Kretzhaus Gary Blackburn has created a fairytale forest on his property in Linz-Kretzhaus, including tanks. But now the regional authorities in the Kreis Neuwied want to close down the private exhibition titled „Little Britain“.
„Little Britain“ has to go. The private and admission-free exhibition of British man Gary Blackburn has to be removed „immediately“ and the area has to be sealed off by order of the district administration in Neuwied. The reason: No planning permission. „Should we not receive any reply from you by August 10, 2018, we will be compelled to begin to remove parts of the facility“, it said in the letter. Blackburn reacted in shock and wants to appeal this decision, according to the German press agency dpa.
During a visit to „Little Britain“ a few days ago, the Brit seemed still very relaxed while tidying up: „Tidiness is everything“, he says in German and puts the huge chainsaw back onto the shelf in the wooden shed. Sounds more typically German than British, should one want to open the cliché box. But the 54-year-old does not fit into any clichés. „Some think I’m a freak“, he says with a broad British accent and an even broader smile. „I’m not really sure what they mean by that.“
"Welcome to Little Britain“
If you want to visit Gary Blackburn in Kretzhaus, you don’t have to ask for directions. After the underbridge turn right, pass the two cows in Union Jack style and the phone box in signal red. One sign says „Baumdienst Siebengebirge“. The other: „Welcome to Little Britain“. Beyond these signs there are 3000 square meters of fairytale forest of the whimsical kind.
A life-size Merlin stands beside rusty knight’s armour and a bust of Shakespeare, two red double-decker buses and Mr Beans’ green Mini are parked on the gravel-surface yard. Between the lush flower beds, innumerable real bunnies hop around, who don’t seem to be impressed by the fake foxes, owls and other birds. The Queen sits enthroned as a plaster figure inside of Robin Hood’s hut, surrounded by her Corgis and silk flowers. „I love Fairy Woods“, says Blackburn. „Märchenwälder. Already as a little boy, I loved Robin Hood. And I still read his adventures today.
In Germany for over 30 years
When the Brits voted for the Brexit two years ago, Blackburn decided to create his own „Little Britain“ by exhibiting typically British stuff in Kretzhaus, for free. „The older people voted of the EU exit“, he is sure. Had he been allowed to vote, he would have voted „in“.
Over 30 years ago, he left is home in Lincolnshire for Germany. Blackburn was already an experienced tree inspector, a „Baumkümmerer“, as he says. His career was not sketched out at all. His father - boss at a steel company - suggested he should become an electrician. Blackburn considered the idea briefly and decided: „No“. „I wanted to do something with nature, in the open air.“ Where else should he have done his work placement but in Sherwood Forest, later he passed the entry test of Merkst Wood College in South England and „cared for“ trees every since - large and small, healthy and sick, domestic and exotic, of ordinary citizens, royals, politicians, celebrities.
He’s a father-of-six
In the 1980s he moved to Bonn, where he also looked after the mammoth tree at the Chancellery. And of course he ended up in the Siebengebirge. „When I stood on top of the Drachenfels for the first time, I called my parents in England and told them: Mum, Dad, it is so beautiful here. I’ll stay“, says the now 54-year-old. And of course he put wood behind the arrow: For a few years he and his family lived in a house on the Drachenfelsstraße in Königswinter, with a view of the Cologne cathedral, and then moved to Kretzhaus, because there was „more space for the company“. And for the family.
Blackburn is a father of six, three of his boys now work in their dad’s company and climb up to the highest of treetops - secured by belts and spikes. „Recently we had a job in the black forest“, says Blackburn and squints. „The boys had to climb a 50-meter Douglas fir. They loved it, but I couldn’t watch.“ He gave up climbing six or seven years ago. „You have to be a bit crazy for that“, he says.
Trouble with the neighbours
„Crazy“ judge his kids and his wife Monika, in regard to Blackburn’s „Little Britain“. And in regard to the tank. Last year, Blackburn made headlines in Germany and in the United Kingdom alike when he bought a 52-ton Centurion tank from the Swiss Army, built in 1953, and placed it between a red letterbox and Robin Hood’s wooden shed. Military equipment in the fairytale woods?
„Tasteless“, „war adulatory“, some said. „A memorial for peace and freedom“, says Blackburn who decorated the tank with doves of peace, „rememberance poppies“ and similar signs. „Especially in this area, there were many battles fought here near the end of WWII“, he says. „The younger generation should not forget that.“Blackburn’s neighbours did not approve, then the state parliament in Mainz dealt with his case. The ministry for the interior decided: „The tank stands on private ground, is not drivable or usable and does not fall under the weapons control act.“
Position of the district administration
But the tank fight kept smouldering. Blackburn would only need planning permission to put up the tank in his garden, because he cannot move the steel colossus. So far he did not apply and the recognition as a monument was not granted. Blackburn’s idea: use electronic power from solar energy for the tank’s engine. A global novelty. „If I move the tank a bit every year, it won’t be a building as such anymore“, he explains, churlishly.
But that might not be enough. Now the letter from the district administration arrived in which it states that „decoration and exhibition facilities have to be removed instantly“, including huts for which planning permission is also missing. Blocking off the area would mean to cut off the hiking path into the Kasbachtal as well. „Most hikers are thrilled“, insists Blackburn. And nothing in his park poses any danger.
The press office in Neuwied issued a statement on Thursday: „The deficiencies in Mister Blackburn’s ‚little' empire are not news to him. He did receive official notice in regard to the more or less defective areas. If he does not consider doing something about those ‚small’ faults, he has now got a four-week notice to decide whether he wants to appeal this or change the situation“, said spokesperson Jürgen Opgenoorth. In general it is not the case that the district administration comments on private planning matters.
(Original text: Heike Hamann, Translation: Mareike Graepel)