After emailing two of the communities nearest to us we received two very different replies.
Ökodorf Sieben Linden replied that it would not be possible to visit them “just so” without paying – we had asked if we could come and do some work with them as we couldn’t afford the “Experience Weeks”.
Burg Lutter on the other hand replied that we could come and visit, but as they had a lot of guests at the moment it would be better if we could come at a later date.
This was a week or so into our Hamburg stay. Two weeks later we had our second, third and final last nights and departed for Burg Lutter, or the “Anarchist Castle” as we dubbed it after reading this article. Sarah informed us that it wasn’t really a castle, but we were excited at the notion nontheless.
They hadn’t replied to my last email asking if it was a good time for us to visit yet, but we thought that we would just turn up. We live in our van anyway, so if it’s not a good time, we’ll just park up someplace nearby and enjoy the newly snow-free countryside on our bicycles.
We found the village, Lutter Am Barenberge, and out of hope more than anything, headed towards the tower peeking out above the houses, beside the church.
This is the right place – it really is a castle! We are thrilled. We park the van and begin systematically knocking on doors, unsure of which of the four enormous buildings surrounding the courtyard is likely to be occupied. We are making our way over to the fourth one when we see a figure in a black hoody and call to him.
It’s Martin, the one who emailed me. He was waiting until the Monday plenary to see if it would be ok for us to come. Today is Tuesday. Fortunate for us to bump into him, but unfortunately they decide things by consensus here and I’m getting the feeling not everyone was happy about having more visitors at this time.
Martin shows us around a big room upstairs in one of the buildings where they have a kind of history room with photos and big boards showing a timeline of all of the work they’ve done since buying the place in September 1980.
“It must have been a lot of work,” I say, looking at the photographs. “It must still be a lot of work,” I correct myself, seeing the barn, the tower and other one thousand year old buildings out of the window.
Martin looks at me. “Endless work,” he says.
I am surprised to discover there are only twelve people living here. I really cannot imagine the amount of work it must be to keep a place this size going with so few people. And how much space there is!
The bell rings for dinner and we follow Martin into another building and up some steps to a large kitchen with a big wooden table and food spread out ready on the counter. Next to each of the big pots is a smaller one with “vegan” written on. Pete and I each take a little from those pots, unsure of how many vegans there are for it to go around.
It’s one of those situations where you’re not really sure of how to behave or if you’re really welcome. I smile at everyone and say “Hallo”. When I asked if it was ok for us to be here Martin said we would have to see at dinner, but I don’t know who to speak to or if he is doing it for us. The atmosphere feels very tense.
Fortunately we get chatting to Anna and Gwen. Anna has just bought a van with her partner Zwen and will soon be going traveling themselves with their now sixteen month old baby Carl. This gives us something to talk about. Gwen, the (only) other vegan is heavily pregnant and also leaving soon with her partner Jonas. We now discover the source of the tension: six of the twelve community members have recently announced they are leaving. It must be a lot of stress for the remaining six to contemplate all of that work with only half of the hands they have now.
Gwen and Anna invite us to hang out in the smaller kitchen they share with some of the others. The big kitchen is where everyone eats together in the evening, but for breakfasts, lunches and snacks people mostly eat in their own smaller kitchens. Martin seems to have disappeared so we follow them into the tower building to a cozy kitchen and lounge space on the ground floor.
Somewhere amidst our tea and chit-chat Gwen disappears, returning a little while later to inform us she has been doing a little work on our behalf. None of the four we are sitting with were at the Monday plenary so didn’t know what was said, but she has now spoken with Martin, found whoever it was who didn’t want more visitors and asked if it’s ok for us to spend two nights here with them in the tower building. We can share their kitchen, sleep in the “band room” – a large guest room with hand-built mezzanine where visiting bands sleep – and tomorrow, if we like, we can help Anna paint the bathroom. Great!
The band room is so quiet. I sleep deeply and am woken just before the cock crows by the sun shining through the huge windows. Spring is finally coming! Pete cooks up a huge stack of vegan banana pancakes to celebrate and as the bathroom painting has been postponed due to child-rearing activities and nobody else seems to want any help, we decide to take a cycle ride in the countryside. It feels great to be out of the city and see the big open fields again.
We also climb up the rickety stairs to the topmost tower room. It’s quite spooky and we have to tread very carefully as some of the way is unsafe. None of the people living here seem to want to go up! We are reminded again of the castle’s history, especially when told about a secret room with no doors that somebody found when knocking a wall through. What might have happened here?
After dinner we hang out in the smaller kitchen again with Gwen and Jonas and catch up on a bit of sewing while they make an ingenious mapier-mache lampshade.
Late that night the local dumpster yields up some treasures which we leave in a banquet-style spread for our friends to find in the morning: a huge bowl of perfect strawberries, another of blood oranges, yet another of grapes. About half the chocolate turns out to be vegan – about 60 odd bars! – and we make a little tower out of the other chocolate and sweets. We put the fish, cheese and other non-vegan stuff in the fridge for them. Better it is eaten by someone than thrown into a landfill site.
Before we leave we get to have a look in Martin’s shop. He designs, prints and sells t-shirts, badges and patches. There are magazines and books too – a proper little castle infoladen.