If you’ve walked around Germany’s residential neighborhoods, you’ve probably seen them peeking at you from behind the bushes: garden gnomes. The German word for these creatures of the garden is Gartenzwerg, and you’ll find over 25 million of them in Germany.
The word Garten means “garden” and Zwerg means “dwarf.” In English, you’d refer to these “garden dwarfs” as “garden gnomes.” Although you might find them all over the world these days, Gartenzwerge originated in Germany and are still a common sight there. And if you see a garden gnome in your neighborhood in the US, there’s a good chance that the family living there is German!
A Gartenzwerg is a small human-like figurine usually wearing a pointy red hat and colorful clothing. These figurines are commonly found in gardens, flower beds and front porches. Although human-like figurines were placed in gardens all throughout Europe during the Renaissance, the garden gnomes we recognize today originated in 19th century Germany.
According to mythology, “garden dwarfs” were creatures who lived underground and had magical powers. If they encountered daylight, then they would be turned to stone by the sun – which explains the figurines in the gardens. Mythology also claims that the gnome statues come back to life at night, providing their help in the garden and making sure the plants grow.
The legend of the Gartenzwerg quickly became popular in Germany, which led Sculptor Phillip Griebel to mass-produce garden gnome statues in Thuringia in the mid-1800s. Today, Gartenzwerge are not only popular in Germany, but across the world; following the legend of the gnomes, gardening enthusiasts often place the dwarf-like creatures on their plots.
But even if you don’t believe in the legend of the gnome, they still make a cute addition to any front yard. And who knows – maybe your lawn will end up greener!
By Nicole Glass, German Embassy