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March 2003

Laws of Nature

How to garden without breaking the law

Here in Munich the advent of spring is a well-ordered affair—at least at a municipal level. Somewhere between the middle and end of this month, residents of our lovely city will wake up to discover that the gray and wintry public jardinières have suddenly been planted with brightly colored, blossoming spring flowers. If, like me, this gives you the urge to rush to the nearest garden center and buy bulbs and flowers yourself, let me plead for a little caution. Unfortunately, like many other aspects of life in Germany, gardening is governed by rules and, tiresome though they may be, knowing at least a few of these can save you both time and money.

If you live in rented accommodation, the landlord (Vermieter) will have the last word on all horticultural matters. So anyone who decides to hang up a flowerbox (Blumenkasten) may want to ask for permission (Erlaubnis) first or check the house rules (Hausordnung) for their house or apartment. Once you have the go-ahead, hang the box as securely as possible—the safest place is probably inside the balcony railings. If an object does fall from your terrace or balcony, causing either damage to property (Sachschaden) or personal injury (Personenschaden), it may not be covered by your personal liability insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung). Your landlord is also the person to ask before fixing a sunshade or marquee (Schirmdach/Markise) to an outside wall: it may have to be of a particular size or color.

Anyone who has a garden should keep the following regulations in mind: the official hours for lawn-mowing (rasenmähen) and other noisy jobs are Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 12 pm and 3 pm to 6 pm. In fact, Munich’s housework and music noise law (Hausarbeits- und Musiklärmverordnung), of which this regulation is a part, also covers noise from parties and barbecues. This may sound strict, but in practice these regulations are often overridden by lenient house rules and many people rely on good neighborly relations to get around the noise law.

Garden-owners who have trees on their property should familiarize themselves with the city’s tree protection act (Baumschutzverordnung). Before starting to prune (beschneiden) or even fell (fällen) a tree (Baum) in your garden, remember that trees (fruit trees not included), with a circumference of more than 80 cm—measured one meter from the ground—are covered by the protection act and you will need to apply to Munich’s local building commission, Lokalbaukommission (Tel. [089] 23 32 28 48 84), for permission if you wish to cut them down, or be prepared to pay a hefty fine if you are caught. You may though snip back branches or pick fruit from trees that extend into your garden from an adjoining property.

So now that you’ve managed to mow your lawn and prune your trees without getting into any trouble, what do you do with the grass cuttings and branches? Well, don’t even think about having a bonfire (Feuer), however small, as these are forbidden except in very rare cases. And what about a compost heap (Komposthaufen), the environmentally friendly solution? If your property is large enough this should not be a problem. If, on the other hand, your neighbors complain about the odor (Geruchsbelästigung), you will have to remove it. Regulations that prohibit creating offensive smells also apply to barbecues, by the way. Again the best way to avoid trouble is to warn neighbors in advance, or, even better, invite them to join in.

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