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Looking out for the little guy in Germany

What the pink flamingo once was to American suburbia the garden dwarf still is to Germany -- namely, an indispensable ceramic accessory to any yard. The humble Gartenzwerg is in vogue as never before. The gnome might even be considered the leading edge of the mass-culture craze. No one can doubt this after the (presumably) first-ever symposium on garden dwarfs held recently in the cellar of a former supermarket in Darmstadt.

This newspaper, alas, was not able to have a representative among the 100 or so participants. But one usually reliable gnome confided afterward that a certain smugness reigned among his colleagues as they reviewed their rise from the days when their only friend was Snow White.

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For reasons that are still shrouded in mystery, their fortunes swung upward in the late '70s, with the years since then seeing as much as a 15 percent annual increase in the Gartenzwerg population. By now this has swelled their numbers to some 30 million since World War II. (Prewar statistics from the time the first specimens emerged from the Heissner firm of Thuringia in 1872 are unreliable.)

Nowadays, the source noted, few of his friends are unemployed, and most of them have rather nice positions. These include wielding a spade, ax, or wheelbarrow, or, for a lucky minority, reading, writing, or playing a musical instrument.

The waning of prejudice against the Gartenzwerg has been most dramatic in East Germany, which back in the '50s slandered the whole tribe by branding it ``kitsch.'' But West Germany has also become more tolerant. Green party spokesmen, it is said, have even shared a press conference podium with ceramic (though not yet with plastic) gnomes.

Discussion at the symposium clearly showed the social rise of the species, with a full airing accorded such topics as ``The History of the Garden Dwarf'' (reaching back improbably to Cretan times) and, inevitably, ``The Gartenzwerg and You.'' Comments overheard included the sage observation, ``The garden dwarf is reality. We are all garden dwarfs.''

P.S.: To the best of this paper's knowledge the event described here actually did take place. There is a possibility, of course, that it transpired largely in the imagination of the counterculture newspaper that reported it more thoroughly than did more staid journals. If this were so, however, an inquiry into authenticity would only elicit more satire and leave the would-be verifier as uncertain as ever.

It therefore seems best to avoid too fine a search after verity and to conclude that if the symposium didn't exist, someone would certainly have had to invent it.

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