Little House on the Heide

There’s a house being built in the yard behind our apartment building in Berlin. It’s another story, for another blog, but I mention it here because I suddenly find myself with plants needing new homes. One of them is a small lilac bush.

Out at the house I dig a deep hole near the fence to the Lefts, hoping to block out the not-so-fabulous view of their stockpile of firewood. As I’m shoveling soil over the newly settled lilac, Frau Left hobbles up to the fence and informs me that it is too close to the property line. I point out how small it is and she says it will get much bigger.

I tell her I don’t want to cause trouble and that, in fact, I have already looked up the regulations regarding the proximity of plantings. Obviously, I’ve been anticipating this kind of confrontation, and of course there are elaborate rules: this is Germany. I thought anything under two meters could be planted right up to the border, but I must have gotten something wrong…

Meanwhile, M is raking leaves under the hazelnut bush. Frau Left tells us it’s also too close to her property. As is the Right’s birch tree. I look across the empty lot, the one we would like to buy from the Lefts. In the distance is the birch tree, a tiny thing swaying in the breeze.

I ask, “Does it really bother you?”

“No, but it’s too close. There are regulations, as you know. I have a copy hanging in the kitchen.”

I try to smooth things over by telling Frau Left we will cut back the lilac the minute it bothers her.

“Well, you’ll have to. Lilacs grow rampant,” she says, fear in her eyes. How can you be afraid of lilacs, I wonder.

On the drive back to the city M tells me my tone was not exactly the smoothing-over kind, and that mentioning the regulations sounded confrontational. I worry we are on the brink of one of those Hatfield and McCoy situations that seem so utterly trivial unless you find yourself involved. And we haven’t even started renovating the house.

“I guess we need to suck up next time,” I say.

“That’s your job, I already went over for coffee when you were away. I was stuck there for four hours looking at photo albums. Heard the whole story.” M points out the road that leads off to what was once Carinhall, Herman Göring’s hunting lodge, the remains of which are buried under the forest floor. The war is never far away.

“Frau Left’s family came from Poland,” M says. “She watched while her mother was dragged off by a group of Russian soldiers, never saw her again. You’d think she had more things to worry about than property lines.” M has lead a relatively charmed life so far. Having never really lost anything, he doesn’t understand how it works. Afternoon light flickers through the trees. Fall is here.

“No,” I say. “That’s exactly why she’s obsessed with holding on to what she has now.”