aspects of the larger society including agriculture, architecture, arts, brownfield reuse, design heritage, industrial design, industry, renewable energy, technology, transportation, and so on.  During the trip you will experience all forms of sustainable living in Muenchen, Lake Constance, the Black Forest, and Stuttgart. Along the way we will see the very unique and beautiful Federal Garden Show in Muenchen, beautiful public parks and gardens, lively pedestrian town centers, organic food stores, solar powered airports, the latest in green building technology, climate cooling roof gardens, creatively fun playgrounds, hemp agriculture and processing, the most amazing fairytale castle, delicious healthy cuisine, and many more unique and inspirational places and people.

Green Harmony Endeavor invites you to participate in this unique tour.  Cost for tour will run from September 28 – October 11at a cost of $1,450 (including accommodations and transportation for 12 days and nights, all breakfasts, two dinner meals; not including airfare).  During the trip you will experience all forms of sustainable living in München, Lake Constance, the Black Forest, and Stuttgart.  The complete itinerary and more information is available from Green Harmony Endeavor at Tel: 410.825.3269; email:

Roland Oehme is a practicing landscape architect who specializes in regenerative designs that enhance the environment and provide active enjoyment for people. He has many years of experience growing up immersed with plants and garden design through his father, Wolfgang Oehme, working for several years in Germany as an apprentice in garden design, and practiced in California experiencing cutting edge designs. He now resides in Maryland where he designs, writes articles, and is available for speaking engagements about regenerative designs in the US and in Germany. Roland is passionate about creating a safer, friendlier, and more environmental friendly community

Roland recently started conducting tours to Germany that feature innovative ecological designs in all forms of living. Roland Oehme is also Director of Green Harmony Endeavor, an organization promoting humanity's affinity with Nature through educational outreach and support of environmental programs. - contact him at: 410.825.3269 and Email:

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