Permaculture in Leipzig I
On a recent trip to Germany, my wife, Carol, and I decided to forgo the usual hotel/Gasthaus travel routine and test the alternative economy. In that economy people tend to live simply and earn their livings via multiple income streams—maybe, for example, raising most of their own vegetables, selling goat cheese, and holding a part-time job in the mainstream economy. For us the question boiled down to: What permaculturist will rent us shelter?
The answer turned out to be Rainer Kühn, a charismatic and innovative leader in Leipzig’s very dynamic alternative economy milieu. Rainer has built an active web presence, both via Facebook and his own site, under the name of Rainer Blütenreich (which translates as “Realm of Blossoms” http://bluetenreich.jimdo.com/). Like many on left in the former East Germany, he feels no nostalgia for the former dictatorship and its spy network (the much hated “Stasi”), but also has a deep skepticism of Western capitalism. He has helped start Leipzig’s alternative currency, the Lindentaler, and is laying the groundwork for a future intentional community.
Over 18 years, Rainer and his partner, Andrea, (pictured here)
have built up a productive home food forest—wild plums and peaches.
Other fruit-bearing plants include chokeberry and serviceberry.
They also grow fertilizer plants familiar to U.S. permaculturists like comfrey and stinging nettle. He uses the former to provide potassium to plants that put much of their energy into blooms like fruit trees and the latter to provide nitrogen for plants that put much of their energy into leaves like cabbage and spinach.
After 18 years, his permaculture orchard has become a haven for such once common insects such as the small tortoise shell butterfly….
and the European brown meadow butterfly.
[Ironically, the former East Germany has become much more of a farm monoculture than the west. Former large-scale collective farms have been taken over agriculture there (often quietly seized by their former Communist directors) and use the full panoply of pesticides.]
Rainer is a self-trained herbalist and supports his family by growing and teaching about herbal remedies and tea (Andrea served us some lemon verbena tea.). He also leads nature hikes. He and Andrea are both trained massage therapists.
They seem, in the best permaculture sense, to be thriving. Together they have rented and remodeled a Leipzig apartment (where Carol and I stayed) and purchased an acre or so of adjoining land to their country home. The former, a conventional old-style four-story walk-up, still comes equipped with a couple insect hotels.
The latter is where the scything exercise (pictured at the top) took place.
Rainer has raked the scythed straw into a pile of mulch which will gradually decompose and add organic matter to the very sandy soil. At the same time, Rainer and Andrea were careful in their scything to leave islands of various herb “volunteers,” which they hope will spread and become a source of perennial use. The two have also planted cuttings from the willow trees with an eye to the future. Willow branches promise to make good raw material for baskets. Everything seems to be falling into place for their long-term goal of creating a self-sustaining intentional community with many more people.
All of this is taking place in the context of much broader engagement with large-scale group thinking within the Leipzig alternative community about economic and environmental resiliency. I’ll have more to say about that in a subsequent post.
Postscript: Rainer notes in a follow-up note that our farm meeting (which included his Russian daughter-in-law) took place less than 20 miles from the historic Elbe River meeting of U.S. and Soviet forces 70 years ago.