Monday, August 26, 2013

ZEGG, An Intentional Community in Bad Belzig, Germany

We are on our way to Germany, having organised to spend a week volunteering in a community called ZEGG, on the outskirst of Bad Belzig in Eastern Germany.  Our long train trip from Copenhagen meant that we would arrive too late for the introduction to this community.   We arrive around 4.15pm
at Bad Belzig and just miss the bus that would have easily taken us there.  We have the choice of waiting 2 hours for the next bus or walking about 4km with our luggage.  We decide to walk.  As we walk through the town centre we find there is a festival happening and stumble on the display and stall hosted by ZEGG.  We are hopeful that there might be someone there who could give us a ride but unfortunately the lady we speak to points to the road and says very directly– “It’s not far, you can walk there.  Just follow that road till the houses end...then keeping walking into the forest.” 

We replenish ourselves with coffee and cake and keep plodding on…

Dragging your luggage along a cobbled stone road is not great.  In Ireland by now we would have found someone who would have offered to drive us there.  After 2 months on the road, travelling through countries where English was widely spoken we are confronted with the fact we are now in East Germany where English isn’t as common.  Historically, Russian was the second language taught in school and it is only since the Wall came down that people have started to mingle with travellers from the West and learn English.

ZEGG, which in German stands for Centre for Experimental Cultural & Social Design was founded in 1991.  People were initially drawn here because of their desire to explore ideas outside the mainstream including those of free love, open relationships and polyamory.  The community live on the grounds formally occupied by the Stasi.  It is a little disconcerting to think this place was once a training ground for the East German secret police.  When the Russians left East Germany, many of these buildings were left vacant and provided a useful solution for communal living.

Today ZEGG provides an alternative to the profit and consumer driven mentality.  It has now broadened its focus to also provide an alternative way of living for those concerned about the impacts of climate change and peak oil on society but I feel this is still secondary to the development of ideas for cultural design.  Looking through the German brochures of workshops offered here I glean that many of the topics deal with the Secrets of Tantra, Intuition & Meditation, Body, Mind Presence, Drumming, Contact Jam, Circle Songs, Theatre Improvisation, Polyamory – the list goes on, but I don’t find any brochures that deal with issues of sustainability.  However, the community is a member of the Global Eco-village Network (GEN) and perhaps the issues around sustainability are discussed at the forums organised by GEN. 

ZEGG offers a summer guest program where volunteers such as us can exchange skills for board and accommodation.  We’ve come to spend a week here to learn a little more about this community. 

We found ZEGG to be a very well structured community.  There appeared to be a positive vibe around the people we met and a sense that everyone knew each other at some level.  There are about a hundred long-term residents with a much larger transient population in the summer when the numbers can reach up to 300 during the summer camp.  The Guest House, a motel and tents cater for these visitors. 

Many singles lived in shared detached houses but higher density housing such as flats also cater for the community here, especially young families.  To reduce their exposure to electro magnetic radiation WIFI is not available in the community but there is an internet café with computers and cables for visitors to use.  While ZEGG is not self sufficient in food, the garden provides a plentiful harvest in fruits, vegies and salads.  Each adult member pays a fixed amount for food but has a choice of either eating communally at the restaurant or picking up what they need from the cellar and cooking at home.  Each community member also takes his or her turn cooking for the restaurant and cleaning each week.  The community is vegetarian but food is also provided for those who chose to be vegan.  Something I loved about living here were the fruit trees laden with delicious summer fruit… they call it an edible landscape.  Apples, many kinds of plums, peaches & pears – all there to be picked and eaten as you wander through the grounds.

The community is working towards self-sufficiency in energy and water.  They have a closed water cycle thanks to the former espionage school that dug deep wells, caring little for rules and regulations.  A reed bed system takes care of their waste for now.  They use a number of different renewables for energy including solar panels, wind and wood chips. 

There are a number of spaces that also lend themselves for creativity and recreation.  Besides the restaurant there is a small village pub, a café, a meditation room, an outdoor swimming pool, a sauna, a wood fired pizza oven, and a sweat room for those really communal evenings.  Large meeting rooms provide the space required for internal/external meetings, forums and the seminars that are run here.  ZEGG has also played host to many external conference gatherings and the next Glocable Eco-Village Network (GEN) conference will be held here. 

We also loved the private spa only a few minutes down the road, where heated indoor and outdoor thermal pools provided the perfect opportunity to get away from the community for a bit of rest and relaxation. 

As in many of the countries we had visited so far, bikes were a common mode of transport and they also had a communal electric car.  The train station of Bad Belzig is a short drive away and the bus stop was just outside.   

One of the other interesting features of ZEGG is the Kinder (Children’s) House.  In the early days, kids could choose to live together in the house with their peers giving them a lot of space from the watchful eyes of their parents.  This was a fairly radical idea, giving the children the chance to be influenced by their peers and other adults to a much larger degree than would normally be found in mainstream society.  It also gave the children a lot of social confidence at an early age where they learnt quickly to be very self-reliant.  Today, kids come here after school and are usually picked up by their
parents in time for dinner.  The kids can eat lunch together and there is always an older community member who will play sport with the older kids and help them with homework.  Parents don’t have the worry of day care and kids have the opportunity to socialise. 

I’m glad we have come here to volunteer at ZEGG and my next post will detail our time in the community. 

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