Sanna Akehurst profiles Mundraub.org, a company committed to mapping the nation’s publicly available fruit…
Starting life as a small blog with the support of around 100 faithful supporters, Mundraub.org has been busy building up an ever increasing database of trees and plants in public places around Germany that we, the general public, can apparently help ourselves to.
According to Daniel Nielsen, one of Mundraub.org’s founders, the concept of helping yourself to Germany’s fruits has a fascinating history. Many fruit trees, for example, were planted along highways and byways for the purpose of feeding Prussia’s military’s horses.
Initially there was no law preventing commoners helping themselves to the fruit, but in the build up to the second world war a law known as “Mundraub” – which roughly translates to stealing from the mouth – was introduced, leaving the harvest purely in the hands of the military. The law made taking produce from these trees criminally illegal and liable to fines of up to 500 Marks. During the GDR years more trees were planted due to an entrenched fear of food shortages, while West Germany finally withdrew the Mundraub law in 1975.
By summer 2010 Mundraub.org found itself no longer able to cope with the amount of interest and traffic it was receiving, which included a report on the midnight national news. Nielsen’s initial hunch was that the popularity of the project was due to Germany’s collective green consciousness – the carbon footprint of something picked on the roadside near your home is inarguably better for many reasons than produce imported from Spain or further afield.
But his current theory is that a lot of people seemed moved more by a sense of nostalgia – nostalgia for something that British folk call scrumping, helping yourself to fruit from other people’s orchards.
Despite these vaguely illicit motivations – added to the fact Mundraub.org only share information on public sources, not private ones – the project has won support from three of Berlin’s local districts; economic practicality is doubtless at work here, especially when you consider the cost of maintaining and clearing up a fruit tree is something like 6 euros per year.
Daniel expressed pleasant surprise that several fans of the site have showed willing in taking their children along to prune the trees in order to ensure a good crop and let their offspring share a treasured childhood memory. (In the site’s top bar menu you’ll find a guide to pruning – check the “blog” section).
The surge of interest last June had some important knock on effects for Mundraub.org. The blog is currently being expanded and overhauled, planned for completion in June this year. While Mundraub.org 2.0 – currently available in German only – is still underway, you can still use the existing one to explore the whereabouts of publicly available produce in Berlin (and elsewhere in Germany).
Of course knowing the season of the plants aids the usability of the site. Harvests vary greatly according to geographical location, but for example Bärlauch (wild garlic) is growing in some places close-by to the city and there are already a variety of fruit-bearing trees within walking distance of almost anyone living in Berlin. In fact you could easily plan a day out either in the city or the surroundings, based purely on a day of picking.
There’s even some commercial potential – Nielsen tells of one group who recently gathered enough apples to bring to a cider press in Friedrichshain, then bottled and sold the results through a nearby bar. And at least one café in town uses jam made from Mundraub-ed fruit (farmers with presses are encouraged to advertise their services at this point).
According to Nielsen, users will soon be able to add their own discoveries to the map as well as share information and comments via a community forum. So if you have any other useful ideas for the expansion of this wonderful public service, feel free to share the fruits of your efforts – otherwise, happy public scrumping!
Since this article was originally published, Mundraub,org have hit a few significant milestones…
- There are almost 25,000 users on the platform now and since 2009 around 17,000 plants have been mapped out.
- Mundraub.org have become a partner of the federal science project Wissenschaftsjahr 2015: City of Future.
- Last year they hosted several harvesting camps, the outcome of which was BUGALOO, the official juice for the German horticultural show. More camps are planned for this year.
- There’s now a whole Mundraub region in Lower Saxony: Hasetal. The concept won the German prize for tourism in 2014.
All images courtesy of mundraub.org