The German-American Friendship Garden, where I went on this lunchtime bike ride, is located on a direct line of sight between the White House and The Washington Monument on the National Mall, at 1600 Constitution Avenue (MAP) between 15th and 17th Streets in northwest D.C. The ornamental garden’s design, developed by landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme, features plants indigenous to both Germany and the United States, and contains benches on which visitors can rest while enjoying the gardens.
The garden was commissioned in 1982 after a visit to D.C. by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. After the Chancellor’s visit, President Ronald Reagan created a Presidential commission to design and construct a garden to commemorate the tricentennial anniversary of the first German immigration to America, and celebrate 300 years of friendship between the United States and Germany. Later, the garden was dedicated at a ceremony in November of 1988, which was attended by both President Reagan and Chancellor Kohl during their last meeting together.
During his speech at the dedication ceremony President Reagan stated, “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.” Chancellor Kohl agreed in his response, calling the garden a symbol “of friendship and of solidarity which will have validity for the future.”
Eventually, the garden was in need of extensive restoration, so in 2013 an initiative was jointly launched by the German Embassy, the National Park Service, and the Association of German-American Societies of Greater Washington D.C. Subsequently, new flower beds and other native plants were planted and revitalized in the fall of that year. A new irrigation system was also installed, and the central square panel of the garden’s plaza was restored in keeping with Oehme’s original design.
The garden has been the site of annual celebrations on German-American Day, a holiday in the United States which began in 1883. The custom, observed each year on October 6th, died out during World War I as a result of the anti-German sentiment that prevailed at the time, but was revived during Reagan’s presidency in 1983 on the 100th anniversary of the first celebration.
Today, the German-American Friendship Garden’s ideal location in one of the city’s most well-travelled tourist areas provides it with an estimated seven million visitors passing by each year. Unfortunately, most overlook the garden as they walk by it on their way to another destination. So my recommendation is to make the garden a specific destination so you don’t also miss out on all that it has to offer.