Summer Days at Glarisegg Community in Switzerland

In an unexpected turn of events, my travels brought me to Schloss Glarisegg community in Switzerland. When I came back to Europe mid July, I assisted on the Dutch Ecovillage Design Education course. But without much of a concrete plan, a job or even a home, what was I going to do after? Pretty soon though, my panic about my future plans was subsiding.  And before the end of the 3,5 weeks I had invited myself to join Jashana, one of the trainers, to Schloss Glarisegg in Switzerland. A place in quite a magical location, on the Swiss side of Lake Constance, in the community of Steckborn. 

Arriving at the Castle

On a warm summer evening, towards the end of August, I walked from the station of Steckborn to the Schloss with my overloaded backpacks. The public transport more or less ends a 30 min walk from the community. The road continues for regular traffic, but I didn’t bother to hitchhike. The glorious views of the lake and the blue skies were welcoming enough to just walk. In terms of nature, this area is pretty much a paradise, with its glittering lake, forestry surroundings and proximity to small historic villages. Not surprisingly, the Schloss is on the route of many vacationers, often cyclists touring around the lake. It’s also situated right next to a forest with a stream and waterfalls.

A Magical Site

Schloss Glarisegg beach

The Schloss itself adds to the sense of magic, the historical castle, a beautiful garden to relax and take meals in, the permaculture garden and the overall sense of peace. There is even a beach right in front, across the road and rail track, with a grassy field and fireplace. So summer days like these can be spent lazing at the lake, and going in for swims and canoe trips. That is when you have time of course, since I noticed by now most people in an ecovillage tend to be quite busy – it can be more than a fulltime project to keep a community running. Nothing but a refreshing dive though after a day of work, that kind of quality of life is special.

A Little Bit of History

Sonja Vera Schmitt, one of the initiators of the Glarisegg, shared with me much about the history of the community. It once started of as an initiative by Art of Being teacher Alan Lowen, who was joined by artists, musicians and contact improv people. It was in January 2003 when they moved into the first rooms, and eventually at a later auction the community was able to buy the castle, including the private beach. 

In terms of structure, they changed from a Limited Liability Company (GmbH), to an Aktiengesellschaft (AG). Talking about the evolution of the organisational structure made me realise how important the this choice is, considering its impact on all sorts of decisions, meeting structures and so on.There are so many legal structures possible for communities, for example Findhorn is a foundation and Arterra Bizimodu is an Association. It’s something I’d like to explore more.

Socially, a big transition happened around 2009 when the community was introduced to the community building process of Scott Peck, which is also referred to as the ‘WIR Prozess’. Peck says a community formation goes through the stages of pseudocommunity, chaos, and emptiness, to true community. This process helped a lot with the creation of community.

Community Life

Meeting one another, in music, song, dance and sharing circles is a big part of life here. There are monthly community meetings, and various circles with different responsibilities. Every morning at 10am people gather for the Morning Circle. We stood together, sing a song, draw an inspirational card for the day, and share what needs to be shared. The circle was often smaller on weekdays as members have work and other commitments. For me it was a lovely way to start the day and get in touch with the community and I really enjoyed the songs.

At Glarisegg members live fairly independent in their own apartments, with kitchens and bathrooms. Therefore I missed having communal meals, or a communal living room to gather, meet others, or just hang out. The large dining room of the castle is generally occupied by seminar guests, except for winter months when the Glarisegg seminar center is closed. There were plenty of meal invitations though, so many lunches and dinners I spent in good company.

The community room that is used for meetings, presentations and dances, is used mainly for organised events. In this space I got to see the presentation of Philip Munyasia of the Otepic Project, a beautiful initiative for peace and permaculture in Kenya. I had a dance with Oswin, and enjoyed a ‘Schnuppere Kreise’, a sharing circle for not really community members, such as volunteers and guests.

As mentioned, the Glarisegg community uses the Community Building Process by Scott PeckThis is defined as a group process that can lead to deeper, more authentic communication. Peck says that community has three essential ingredients: inclusivity, commitment and consensus, so indeed decisions are made by consent.  

How Eco is This Village?

I realised pretty soon that my expectations of an ecovillage didn’t quite match the reality here. To me, an ecovillage is a place of intentional community, where we live harmoniously with nature, implementing solutions that reduce our impact on the planet. I struggled to see solutions in this ecological dimension. There were no solar panels or other alternative forms of energy generation yet, no car sharing or electrical cars, and so on. However there was a beautiful garden providing for a good amount of the vegetables.  

One explanation is that the castle is protected cultural heritage and therefore has to deal with many, often expensive, building restrictions. This provides a challenges for some of the energy solutions. And there is in fact an intention to upgrade the current oil based heating system to a more environmental friendly system. A grand possibly multi-year plan. They will surely be supported by the local community, as Steckborn is labelled an Energy City, which means they promote renewable energies such as hydropower and solar heat. Overall it seemed to me there was just no strong intention to have a lower impact lifestyle, at Glarisegg the main focus is on the social part of ecovillage living, through community process, song, dance and various therapies.

The Permaculture Garden

My favourite part here was the permaculture garden. This garden has been growing since five years and is maintained annually by a head gardener and two dedicated ESV volunteers. This lush mandala shaped garden provides the community with a lot of vegetables and fruits. There is also a small greenhouse. During my stay buckets of beans, apples, courgettes, chard, lettuce were harvested. Members pay an annual or monthly fee to harvest from the garden, or what most do, take vegetables from the stall which is regularly filled up by the gardeners. A beautiful greenhouse made of recycled windows and a garden kitchen added to the charm. It was my favourite place to be, to share a fresh picked meal from the garden with the gardeners and visiting friends.

Building an Adobe Oven

I was lucky to be here at the right time, as one of the community members, Til, had decided to take on a adobe oven project. In my last weekend in a big team effort we dug up clay from the garden, mixed and stamped it to the right consistency with some help from the children of the Läbesschuel, (the school that has been in the community since 2 years). In a weekend of communal effort we created tons of clay, shaped the bottom of the oven, and started building the shape the oven over the shape of a big pile of sand. It was such a great project to be part of! Two days was not enough to complete the project, so I will be curious to see the end result and I hope to be back to taste a fresh pizza or bread made in there.

Ecovillage Design Education

Last but not least preparations were taking place for the fantastic Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) course, which will happen in winter time. I was happy to help out with some of the new promotion materials for this, such as flyers and Facebook banners! The EDE here counts up to 50 participants and I was impressed with the outcomes of previous courses. There is a strong sense of community and many vibrant initiatives amongst alumni of the course. I strongly believe in the EDE as a transformational learning experience for anyone who wants to learn what it takes to create an ecovillage, on social, ecological, economical and cultural dimensions. It also offers great skills and wisdom for those doing social or humanitarian work, sacred activism, and much more. It is wonderful to see that EDE Glarisegg is putting in the work to offer this curriculum in Switzerland.

I am so thankful to Jashana, Sonja Vera and Elisabeth of the EDE Glarisegg team, who warmly welcomed me in Switzerland. And to the volunteers like Manuel, Martina and many others who included me in the garden work, the oven building project, meals and sharings. To Rudiger for introducing me to his amazing instruments in his Klangwerk workshop and to Petra for sharing her sustainable chocolate in abundance. I really grew attached to this place and it was hard to leave. But I was also excited to move on to what was next, volunteering at Schloss Tempelhof in Germany. 

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