the visit of my last project brings me back home, near the city of weimar in germany, where i studied for the last few years, in a little village called tonndorf. there is a castle – schloss tonndorf – that was bought by a bunch of people about twelve years ago with the dream to create a community. today, around 30 adults and 30 children are living here permanently. there are only half of the people still here who originally began this community, and a lot has changed since then. i lived in this unique community for three weeks to get an impression of the place and to know it’s people and the connection to permaculture.
after i arrived i had a long chat with imke. she was my mentor. every guest has to have a person in char- ge, who explains the structure of the community and answers questions. she explained where to find the food, showed me to my room, around the property and also where everyone lives. with her four chil- dren, she lives in an extra house beside the castle, where four other families have built their home. her eldest daughter is 15 years old and lives in her own wagon. imke is taking care of the vegetable garden of the community.
my room is situated on the top floor of the castle. a big room with an amazing view from the window. i can see the garden in front, where the cows graze and the whole countryside and little village down below. tonndorf is really a tiny village and with the addition of the group in the castle the birthrate of the place has nearly doubled. 14 children have been born here since then. a big kitchen is on the ground floor, as well as common eating and living rooms. there are a lot of people living here but i don ́t see them around much. everyone has their own little living space and the big areas separates the people in different housing areas. some live in little wagons, others in a flat or just a room – dependant on the needs of the residents. once a day at lunch time most of the people, who are not working outside come together and share a meal and talk about daily news. everyday the community rotates to cook for each other, with a new person each day.
all the food consumed here is organic and ordered once a week through an organic food trading cooperative. in the common kitchen only vegetarian meals are cooked. milk is produced by the cows here, also fresh cheese and yoghurt. christiane is farmer and started her own little business within the cooperative. she is taking care of three cows and the surrounding land with the help of björn. lots of milk is sold to private households. people can order milk and it will be delivered fresh. some of the milk is processed in the professional kitchen in the castle that cooks for a waldorf school in the next city and the forest kindergarten. there is also a catering service where every day two hundred meals are prepared.
it is an intended aim to create a diversity of jobs at the castle, so that its residents can invest their energy in the place rather than going outside to earn money for a living. a range of jobs are available whilst other possibilities for work are constantly being developed. another workstation is the honey farm. schloss tonndorf is popular for its honey, even a german tv-channel produced a documentary about the local beekeepers. five people are working here and extract a lot of different honey. there are 160 hives to take care of, not only on the property, but also in the nearby villages. two 250 fruit trees were already growing at the property when it was firs bought and another 200 trees where planted after its purchase. they provide a good springtime feed for the vast amount of bees as well as surrounding wild meadows and fields. the whole castle is heated with firewood in winter which comes from the forest around the property. here also people are employed to cut wood and pile it up.
the castle is a great platform for seminars, courses and projects. over the last year a permaculture forest garden was built with the help of refugees. in ten weekend work-sessions the group cleared the whole area around the moat and planted several medicinal herbs and wild berries. a specific area was built from wood to accommodate a space for lectures and leisure among the greenery. upon its ceremonial opening, fifty interested visitors participated in the guided tour and an international dinner. on another weekend there was a meeting of a global eco-village network. sixty people came from many different communities in germany to connect with each other. there where workshops about how to organize groups and find common solutions. how to deal with conflicts, how to make decisions and how to move toward a common goal. i observed that living in groups requires an infrastructure that fulfills the needs of its members. there were discussions on how to bring art, culture, social life, and political engagement together. it was interesting to see how different some ideas were and how most people had a common wish, to live together and help each other improve individually, be in harmony and profit from each other’s skills and strengths. the most common communities in germany are ‚sieben linden‘ ‚schloss tempelhof‘, ‚lebensgarten steyerberg‘, ‚kommune niederkaufungen‘ und das ‚zegg‘. these are big groups of people living in the same place with the goal to be ecological, sustainable, cooperative, social, stable, transformative, integrative, intuitive, and in love.
i met thomas, an architect and specialist in building up communities and one of the core members, who has lived and worked at the castle from the begin- ning. he was telling me the story of how the proper- ty was bought from the german red cross 12 ye- ars ago. the plan before buying needed to be made quickly as there where other interested real estate buyers. to be able to get the contract it was import- ant to build a cooperative who would work hand in hand with the community. some of the members who participated, where team members and pa- rents of a free school of a close by city, looking for a place to live all together and in a nice environment in order to make their children grow up happy and healthy. twenty adults and twenty children almost joined the project in the very beginning. with a lot of know-how and sensitivity the group planned a strategy on how to manage the place, rebuild it and transform it slowly in the comming years. to really control the workload, smaller groups where const- ructed with the focus on social interaction, finance, rebuilding and renovation. the renovation is finan- ced by the rent. everyone who lives here pays for their living or working space. additionally there are funds raised from the government each year. in the beginning all parties came together to develop a common vision that seven years later, needed to
be created new with new people involved:
„the vision of the community of schloss tonndorf is to live in ecological balance, in peace with all living beings, in awareness and conscious bond with each other and the soul of the world. our task is it, to walk different paths together and be independent whilst working with others in order to approach a lovely and honest exchange between humans and the en- vironment. we wish this in a way, that diversity and difference is always accepted and new perspectives appreciated. our life space is a cultural bijou with a special energy and charisma. our contribution is it to tend, create and let the human cooperation in this place blossom. we understand us as a world wide network, which creates and supports helpful initiatives. we are a platform of exchange and li- felong learners in this region and far beyond. as a multi generation community, we support each other in our personal growth and aim on a common path in which we especially learn from conflicts and see them as a chance for development.“ (the people of schloss tonndorf)
this vision is also taught to the children around here. the main goal of founders was to create a place where children could grow up happy and healthy in natural surroundings, to fulfill that goal there is a kindergarten in the forest. there are also a couple of wagons on the property which see about 10 kids are cared for from within and outside the community. most of the time the children are playing outside no matter what the weather is like. i visited the children and spent a few mornings in their good company. we walked along a path to a hill and played a little olympia parkour where they had to jump, climb, ba- lance and hide. after that there was a little wrestling battle on a gymnastics mat where they could measure their strength and expend energy. when we returned at lunch time it was nice to see everyone knew what to do. washing hands and bringing the water bottles to the table. singing a little song before eating and saying thank you to the plants and the sun and the water that grew the food for the meal. two kids where in charge of serving the food to all. everyone else had to wait quietly. it is interesting how values are taught here in and with nature. the weather during the day has been pretty nice but i am curious as to what it would be like at minus 10 degrees. i am imagining it would be way to cold for me.
robert is a man who just moved here with his family, he stayed with his daughter in the kindergarten the whole day, because it was her first week there. he is a farmer and his wife, a doctor. their second child was born only two weeks ago and at the moment the family lives in a flat in one of the extra houses. but sooner or later they want to return in their wagon. it took a little while for the group to decide if they could bring their own home and where to park it. everything here is decided in consent, that means, everyone has to say “yes” before a decision is finally made. to actually join the community there is a long process to follow. first you would get to know each other. you must live in the community as a guest for a month minimum after that time more regular con- tact can be requested by one or both parties. after a few months of getting to know each other you can ask for acceptance and live in for a trial period of one year. finally it will be decided if you may become a member of the cooperative. the social coexistence is respecting the privacy of each member but there are many possibilities of meeting and co-creating. sharing goods and rooms like, washing machine, kitchen, common rooms, garden, a small library, a common room to exchange unwanted or too small cloth and workshops with tool sheds. also cars are used collaboratively and one there is one tractor. in everyday life it is evident, that this kind of community can offer a wide range of possibilities and ensure an environmentally friendly way of living.
in the past the community had implemented a range of technologies in order to develop an ecological lifestyle and sustain the castle. a wastewater purification plant was constructed along with the use of compost toilets also a process where sanitary water can be recycled. a new chimney for twenty ovens was installed also. small jobs like repair of windows, roofs and renovations on living spaces are ongoing. for the future lots of things are planned. one main goal is to allow the castle to function as a space where workshops, cultural events and seminars can be hold. additionally a café is under construction to be opened soon. there are plans for more housing allowing for community growth. there may be a free school for children who live in the community to attend. underpinning all these exciting prospects to allow the community is always focused on the aim of attracting more and more people to build a platform, in which like minded people can live and work together, spread a positive, healing energy and positively influence the surrounding villages, and cities.
as my time at the castle comes to an end i can reflect on what a magical location it is, surrounded by forest and calming country side. my expectations of living among a community were different from what i actually found here. i thought it would be something more like a big loving family who share collectively and support each other. in reality it turned out as much more of a chosen family where some people are closer and some people don’t really meet each other. everything is formed by the people here and their initiative and vision. i have learned that every conflict within one self will always be revealed once you decide to live in a community. there needs to be a decision to find a way to deal with that potential of conflict. if a small community of 60 people does not resolve this in it self, how can we imagine to have peace in the world, if we cannot make peace on a small scale?