How Schloss Tempelhof Builds a Community

A day’s travel from Schloss Glarisegg in Switzerland, and a short bus ride from the Southern German town of Crailsheim, is the Schloss Tempelhof community. Not in any way related to the Tempelhof Airport, by the way. In September I arrived here to join for a week as a Guest Helper. In this rural area a group of now 150 people has created a growing and well run community on 32 acres of land. They provide for over 80% of their needs of vegetables from their own CSA, run a ‘school for free development’ which supports natural learning in children, and are ever evolving with a multitude of projects. It struck me as a well organised and mature community, despite its fast growth in only 7 years time.

The Guest Helper Experience

We were received at lunch on a Monday and I soon learned that it would be essential to dust of my basic German vocabulary if I wanted to blend in. Most, if not all people, who live here are German and speak some English. My two Guest Helper companions were also German. From reception to departure, the whole experience was very well organised. The first days we spent working on the land, and the next days in the kitchen. A great way to see vegetables harvested from the land, end up on our plates. There were plenty of opportunities scheduled to ask questions to community members, and we were welcome at the community meetings as observers. All in all, a very well held experience.

Hands in the Soil

What I loved most at Schloss Tempelhof was by far working on the land. We had pleasantly scheduled hours and spent them harvesting leeks and potatoes, weeding, seeding lettuce in the nursery, and prepping the tomato greenhouse for winter. It felt like living the good life, it just made me simply happy. Most of the vegetables are eaten in the communal restaurant where we had all our meals. There are also 70 beehives on the property, providing the community with a steady flow of local honey. The daily food therefore was fresh, creative and delicious.

The Ecological Dimension

The Schloss, or castle, used to be a children’s home. Most of the buildings have been refurbished to improve insulation. There are many solar panels, but not enough yet to meet the energy needs. A car sharing system is in place and as mentioned most vegetables are produced in the own garden. Meals are mostly vegetarian and vegan. There is also a future plan to connect the local wells with a stream towards the community . Even though the focus is on economic and social transformation, it is definitely working towards ecological goals, too. There is a wish to have a thorough measurement of the members carbon footprints, so it can be reduced. This is why the topic of flights by individual members is also up for discussion.

The Earthship Subcommunity

Earthship sub communityGrowth can happen in subcommunities and in different formats, which seems like a very natural process. A great example is the Earthship subcommunity. The Earthship building was completed in May 2016, and now forms the living room of the subcommunity of yurts and caravans around. The Earthship is the common space, a kitchen and living room. The building has the typical beautiful earthen walls with glass bottle decoration, and dry toilets inside. Unfortunately, German regulations don’t allow for use of rainwater, unless it has been tracked and tested for quality for a year, which is a costly process. This beautiful subcommunity appealed most to me, as it’s ambition is to live fully off grid, and felt creative and close to nature.

Community Growth

With the fast growth of the community it is not surprising that at the moment there is a waiting list to join. I am intrigued with the different ways communities design their new member processes. At Schloss Tempelhof, first, one needs to join a number of Guest Helper weeks. That’s how you get to know the community, and vice versa. Then if you are interested to continue, you do a project week in which you initiate and complete a small build project in a team. One example of such a project is a small outside seating area near the greenhouse.

Following this you are asked to complete the Community Intensive Process 1 and 2, or in full German the GemeinschaftsIntensivProzess (GIP). This process offers space for intensive self study, the exploration of the “I”, who you are in the mirror with “You” and from there into community space. After these steps, the community will then pass a vote on a new member joining in. There is an investment to join and rent to be paid, although for young people the investment part is not necessary. In addition some people who live here are doing a ‘social year’ or an Ekologisches Jahr. Visitors may be here to do master research, or coming to attend one of many courses at the seminar center.

Community Decisions

I really appreciated that as visitors we were welcome to observe the community meetings. Even though I understood only about half of it in German, I still got some insight from this. We got to join the Impulz meeting on Monday discussing a change in prices for the children that join for daily meals. A hot topic that seemed to be given the attention it needed. The new proposal was prepared and shared in advance. Other than the spontaneous Monday Impulz meetings, there is a Group Plenum every two weeks and a Community Plenum every 6 weeks. For decision making the community uses six levels of consent, including responses such as small doubt, to have a more detailed sense of the reactions. This method I believe is developed specifically at Tempelhof. They also moved on to consensus minus one, which means a proposal passes even if someone blocks it – it takes two to block a proposal.

Community Building and Conflict Work

The core community building process is the WIR process of Scott Peck, just like Schloss Glarisegg in Switzerland. The group context serves as an field for a “radical self-exploration”, and this process takes place over multiple days. And when conflicts arise, sometimes Schloss Tempelhof uses the “Fishbowl” method for difficult topics, conflicts, or the preparation of controversial decisions. There is a large external circle where most participants sit, and in the center a circle with 6-8 seats. This is where the conversation on the topic is taking place – the outside circle observes and listens. One chair remains free so one person from the outer circle can spontaneously decide to participate in the discussion. I have heard of this method before, and I am curious to experience it one day.

Of course in a week, I am just touching the surface of the community process, but I felt there was a lot to take away from Schloss Tempelhof. Next I was to visit Wir Bauen Zukunft located 20 mins from Hamburg, which turned out to be born from the Earthship building team. And so again in turns out all everything is connected!

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