I felt like I entered into the enchanted remains of a long forgotten world when I opened the great wooden gates of the biotope park in Nieklitz, 70 km east of Hamburg in Northern Germany. Behind those gates, nature had reclaimed its space in the past three years without any touch of a human hand. Flowers, bushes, and trees grew wildly, birds and little animals of all kinds inhabited meadows, little lakes and the adjacent forest – some of them rare species.
Buildings of what was formerly known by the unwieldy, long term of “Future Center – Human, Nature, Technology, and Science” (Zukunftspark Mensch-Natur-Technik-Wissenschaft) had suffered, roofs leaked, walls moulded and electric cables stuck out of walls after rioters had blindly rampaged and destroyed whatever they could grasp.
Worn presentation boards reminding me of biology classes back in the 1990s informed about rare herbs, human population growth or the locomotor system of great spiders.
I came for the first summer camp to tidy up the place that a group of 25 people had recently bought. They want to create a project space that combines the protection of nature with the development of avant-guard technologies. They want to create an eco-friendly place for sustainable projects. This doesn’t only include a permaculture garden, the construction of self-sustaining buildings and a fab lab.
On the top of the list is also the creation of a co-working and co-living space that would give companies and individuals the opportunity to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of greater cities for a limited period of time. Teams will find peace and inspiration for work and cooperation in nature while using fast internet and eating healthy vegetarian or vegan meals.
The group also aims at offering and hosting seminars for children, youth and adults in fields like group dynamics, communication, body works, arts as well as topics around ecology and nature, open innovation or self-sustained buildings.
The summer camp was great fun: During two weeks in August, volunteers from all over Germany travelled to Nieklitz to help. In the format of an open space, we gathered every morning after a hearty breakfast. Everybody could bring in small projects that they wanted to work on with others for the day.
This could be anything from sorting the donated tools in the workshop to tearing out and repairing mouldy, moist parts of a wall, planting a herb bed, creating a swing, screening chambers full of old stuff for materials that could be upcycled,building a compost heap, cleaning the bathrooms and cooking lunch or dinner in the outdoor kitchen
After all tasks were presented, everybody was free to choose a task to work on. I haven’t often seen people work so happily and with so much drive. I think this is because everybody did whatever they did on a totally voluntary basis. It was like working out of joy.
In the evenings we usually gathered around a campfire under a starry sky and shared our impressions and learnings of the day. Later people would play the guitar, share self-written stories or read out poems that they felt touched by. At night we slept in tents, campervans or on donated hay bales in a little wooden cottage.
This all was possible because about a year ago Ceylan Rohrbeck and her cousin Lale Rohrbeck discovered this great area that was up for sale at the time. The two girls, inspired by the potential of the area, took photographs and ideas on how to develop the place to a special gathering: At Schloß Tempelhof, an intentional community in the country’s south-west, around 80 volunteers had come together in September 2015. They built Germany’s first Earthship, a self-sustaining building entirely made out of garbage. Here Ceylan and Lale presented their ideas and soon a group of now 25 people had come together and made plans on how to buy and develop the area in Nieklitz.
I find it totally amazing that within just one year an idea can grow into a project attracting dozens of people to donate their time and skills to create something together that is greater than each one of them alone. I felt very welcomed and loved in the group. Everybody was so open and friendly. I know for sure: I will definitely come back and I’m seriously thinking about joining the project with these awesome people after my further travels.
Watch an interview with Ceylan Rohrbeck about the Nieklitz project (in German translations will follow soon)
Watch a video about the first summer camp in Nieklitz (out soon)