October 30, 2011

Week 1: Lufting it in Weitsche

After signing out of the Apartment Hotel, which was a great space that we'd recommend to anyone traveling through Hamburg, we hunkered down at the Hamburg Hauptbanhopf to wait for the train that would take us to our first work-stay of the trip. The train station was great for some good old people watching.  We were particularly amused by an older gentleman who seemed to spend his day collecting the half finished cigarettes of smokers. Kind of gross, but he certainly found plenty of butts. One thing that has jumped out at us is Germany has LOTS of smokers. Anyways, by mid-afternoon we had boarded the first train, which took us to Lunenberg, a town about 45 minutes west of Hamburg.

When traveling with all your belongings on your back in central Hamburg, it's important to maintain a sense of space. 
We switched trains at that point, hustled across the rail tracks to the secondary launch station and then boarded another train that took us another hour or so to Dannenberg. On the train ride we met up with Sean and Larissa, a young Australian couple that has been working and staying at the same work-stay in Germany. We got to meet each other on the train and have been working with them since. They're fun, exciting people who are having an adventure of their own, traveling the world for a good 18 months. We arrived together in Dannenberg and were soon picked up by Marcel Luft, one half of the husband/wife team that owns and operates the farm. Skinny, winding roads brought us past fields upon fields and we eventually entered a cluster of beautiful old farmhouses that were huddled together around an intersection of three major roads, home to about 50 people. We had arrived at Weitsche.

Whatever you do, don't pick up this guy.
La Casa de Luft. Solar panels make them electrically self-sufficient when averaged over the year.

If you see this sign, you're there. Butt-lost, but you're there.

Indicative of what most of the farmhouses look like in Weitsche...and actually showing what roughly half of the farmhouses look like in Weitsche.
The surrounding environs...and a beauty rarely seen in these parts. 

So we settled in on Sunday night, and Monday morning we got into it. The farm consists of a few adjoined buildings where the Luft family and their work-awayers live and eat and sleep. Spaced around the periphery of the central yard are two large farmhouse buildings, a large vegetable garden and a sprawling livestock area where chickens, geese and ducks spend their days yukking it up. Four pigs are divided into two pens, one for the two piglets and one for the two hulking males who are (or should be) counting down the days until the cruel irony of their heavy diet is revealed to them. 

In our first week we've already settled into the routine. We rise in the morning and gather for a light breakfast of toast and coffee, then are out working by 9am, taking on the tasks of the day. Each morning starts with the animals, making sure they are fed and happy. We then move on to the tasks of fall, which at this point have included harvesting and storing some late-season vegetables for the winter (potatoes, celery root, carrots, hulking beets), preparing the grounds for the winter season, and working on various foodstuffs and drinks that will provide sustenance for the winter months ahead. We break for the day at around 1pm, when some of the group begin cooking lunch, which is the big, hot meal of the day, and after lunch our time is our own. Everyone gathers for a light dinner later in the evening, usually bread, cheese, and various spreads (the liver pate is particularly good). After a bite and perhaps a taste of plum wine or Ute's home brew, everyone retires to do it again the next day. 

We work closely with both Marcel and his wife Ute, who have proved to be vast resources of knowledge. What they accomplish here is undeniably impressive. They expertly utilize the fruits of their farm and the diverse skills of their townfolk and neighbors to operate almost entirely at self-sufficiency. Nothing is wasted and much is crafted that would otherwise be bought, from sweaters made of wool that was spun in-house and sheared from sheep in the back field, to wines made from harvested plums and cherries. And most delightful of all are the humans in the equation, Marcel and Ute, who have opened up their home and their experience here to share with anyone that is willing to dive right in. Their work here is not vaguely informed or defined; they have a vision of what they are trying to do and it fits into a larger vision of the world that is honest and appropriately conscious of how destructive normal human society tends to be towards the natural world and the fabric of community and life. They don't show up through the lens of American stereotype. This is not some hippie commune with spacey notions of harmonious living, but people who are living out a commitment to principles that work, principles that need to work. Marcel is still actively working (albeit on a part-time, self-chosen basis) as a network administrator for many local towns (including Weitsche...the internet I'm now accessing is traveling through infrastructure that Marcel put up himself). Ute herself was (is) Germany's first female web programmer. That is to say that these are people who are plugged in to technology and use it to serve their work here. We know already that we'll miss them terribly when it comes time to board the next train.
This sight greets us every morning as the birds rush us for the daily offering of stale bread, graciously offered up by a local bakery every two weeks. The geese are maniacs.

Feeding the rabbits and trying not to get attached...these are food rabbits, not cuddly rabbits.

Christina, the piglet whisperer.

The beer is homemade, and really good. Ute is quite the brewmaster. The Christmas batch was just bottled...

Sean and Larissa, our new Australian friends, working on smashing down cabbage with layers of salt into a special-made sauerkraut pot. The outer rim fills with water, allowing a ceramic cap to sit there and provide a seal that only allows air to escape.
That is Christina and Marcel plucking a recently-killed chicken. The headless duck on the table was next.
Dave boiling some crab apples for what we'll call "apple wine." 
Dave and Marcel putting beets and carrots into winter storage...a barrier of straw bales protects layers of veggies and straw, which was then covered entirely with patches of sod. Interesting storage technique.