'Garden party' helps revive a neighborhood

When Munich decides to turn around a neighborhood, it sends flowers. So when the city wanted to renovate the former Munich-Riem Airport and the Bavarian capital's blighted east side, it sent approximately 2 million flower bulbs, 30,000 trees, 10,000 shrubs - and that's just for starters. Now it's giving a garden party in that refurbished space. Four million people are expected to visit before the gates close Oct. 9.

The biennial German National Garden Festival (Bundesgartenschau, German acronym BUGA) is a summer-long ecological and cultural event with happenings as well as flower beds. Its subtitle, the National Idea Festival, lifts it above the level of tulips and pansies to what has been declared a "change of perspective."

That's especially true for those who live in the area. The new landscape park has been designed to provide the district with cleaner, cooler air as well as neighborhood recreation and a sustainable natural environment. New housing for 16,000 people is scheduled for completion within four years. To provide jobs and attract visitors, the city's Trade Fair Center has been relocated and dramatically rebuilt to cutting-edge environmental standards including total solar power.

When BUGA shuts down, the district will be left with the largest municipal park in Munich (nearly 500 acres), playing fields, perimeter paths for bicyclers and walkers, and a 35-acre lake reserved for swimming and nonmotorized boating.

But for now, the carpet of blossoms at the west entrance plunges visitors into a floral ambience. The enormous flower halls reuse rainwater in fountains to control the humidity and entrance small children.

Yet it is the Cell Garden that holds the key to the meaning of the 2005 show. In 12 separate gardens, each surrounded by gravel embankments and connected by foot bridges, landscape artists have created installations where visitors experience the world from the view of a mouse, mole, bug, bird, and the like. One of the most popular cells is an enormous nest where the message is clearly that we could still face a time when no birds sing.

For all its serious ecological intent, the National Garden Show is still directed to German citizen-gardeners. Along the parallel paths and in the container and vegetable gardens, home gardeners inspect and approve the newest varieties of 60,000 perennials and uncountable veggies.

The 106 acres of wildflower meadow has unanimous appeal. The rose garden is a predictable hit. "Germans like flowers that smell good," says spokesman Max-Joseph Kronenbitter.

Also part of the festival are playgrounds, a marketplace of Bavarian food, and special events such as a ballet cabaret in September. Live bands and electronic music - from Mozart to heavy metal - are integral to the daily scene.

BUGA-Munich is not the first time Germany has used flower shows as a means of implementing urban renewal and social responsibility. The first national garden show was held in Hanover in 1951, but in 1822 King Friedrich Wilhelm III established the Society for the Promotion of Horticulture in the Royal Prussian States, forerunner of the German Horticultural Society.

The first International Horticultural Exhibition was held in Hamburg for 10 days in 1869 with 420 exhibitors, and in 1897 it became a summer-long event.

In postwar Germany, garden shows provided the excuse for excavating and replanting bombed-out areas. Color and green spaces overcame rubble.

In Munich, it may be that getting 30,000 new trees to grow in soil that was little more than an airport runway is easier than getting across the idea of the Cell Garden, which mirrors the tissue of a plant, but never mind. "We want people to understand that natural resources are precious and perishable," says Mr. Kronenbitter. "We want them to see the technology is ready and available." He heaves a sigh. "The message of the festival is that new ways of looking result in new ways of doing."

He adds quickly, "We also want them to enjoy themselves."

BUGA is open daily through Oct. 9. See www.buga05.de.

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