Rock garden Bèr Slangen

Maastricht, the Netherlands

Bèr Slangen

1950 – 2001

A great mountain scene helped Bèr Slangen dealing with war trauma

Fig.1 The beauty of the Alpine landscape, the fresh mountain air, and the feeling of freedom illuminated the mood of Bèr Slangen. (Image:
Fig.2 Bèr Slangen working in his garden, around 1980. (Image: Collectie Nico Tillie)
Fig.3 There are large boulders beneath the plants, which cause a height difference of no less than five meters. (Image: Joost Emmerik)
Fig.4 Slangen didn't draw up a detailed planting scheme and worked with plants that, in his opinion, matched the Alpine feel. (Image: Collectie Nico Tillie)
Afb.5 The garden is designed to be viewed from the terrace behind the house. (Image: Collectie Nico Tillie)

The Alps are so varied that they can hardly be captured in one image. And yet that is done frequently. Everyone knows the travel posters and photos: the iconic mountain top with pine trees, with a meadow or lake in the foreground, with alpine flowers and goats.

This iconic image stood at the cradle of Bèr Slangen's private garden. A visit to the garden is a special experience. From the street a simple gate leads to a small courtyard. Only when the garden door opens do visitors come face to face with the mountain scene. At the front is a pond, fed by watercourses flowing from the higher parts. Beneath the plants is a stack of large boulders, creating a height difference of no less than five meters. Cleverly placed conifers and shrubs ensure optimum depth, the rock planting is arranged and color-matched.

For Bèr Slangen, the alpine landscape meant freedom. The Second World War had left deep marks on him. During the war he was employed in an East German steel factory and after the war he worked as an interpreter in the denazification process. To process those experiences, Slangen made long bike rides. In 1950 he traveled with his brother through southern Germany and the Alps. The beauty of the landscape, the fresh mountain air and the feeling of freedom eased his mind. Upon returning home, Slangen began the construction of the alpine landscape in his back garden, a safe haven close to home. ( i )

It was not the intention to make an accurate representation. Slangen did not draw a plan or detailed planting plan in advance, but trusted his feeling. It was about stimulating the feeling of freedom he had experienced on his bike ride. For example, the garden contains plants that do not occur in the Alps, but that did evoke the right association with Slangen. That doesn't mean he wasn't critical. A watercourse built with pain and effort could be broken down again the next day. The argument was often: "It didn't feel right, it wasn't natural, that's now how water flows.” ( ii ) Nico Tillie, chairman of the foundation that maintains the garden and involved with the garden since his childhood, mentions: “The garden forces a moment of silence, even larger groups fall silent." ( iii )

Only when someone walks down the small path towards the nursery in the back of the garden, something strange happens. A scaling error occurs. The alpine garden of Bèr Slangen is not meant to stroll through, but to admire from the terrace behind the house. Here Slangen looked at the garden, smoking his pipe on a bench. From here, the alpine landscape opens up to the viewer - who can let his mind wander through the garden, like a monk in a Japanese zen garden.

( i ) Conversation with Nico Tillie, September 2017.
( ii ) Conversation with Nico Tillie, September 2017.
( iii ) Conversation with Nico Tillie, September 2017.