An hour by train out of Berlin, Belzig is in the formerly East German countryside
–of lakes, streams, forest and fields of corn, wheat, and sunflowers;
–of small villages with new homes built into 17th, 18th, and 19th century wattle and daub half-timbered barns or stepped brick Gothic and slit windowed old pitched roof storage buildings;
–of a walled Schloss (castle) and the ancient hand painted Church of St Briccius built in 1470 and
–of a populace fresh and young, friendly and open with whom I played in a huge zigzagged pool/ water park down the road—a park with a waterslide, a whirlpool like river, a mushroom shower and fountains. The children and teenagers there so very happy and innocent and eager to meet me….
Here in Belzig the intentional community of ZEGG—the Center for Experimental Cultural Design—has its garden and encampment. And here is where I spent a transformative week as a “Sommer Gast”; even the assignation indicates the quality of ZEGG—As a Summer Guest—not a volunteer or an employee– we come to work and eat and live and care about each other and the land in a paradise of blooming flowers, a vegetable garden, cherry, apple, pear, and plum trees, blueberry and boysenberry bushes set in a wild forest of pine and alder, sweet scented linden and oak.
Sunday evening the new guests gather with Zusula, a joyful Greek refugee now German who directs ZEGG and who yet has the energy and heart to welcome and shepherd Summer Guests through their week or weeks here. We become our own small community within the larger permanent group of 90 people of all ages who live and work here. As the week progresses we eat and work together, share tents, and meet each evening in a buttercup yellow room with a kilim carpet to sing and chant and share what we are experiencing during the day, or to speak on a “Forum” topic like love relationships or what one would like in this community that one didn’t have On the first evening, Eva, a radiant and sexy red head, taught us a lovely song
Cuckcoo…As I was walking
In the May morning
I heard the birds sing
Sung in a round, the song was ecstatically lovely—like a Baroque cantata. Then Daniel and Christina played Schubert on the piano.
Our group of six women and two men experienced breakthroughs and indecisions
—Tim, a handsome 24 year old—beautiful and magical—and a raw vegan who ate like a rabbit–came here with his guitar and all he owned, fell in love, and committed to a year long internship
–Daniel a Dutch fellow, having left his job and home, found his calling as a professional singer and he is trying it out with us
–Maria, a sweet woman from Vienna found peace here after having just left her stressful career as a social worker
–Christina, another person who left her job and was ready for change
–Lucia, a sexy Italian film director came here frazzled and kept the city inside her most of the time she was here but came on a wonderful ride with me one late afternoon and felt moved to chant to the wheat field and sunshine
–Dannae, a California glass artist then Manhattan office manager came here weeks ago after living in various WWOF organic farms and participating in Findhorn and Tamera, two other intentional communities like ZEGG where she worked and lived for the past 14 months, came here to learn German and to discover her life’s work.
–Eva, a retired educator and Tai Chi instructor came here as a first step in her retirement, came to connect with like minded people.
–and here I was, a runaway from the pleasant but rather meaningless month I’d spent mainly riding my bike and perusing the art museums and galleries of Berlin, finding happiness here hoeing the cabbages or picking cherries, even scraping labels off of marmelade jars so new jam could be put up in the recycled jars.
It all sounds rather simple and too sweet perhaps but somehow life at ZEGG is just that—simple and joyful—a day filled with wonderful vegetarian food, work and leisure—the days all beginning with the chefs presenting our breakfast to us—their morning gift—the meal from heaven direct—oatmeal, corn flakes, musli, rice pudding, yoghurt, sunflower seeds, cocoanut, raisins, pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, hazelnuts, sesame on one table….and fresh whole grain breads, and spreads—savory (tofu curry; tahini, tomato, eggplant, herbed cream cheese, peanut butter) and sweet (many kinds of home-made marmalades and jams, fresh honey, butter) apples, and fresh vegetables—cucumber, tomato, carrots, sweet red pepper—plus coffee and six kinds of herbal, black and green teas. And we have the breakfast twice—in the morning before work and then in the half hour break we all have at 11—yum. Inside the tables all have candlelight and fresh flowers but most meals were taken outside in a garden overlooking the forest and distant fields and woods. Lunch and dinner—again with the chefs always smiling as they and describe what they’ve created and offer for our pleasure– have heaps of fresh lettuce and grated carrots and beets as well as various lasagnas, couscous dishes, polenta, soups and vegetable stews.
As for work—we were responsible for four to five hours a day, six days a week and work, like the breakfast is rather like a smorgasbord –a lot of little tastes of different tasks all essential to everyone’s basic though not luxurious well-being —one day I prepared marmelade jars; another I washed, chopped and bagged chives; another, I hoed the garden and pulled carrots out of the ground; and another I picked three kinds of berries fending off stinging nettle plants and horseflies while other people painted walls, dug ditches, cleaned rooms, peeled potatoes, washed stairs—all simple tasks that would be tedious if one had to do them every day but by changing daily, nothing seems really like labor—and everyone seems to go at their tasks cheerfully—as contribution to community rather than work.
I found myself experiencing “kleine freuden”—“small joys” with so many things—a label that peeled off easily, being able to chop chives in the sunshine; finding a soup delicious, discovering twenty or thirty little pink baby pigs behind a village I’d ridden my bike to one sunny afternoon. On the first day I heard that some people would be painting the Children’s Center and all of a sudden I realized I had something to give—I offered to design and paint a mural…and so met with the families and asked what they’d like, heard their suggestion of soft images coming from the sides and base of the wall… I then spent much of my afternoon free time as well as two work days first drawing the many wildflowers around the community—poppies, snapdragons, wild onions, sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans, grape vines and climbing peas to name a few—then painted them on a 20’ wide wall-great fun—and my first mural ever. Mothers and fathers would come by to thank me, bring me mango juice, offer coffee, appreciate what they saw—a garden of flowers growing inside for their children’s rainy days. I fell in love with each flower, even believing that the flowers at our dining room table were introducing themselves, hoping to be included. In the end the wall was filled with all different flowers so realistic that the children could find them outside the door so the mural became a kind of gentle educational tool as well as a brilliantly colored wall design. One by one most every man and woman with children came to me in gratitude for my gift to them of the mural—very heartening. In fact, Suzula brought our small group over one evening as well and then thanked us all for our work each day—this place is one of gratitude and joy comes when everyone feels so valued.
Afternoons and evenings at ZEGG are free—to walk in the forest, to ride a bike around the villages and fields, to swim in the natural pond on the property, to hang out and have wine and chocolate or play guitar and sing in the pub/lounge—a place filled with sofas and soft lighting—or just to drift to sleep in a hammock. I rode many kilometers in every direction around ZEGG, each trip a discovery—thanks to Suzula’s generously loaning me her fat tire bike. There are hours open to do whatever pleases you…and hours to talk with people—there seems to never be a rush here or a stress—work gets done, food is ready and everyone gets what they need and want every day. What a wonderful week it was….