The German-American Friendship Garden: A Comprehensive History

German-American Friendship Garden plaque

The German-American Friendship Garden, which is located on the direct line of sight between the White House and the Washington Monument, celebrates 300 years of friendship between the United States and Germany. It was established in 1983 and first dedicated by US President Ronald Reagan and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1988.

The garden was commissioned in the 1980s to commemorate the 300th anniversary of German immigration to the United States. In July 1683, 13 Quaker and Mennonite families purchased land from Pennsylvania proprietor William Penn and set sail from Krefeld, Germany to create homes in the New World. On October 6 of that year, they settled Germantown, Pennsylvania, and are considered the first large group of Germans to emigrate to America. 

Germantown, which is now a neighborhood in Philadelphia, was the site of numerous historic events - including the 1777 Battle of Germantown, where General George Washington was defeated by the British. But the region was also the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement, its residents producing petitions that led to changes in the state's emancipation laws.

Today, German-American Day is celebrated on October 6 - the day that Germantown was founded. 

Magnificent Symbol

Ronald Reagan and Helmut Kohl Enlarge image German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and US President Ronald Reagan during a 1982 meeting. (© dpa - Report) After a visit to Washington by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1982, US President Ronald Reagan announced the formation of the Presidential Commission for the German-American Tricentennial, which would get together to mark the 300th anniversary of the settlement of Germantown. The German-American Friendship Garden was built the following year. Its design, developed by landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme, highlights the common elements and traditions in US-German culture, using only plants indigenous to both countries. The garden was jointly dedicated by Reagan and Kohl during their last meeting in Washington on November 15, 1988.

"One magnificant symbol of the bonds that tie our great two peoples together is the German-American Friendship Garden," Reagan said in a speech. "This symbol of eternally renewing growth and strength will be dedicated this autumn here in the capital. In its growth, our own commitments to the well-being of America and Germany shall be cultivated and nurtured.

"In a few months, I'll be leaving the White House. But the garden - and all it represents - will remain, to be nurtured and sustained by the friendship between Germans and Americans and by the leadership you have provided."

Chancellor Kohl responded in agreement, calling the garden a symbol "of friendship and of solidarity which will have validity for the future."

Restoration

garden Enlarge image (© Germany.info / Nicole Glass) For many years thereafter, the garden has been the site of German-American Day celebrations. But three decades after its foundation, the garden was in need of restoration, and this initiative was launched last year under a joint memorandum signed by the German Embassy, the National Park Service, and the Association of German-American Societies of Greater Washington D.C. Subsequently, perennial beds and other native plants and flowers were planted and revitalized during the fall of 2013. A new irrigation system was installed and the central square panel of the Friendship Garden was restored and partly redesigned, following Oehme's original design.

The German-American Friendship Garden is located at 1600 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, D.C.