The magazine “LandLust” promises nothing more than “the beautiful side of country life”. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
“LandLust” in the 4th quarter of 2012 smashed the one million copies mark. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
The longing for respite, nature and simplicity appears to have no limits, at least on the newsstand that is. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
Every aspect of this fictional view of country life is filtered through rose-tinted glasses, and the results are very rarely original. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
Here the “countryside” translates to a culinary landscape and a source of materials for arts and crafts. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
From budding trees to bunches of hand-picked flowers, the world blossoms in precariously harmless harmony. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
The real countryside as it really doesn’t make a single appearance. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
The calendar at the back reminds readers of important dates and events such as “making sugar bunnies”, “inspiration from nature”, or “decorative twig balls. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
Escape to the country?
by Thomas Wagner
One image produces another. And sometimes they go together, sometimes they are at loggerheads. Ever larger agglomerations are making their way across the globe, an amassed tangle of buildings, malls, streets, roads, parks, and fallow land, which we still, for want of a better word, helplessly refer to as the city. And since all of these megacities, metropolitan regions and highly compressed conurbations, more or less unchecked in their proliferation, are both colorful and gray, vibrant and ossified, children of yesterday and tomorrow, the utopian remnants of modernity are permanently being reclaimed. We are no longer able to plan anything, and yet everything should be meticulously planned. Or at least networked.
As such, all those who live in the city deliver a constant summation of its charms and their responses to it. One can hear them calling: The future of humanity will be decided here, and nowhere else; and we, my friend, are right in the thick of it! Together with everything that goes along with it: new social structures, more effective nutrition, energy rand waste management, bike sharing and functioning transportation systems. The city has become a focal point of every kind of development that exists.
In the oasis that is Europe, whose happy-go-lucky democracies from Greece to Spain together with their understanding of the welfare state are sliding further and further down a slippery slope into a self-inflicted crisis. The whole thing isn’t quite as clear-cut as on other continents, in Caracas or Lagos, for example. It also looks like the techno-buff strategists in this country are reckoning without the longings of the people. They might live in the city but are clearly longing for something else. And it is certainly not just the recent protests against infrastructure projects such as “Stuttgart 21” or new international airports that reveal the extent of the rift between planners and those affected by their plans. There is another in comparison more trivial phenomenon that provides a yardstick for the spectrum of sentiment on this matter: the success of magazines dedicated to country life.
German equivalents of publications such as “Country Living”, “Country Woman Magazine”, and “Country Home Ideas”, with names like “LandLust”, “LandIdee”, “Landspiegel”, or quite simply “Landleben”, are astonishingly successful. As demonstrated by the hike in circulation figures booked by “LandLust” in the 4th quarter of 2012 – when it smashed the one million copies mark. In the carefully-staged idylls shown in these magazines, the tedium with this mass urban future as experienced by bossed-around city dwellers finds an outlet and this fixation on the city finds its dialectic equivalent. The longing for respite, nature and simplicity appears to have no limits, at least on the newsstand that is.
Every aspect of this fictional view of country life is filtered through rose-tinted glasses, and the results are very rarely original. Any attempts to find out what this “countryside”, which they tend to fantasize about rather than report on, could actually be like, is in vain. Instead, the magazine “LandLust” promises nothing more than “the beautiful side of country life”. A glimpse at the contents page in the current spring edition suffices to determine which ingredients are needed to bring this wonderful dream of a country house to life: Garden – In the Kitchen – Country Living – Rural Life – Experience Nature.
You soon realize that in this warped universe for hobby gardeners even the pea soup made of “500g frozen peas” (!) is fresh and “springtime green”. The “star magnolia” lives up to its name and gets its moment in the limelight, readers are greeted by an exemplary “springtime in the woodland garden” and a biologist reports on her experiences while building a liner pond (“Then we made sure the all-important capillary barrier was secure the whole way round”). In the column named “Beyond the garden fence”, we get to know the “rare galanthus elwesii”, or the “snowdrop”, among other botanical specimens. Of course, anything else would have been far too unpretentious. Overall, leafing through the magazine, your eyes simply move from one sea of flowers after another. The reader is taught about “biodegradable pots” and naturally the magazine would not be complete without menu suggestions for Easter dinner or recipes for sweet and savory breads, spring vegetable soup and “rich and moist – the crowning piece of many a cake stand” – the Black Forest Gateau.
And the real countryside? Not a trace. But that leaves all the more room for romanticized country flair for clueless city dwellers with three square-meters of outdoor space to let their green fingers loose on. Here the “countryside” translates to a culinary landscape and a source of materials for arts and crafts. And not just your standard painted Easter eggs! But we’re probably best not to get started on the crocheted mesh bicycle bags and saddle covers. And of course this eternal land of leisure wouldn’t be the same without the obligatory pets – puppies, kittens, lambs and chicks all blessed with nature’s gift of unbounded cuteness. In essence, everything here is just as small and fluffy as our little animal friends. From budding trees to bunches of hand-picked flowers, the world blossoms in precariously harmless harmony. Men (once homo faber, always homo faber) are somewhat helplessly lured in with a wooden tool box, whereby “proud participants” make their own sundials in a “leisure workshop”. If this is a little too strenuous for you taste, the alterative is a row of little birds made of minerals – all glistening sweetly in the sun.
Naturally, not everything is always hunky-dory in the countryside: in this case it’s the bogyman that is the “Root Vole!” Although we are of course schooled on the ecological side of things too: before taking any action we should check that we haven’t just mixed up our consonants and that it is indeed a “vole and not a mole, who is in fact a handy little insect muncher and won’t do any harm to your plants”. The calendar at the back reminds readers of important dates and events such as “making sugar bunnies”, “inspiration from nature”, or “decorative twig balls and willow baskets”, before the real country dwellers finally come in in the classifieds section offering vacation homes and properties for sale, finishing the magazine off with just as much saccharine cuteness as it began.
No, we didn’t miss anything. The real countryside as it really doesn’t make a single appearance. After all, the motto is country flair and not country scare. As such, this eternal springtime afternoon knows no rural exodus, no empty and decaying buildings and no neglected infrastructure; it is not familiar with the upshots of the industrialization of agriculture, soil erosion and overfertilization, the deterioration of individual villages into bleak suburban settlements nor the disregard of rural construction projects. Even successful examples of rural architecture are nowhere to be found. As such, this certainly legitimate longing for respite, nature and simplicity manifests itself in a kitsch repertoire of hand-crafted country living. It seems that capitalism and the phony life it propagates flourishes in even the most beautiful of gardens.