Sieben Linden was founded in 1997 in the former East Germany.
Ever since I first learned of Ökodorf Sieben Linden
(Ecovillage Seven Linden Trees) I’ve been intrigued partly because it’s so active in the international ecovillage movement.
Sieben Linden was founded in 1997 on 190 acres (77 hectares) of farmland and forest in the Altmark region of the former East Germany. Currently 80 adults and 35 children live in large, multi-family dwellings in six distinct neighborhood groups. The goal is to become a village of 300.
GEN-Europe’s annual General Assembly was held at Sieben Linden in July, 2008.
Sieben Linden hosted 95 participants from all over Europe and internationally at GEN-Europe’s annual General Assembly in July, 2008, and a Sieben Linden member, Kosha Joubert, was elected GEN-Europe’s incoming president. The community also hosts the four-week “Ecovillage Design Education” (EDE) program developed by Gaia Education, a project of GEN. I want ecovillages in North America to be this active in the worldwide ecovillage movement!
The community grows 70 percent of its vegetables.
Like most well-developed ecovillages, Sieben Linden is doing all the right stuff ecologically. Electric power is from photovoltaic systems. Most years the community produces more electricity than it needs and sells it back to the local power company. Firewood from their forest supplies back-up wood heat. Sieben Linden members eat nearly 100 percent organic food with relatively little animal products, and grow 70 percent of their vegetables in their garden, irrigated with graywater. They use composting toilets. They share cars and are advocates for more public transportation in the region.
The multi-family dwellings are passive-solar, strawbale buildings comprised of shared apartments for singles, couples, and families (although some members live in caravans or in a shared house in the nearby village of Poppau).
This multi-household residence is the largest strawbale building in Europe
One neighborhood, “Club 99,” built their first residence entirely by hand with only local timber, clay, and straw, and recycled materials — achieving their goal to use 90 percent less CO2 emissions than is typical in the home-construction process. Club 99 is now building its second residence, a two-and-a-half-story strawbale. This is Sieben Linden’s most radical neighborhood, whose income-sharing, vegan members don’t use machinery for gardening — they use draft horses!
As strawbale advocates (their three-story residence is the largest strawbale building in Europe), Sieben Linden regularly hosts workshops on strawbale construction.
Club 99 neighborhood uses draft horses instead of farm machinery.
In 2001-2002 researchers at the University of Kassel in Germany compared CO2 emissions from Sieben Linden; another German ecovillage, Kommune Niederkaufungen; and the average German household. The University chose these two ecovillages because members of both live in shared passive-solar housing with high insulation and efficient heating, eat mostly vegetarian diets, produce much of their own food onsite, and make a living onsite rather than traveling elsewhere to work.
The study measured CO2 emissions from how each community creates, transports, and uses electricity, heating, water, travel, and food (including how food gets to local markets). It showed that both communities use far less water, electricity, heating fuel, fossil fuel for heating, and fossil fuel for growing and transporting food, than the average German household. Both have a much lower ecological footprint than almost any similarly sized settlements: Sieben Linden’s overall CO2 emissions from all the above sources average out to only 20 to 30 percent of the German average. They are particularly low in emissions from housing — 10 percent of the German average — because of their use of renewable energy, high insulation, and sustainable building material, especially strawbale. They are only 50 percent of the German average in emissions from food, primarily because they have mostly vegetarian or vegan diets and eat food grown locally or regionally. They don’t score as well in CO2 emissions from travel, however. “Ecovillagers are notorious networkers,” Kosha told me, “we like connect to the world and go places.” So even though Sieben Linden members mostly travel by train and practice a high level of car-sharing, they travel enough that their CO2 emissions are about 70 percent of the German average.
the European communities directory.
Sieben Linden is an independent-income community (except for the income-sharing Club 99), and members earn money various ways. Several members run a small company that publishes the European communities directory, Eurotopia.
Some work in the trades, or as artists or consultants of various kinds. A gardener runs an organic vegetable business, and a jewelry-maker owns a jewelry shop. Some work outside: one in the local government, two in the local school system, and one is a doctor at the local hospital. The main income for many members, however, is the seminar business, which hosts educational events every week and large gatherings in the summer, with Sieben Linden members teaching topics from strawbale building and community living to massage and mediation. The community hopes to develop a village-scale economy with more opportunities for artists and craftspeople, bodywork therapists, and small businesses, and an onsite building complex for seminars, social events, and medical services.
Sieben Linden members enjoy rituals and celebrations too.
As in most ecovillages, Sieben Linden folks also just hang out and socialize, play, have fun, and participate in rituals and celebrations. Some meet for yoga and meditation in the morning; others are involved in the deep ecology movement or shamanism.
They value honest, transparent communication, through a variety of group practices. For awhile, when they had fewer members, the community regularly held three kinds of meetings: feeling meetings, idea meetings, and regular business meetings. The feeling meetings were the ZEGG-style “Forum” process; the idea meetings were discussions of political, spiritual, or other significant matters that inspired people. According to Kosha Joubert, the community functioned exceptionally well when it regularly held all three kinds of meetings. (See "The Feeling, Thinking, and Business Meetings of Ecovillage Sieben Linden," this issue.)
Community and neighboring children attend “Kindergarten in the Woods.”
They govern themselves through committees, which make decisions by consensus, and periodic whole-group meetings which use a four-choice decision-making method. (See “Is Consensus Right for Your Group? Part II,” this issue.)
All members own all 190 acres through the Ecovillage Cooperative, and all are board members of the Sieben Linden Nonprofit, a housing cooperative that funds, builds, and owns the community’s large multi-family residences.
Community and neighboring toddlers attend the Waldkindergarten (“Kindergarten in the Woods”), affiliated with a nonprofit Free School movement in the Altmark region.
Sieben Linden is one of Europe’s leading advocates of strawbale building.
They appear to be a culture of intellectuals and radicals. “We have a strong affinity to diversity and grassroots democracy, springing as we do from a German history that includes Nazism and, more recently, East German communism,” writes Kosha Joubert in Beyond You and Me
(Permanent Publications, 2007), the GEN/Gaia Education book on the social aspects of ecovillages. Kosha says community members are thus quite cautious of “Groupthink” — a term the psychologist Irving Janis coined for an excessive striving towards group harmony at the cost of critical analysis. (See Review: Beyond You and Me, this issue.)
Ardent political and environmental activists and bioregionalists, Sieben Linden members engage in political actions against war, world trade agreements, intensive livestock farming, nuclear power, and other practices. They work with nearby villages in creating a long-term development plan for the region, focusing on local trade, setting up producer-consumer groups the exchange of technical services, ecotourism, and, of course, working together to protect the environment.
They host Community Experience Weeks and EDE courses in English too.
Sieben Linden members share what they’re learning with visitors, through workshops and tours. Their Summer Camp, which this year will be July 20-26, 2009, is an intensive week of “communicating, sharing, letting go, finding inspiration,” along with music, arts, crafts, and a program for children. Their International Experience Week, this year from June 29-July 4, 2009, is designed for English-speaking visitors. And their Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) program, August 15-September 15, is also in English.
- Is Consensus Right for Your Group? Part II – This issue
- The Feeling, Thinking, and Business Meetings of Ecovillage Sieben Linden – This issue
- How Yarrow Ecovillage Got “Ecovillage Zoning” – May ’08
- Whole Village Moves Ahead – Oct ’08
- Is The Farm an Ecovillage? – Oct ’08
Coming in Future Issues:
- Anastasia Ecovillages in Russia (Andrew Jones)
- Konohana Family Farm in Japan (Hildur Jackson)
- First Philippines Ecovillage Design Education Course (Diana Leafe Christian)
- Pintig Ecovillage Partners with a Local Green Business (Diana Leafe Christian)
- Our Whirlwind Aussie Road Trip, Part II (Russell Austerberry)
- Svanholm in Denmark Becomes Carbon Neutral (Christina Adler Jensen)
- Ecovillage Conference Tokyo 2009 (Hildur Jackson)
- ‘Glue’ or ‘Shrapnel’ in Your Ecovillage (Diana Leafe Christian)