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'Little Britain' in Germany's Rhine region lives on borrowed time

Posted in 02 August 2018

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Brexit prompted Gary Blackburn to open "Little Britain," a whimsical exhibition of Britannia high above the Rhine. It was to be a place where Germans and Britons could come together. The local council wants it gone.

You do feel a bit like you've entered Wonderland when you come upon "Little Britain." A pig in blue coveralls, stationed next to a red phone booth beckons you toward "Blackburn's Way.

" Statues of Alice and the Mad Hatter, Peter Rabbit and Robin Hood, iconic figures of British literature, poke out among the flowers and benches that line the path. Queen Elizabeth takes shelter in a pavilion alongside her corgis as Merlin the Magician balances a crystal ball in his hand.

This is the realm of Gary Blackburn, an English tree surgeon who set up shop in the Siebengebirge hills, a 30-minute drive south of Bonn, more than two decades ago. If you know where to look, you can just catch a glimpse of red from the double-decker buses through the trees as you drive up into the hinterlands above the river Rhine. But you're more likely to simply come upon "Little Britain" while walking along the picturesque, meandering trail to the old brewery in the Kasbach Valley.

And it will likely prompt you to think about Brexit, or about kitsch, or about what drives a man to spend hundreds of thousands of euros and almost as many hours to create his own quirky open-air park out in the sticks.

A pig statue and a red phone booth at the entry to 'Little Britain'

Blackburn built up the exhibition over time

"The idea came from Brexit," says Gary Blackburn. "Brussels didn't talk to London. I've done it for the English and German relationship after Brexit, so people talk together."

In the roughly two years since he began, "Little Britain" has grown into a local curiosity. On a sunny summer weekend, a few hundred people may stroll through the exhibition, which is open for free to the public.

No drunken parties

"It's all for nothing," says Blackburn.

The clearance order the Blackburns received in early July is big news out here in the German countryside. The local authorities said they had until the beginning of August to remove nearly everything from the area and erect a gate to keep people out.

"I don't see any reason why this should go," says a tanned 60-year-old man from a nearby town. He says he has come to see for himself what the problem is.

"It's a pretty site. Neat and tidy. I could see if people were making noise and getting drunk and partying," the man says.

The exhibition is on private property, in Gary's wife Monika's name, right next to where the couple lives with their youngest children and he has his business. But they don't have a building plan or building permits for the many items that make up the exhibition. The situation is complicated by the fact that they are leasing an additional strip of land next to their property - and to "Little Britain" - from the local municipality. And then there is the tank.