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An Experiment in Community in Germany
ZEGG, Zentrum für Experimentelle Gesellschafts-Gestaltung (Centre for Experimental Culture Design) is a pioneering ecovillage in Germany. It is an abundant place full of new cultural paradigms and ecological innovation. Long-term members Dolores Richter and Achim Ecker describe community life there.
fter 13 years of preparation in a forerunner community, ZEGG was founded in 1991 on a 15 hectare (37 acre) site some 80km (50 miles) south west of Berlin. Our aim was to establish an international conference and research centre working on draft models for socially and ecologically sustainable ways of living based on an intentional community. In addition, ZEGG has become a diverse cultural centre, a meeting place for the region and a networking hub for communities and activists searching for new solutions within the fields of politics, ecology and communal living. The community has seen many changes: from its beginnings as a relatively homogeneous pioneer community through to today’s 80-strong group woven together from a variety of initiatives, spiritual and political working groups, enterprises, artists and creative thinkers. Our vision is the realization of inner and outer peace and a sustainable lifestyle that is not based on the exploitation of nature and humans in other parts of the world. The common thread among us is the quest for new forms of love, sexuality and the manifestation of inner and outer peace.
ZEGG has been developed and evolved by the people now working here, but it has its roots in the work of Dieter Duhm and Sabine Lichtenfels, who are now actively establishing the ecovillage project Tamera in Portugal. Tamera is a co-operative of people who work for the future with the intention of building a model for a nonviolent culture. Their goal is to build a research settlement where the most important themes of a new, sustainable culture concept are developed (www.tamera.org).
Above: Fire dance. Below: The 80 full time residents that make up ZEGG.
MONEY ZEGG is financed mainly by the income from the conference and seminar business and the rents paid by its members and the businesses that are based on the site; these firms are responsible for their own finances, just like the individual community members. Alongside this, as stake holding partners in ZEGG GmbH, members are also working on a voluntary basis at conferences and camps to continue the communal economy. ZEGG GmbH is the body financially responsible for the conference and seminar business and is also the owner of the site. Some members are employed directly by the GmbH, some work freelance or in their own businesses and others earn their income elsewhere. COMMUNITY GLUE The community’s members meet together regularly in a variety of ways: the Sunday ‘Matinee’ to exchange ideas on a spiritual and intellectual level; the plenary for matters of information and decision-making; festivals to mark the seasons; making music; artistic events; dancing; the sauna; philosophical discussions; preparing for conferences; and for communal work. One form of communal meeting of particular importance in ZEGG is the Forum: a ritualised and creative form of communication within community. It supports a healthy transparency when it comes to the issues of love or power (and decision) structures and it helps to maintain a clear distinction between factual discussion and emotional processes. The Forum is thus a significant building block in the development of self-knowledge and trust within the community. (More about the Forum in the next issue.) Top: Summer camp in progress. The building behind houses a woodchip heating plant. Centre: A well attended regional project meeting. Right: The general assembly area called ‘The Campus’. This 40 metre round space is used for a variety of group activities.
At the heart of ZEGG is a community whose members are responsible for the conference centre and the community-building, the two things which are the main influences on how we use our site and structure our year. We have guests almost all year round, but summer is the time where we mainly work and live together with guests and organise conferences and seminars. We see this as our community’s political vocation, enabling us to both publicise our ideas and experiences and to gain from the mutual inspiration and exchange with our guests. Winter is then more the season for our ‘intensive times’; dedicated to the deepening of our internal communication and working on our common vision or special research issues. The community is organised into fairly independent working areas: the kitchen, conference business, children’s house, garden and site crew. Decisions that concern the whole community are first discussed in the ‘Council of 13’ – a body in which all the working areas are represented. Working areas each send one representative into the council. The recommendations made by the Council of 13 then become valid if no member of the community raises an objection within a fortnight or if they are agreed within a plenary of the community’s members. The plenary is our community’s decision-making body which operates by consensus.
No. 39 www.permaculture.co.uk
PERMACULTURE AT ZEGG Our ecological work is guided by the principles of permaculture. We see ecology as the embedding of human life within Nature’s universal processes; we’re striving for partnership in our relationship with the elements, the land surrounding us and its inhabitants, the animals and plants. Nature is not something that is there to be used or exploited: it has a soul and comes from the same source as we do. Because of our region’s particular requirements and difficulties (semi-arid continental climate), we are busy with the following issues: Water We have our own well on site and since 1992 we process our waste water at low cost with little maintenance in our own plant-bed sewage system designed for 300 inhabitants. Soil The soil on our site is mainly sand, which is nutrient-poor and has very low water retention. Hence, one of our main tasks is to increase its humus content using organic materials (e.g. mulch) and enrich it through appropriate planting (e.g. green manures). Energy/Air Since 1992, ZEGG has had a wood-chip fired heating plant: the wood-chips are a locally sourced sustainable resource that ensure our energy supply is CO2-neutral. We are planning to install more solar panels for hot water and electricity and continue to invest in ecological insulation and green rooftops. Some of our vehicles run on plant oil. Plants The woodlands around us are predominantly pine plantations; on our site we are gradually changing this into a more native mixed woodland. As well as this, we are planting edible park and garden landscapes around our buildings, which will bring fruits and herbs within easy reach of the kitchen and along our daily paths. During the summer our organic garden provides us and our guests with most of our fruit and vegetables. Food Communal meals in ZEGG are vegetarian or vegan (this doesn’t mean that all members are vegetarian). The majority of the ingredients are organic, sourced from our gardens, locally, or Fair Trade suppliers. Our food policy was a political decision, taking into account both the social and ecological implications of all our food and luxury purchases. Buildings Alongside several conventional renovations and conversions, we are increasingly utilising ecological building techniques (e.g. wood and cob) for both internal and external work with organic matter used for insulation. Some of the wood we use is from our own forest, with most of the rest coming from the local region. Sustainability Our local region is steadily growing into a model for ecologically and socially sustainable development. We are working together with individuals and projects from the surrounding area to develop regional economic and resource cycles. This includes concepts for manageable
www.permaculture.co.uk No. 39
Top: Artist at work in the communal studio space. Free expression through art and performance are important elements of life at ZEGG. Centre: A piece of ‘land art’, being made by summer workcamp participants. The finished piece, which is made of sweetlodge stones, depicts a snail.
Above: Children from ZEGG and guests, in a horse drawn cart at the end of the 2003 summer camp. Below: Potato harvesting, overseen by the head chef and several children.
regions, where the provision of life’s necessities can be built up anew, reducing the dependence on industrial goods. This means finding local and organic sources for energy supply from biomass (wood, oil seed crops, biogas etc.), food consumption, recycling and the use of regional construction materials. We are also trying to develop holistic solutions for health care and retirement provision and independent options for schooling and training. This development continues to draw many like-minded people and friends into the region. Our long term goal is to create the ability to be almost self-sufficient within the region on existential necessities such as water, food, clothing and housing. POLITICAL ACTION IN COMMUNITY Our planet’s current situation has been determined by the interests of corporate globalisation. This type of globalisation certainly won’t solve humanity’s problems.
Instead, it will intensify them: a profusion of gruesome wars; increasing depletion of the planet’s resources and destruction of the environment caused by our consumption; the continued absence of concepts for sustainable economics and employment; and the destruction of biological, ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. Resistance to this sort of politics is needed, and it is also necessary to construct the alternatives: lifestyle models which are not consumption-oriented and which work on conflict-resolution strategies leading to understanding and reconciliation. A few isolated individuals or groups cannot create the conditions that are needed for a healing relationship with the Earth and her inhabitants. With this in mind, we are active within GEN (the Global Ecovillage Network, www.gaia.org), members of the ATTAC movement (offering a critical response to globalisation, http://attac. org/indexen/) and we participate regularly in actions and demonstrations against nuclear power, war and racism. In order for our ideas and research to be politically effective, ZEGG needs as much communication and co-operation as possible with other active people, institutions and communities. We have what we call The Political Salon. Its role is to co-ordinate this bridge-building for ZEGG and it is the communication hub for the community’s public relations work and political activities. Communities, in our opinion, show that sustainability leads to a higher quality of life. Our aim is to combine personal growth, the implementation of new ways of living together, and a political commitment towards the world. We believe that we need to work both on the inner, more personal, and the outer, more political, level in order to achieve the world we would like to live in and pass down to our children RESOURCES A brochure on ecological projects and ideas at ZEGG will be available in English later this year. CONTACT ZEGG Ecovillage Rosa Luxemburgstr. 89 14806 Belzig Germany Tel: +49 (0) 33841 59510 Fax: +49 (0) 33841 59512 Email: email@example.com Web: www.zegg.de Achim Ecker is responsible for Ecology and Permaculture and has written a booklet, ‘Sustainability and Ecology at ZEGG’. Dolores Richter has been involved in the community for 17 years. She is the head of education and the guest programme. GEN-GA at ZEGG The Global Ecovillage Network (Europe) General Assembly of GEN-Europe will be at ZEGG in 2004 (6-13 July). ZEGG is easily accessible to eastern and western European members and currently hosts one half of the GEN Office.