Viral image is horsing around with the facts - Australian Associated Press
Horses stand in the shadows of a gigantic table and chair (file image)
Images of horses beneath a gigantic table and chairs have been used as memes for almost 20 years. Image by AP

Viral image is horsing around with the facts

AAP FactCheck November 22, 2021
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

A viral image shows horses under a giant table and chair in Victoria that were built to skirt council rejection of a conventional shelter.

OUR VERDICT

Mostly False. The photo was taken in Germany. While the structure was built to avoid the potential need for a permit, original plans for a shelter were not rejected.

An image claiming to show a man’s “Aussie ingenuity” in getting around local government red tape is actually from Germany and has circulated with a false caption for almost two decades.

The photo posted on Facebook and shared more than 4000 times, shows horses underneath an enormous table and chair. The caption claims the giant furniture was built to avoid council planning rules in Victoria.

The Facebook post
 A Facebook post claims to show a man in Victoria’s ingenious plan to circumvent planning rules. 

“A man in Victoria, Australia applied to his local council for planning permission to erect a shade structure in his horse paddock as the horses had no shade,” it reads.

“The council rejected his application stating that the land was not zoned for any permanent building structures.

“The man pondered the councils (sic) decision for a week and then he applied for planning permission to build an outdoor table and chairs to be placed in the paddock. The council replied that no permission was required to place outdoor furniture in a paddock.”

However, the photo is from Germany – not Australia – and the claim that plans for a shade structure on the site were rejected by a local council have been largely fabricated.

The Associated Press’ image library shows several images have been taken by photographer Jens Meyer of the same scene in Doellstaedt (Döllstädt), in eastern Germany, since 2002. In one example, from 2004, the same “tablecloth” and mock flower arrangement as seen in the Facebook image are visible.

The AP captions state that timber merchant Jens Braun built the “unusual furniture” as a shelter for his horses. They make no mention of the structure being built to circumvent planning laws.

The giant furniture appears to be a famous landmark in the district – a Google Image search for “Doellstaedt” reveals multiple photos of the site.

The image was published by German news magazine Der Spiegel in 2002 under the heading “Darling, I’ve shrunk the horses” and is captioned as showing Mr Braun’s “unusual shelters for his horses”. It was also published by Time magazine in 2003, with the caption saying the furniture was built by the timber merchant “to promote his products”. 

The image was later turned into a popular meme, with a new caption claiming a farmer – not a timber merchant – built the giant furniture after he was denied a building permit for a horse shelter.

According to a 2012 fact check by Snopes, the rumour began circulating in 2003 and has been since shared as an example of farmers getting around council regulations – see here, here, here, here, and here and on a New Zealand Facebook account earlier this year. 

It’s unclear where the caption originated. AAP FactCheck was unable to find any local news reports or captions which back up the claim. However, there does appear to be a small element of truth to it.

A fact check published by Lead Stories in October investigated a similar post and contacted the German timber merchant who built the furniture. Owner Sylvia Braun explained that the furniture-shaped shelter was built to avoid the potential need to apply for a building permit, however because the property owners were registered farmers they didn’t need one  – and the local authorities had never contacted them about the structure.

The Verdict

The image does not show a Victoria man’s ingenious way of circumventing local council planning rules after a permit for a horse shelter was rejected. Rather, the photo was taken in Germany – and while the giant furniture was reportedly built to avoid the need for a permit, no such permit was ever applied for by the property owners or rejected by the council.

Mostly False – The claim is mostly inaccurate but includes minor elements of truth.

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