Steyerberg, Germany
Declan Kennedy Agnieska Komoch & Robin Benson

2. Founding Inspiration

A few contractor‘s sheds and a small group of people sitting around some makeshift tables beneath the trees in the middle of a huge site with empty, desolate buildings. The time: summer 1985. The beginning point for Lebensgarten:

That a settlement. where people live together as a community, was able to come about at this place and in this form was due to the efforts of Berlin businessman Heinz-Christian Benzin. Together with his brother and mother, Christian bought the site with an area of approximately 4-hectare in 1983, intending to convert it into holiday housing for Berliners. Within the space of a year, however, Christian realised that with its history, location and building fabric the site was predestined to become a community project. He called into being the Foundation for the Fantasy and Tolerance and formulated his ideas for the project in the statutes. For Christian, the most important goals were to promote a tolerant community lifestyle and ecologically oriented thinking and behaviour, to overcome prejudices and competitive thinking, and encourage peaceful, networking attitudes - as opposed to a confrontational approach - in order to foster mutual aid and relationships of care and trust among the participants. These values were subsequently incorporated in the statutes of the Lebensgarten Association.

Christian was guided by his feeling that this old settlement could flourish and become a centre of spiritual energy. As a West Berliner, he had himself been shaped by living in a divided city, at the centre of the East-West confrontation. For Christian, the community idea meant coming to terms with a difficult family situation as well as overcoming - and spiritually transforming - the destructive effects of war at a place where people could live together in freedom and love, indeed representative for many other places in Germany.

In May 1985, Christian received an invitation from the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual community in Scotland, to attend a First Humanity Gathering. As a representative of West Berlin, he was invited to this meeting between people from Eastern and Western Europe. There he was not only able to present his ideas, but also received the support of Lydia Bolla, one of Findhorn Foundation‘s co-founders. After a night of meditation, he concluded that Germany needed a project of this nature. Before Christian had left for Scotland, an initiative had come into being that included people from Berlin, Bremen, and Hannover. On his return, he was able to inform them, at a second meeting, that the Findhorn Foundation was willing to support them. Whereas only a handful of people had attended the first meeting, about fifty turned up at the second. When the third meeting was held at the grove on the site, their number had risen to more than a hundred!

Christian felt that this confirmed the validity of his idea. There followed a number of visits by Eileen Caddy, the founder of the Findhorn community, as well as by other members of the Findhorn Foundation, who acted as god-parents in the foundation of our spiritual community. Lebensgarten was born!

3. The Pioneers

The desire to live in a community, to participate in its development and share in shaping its future, encouraged all of us to take the step of giving up things we were used to, such as job security and social contacts, so that we could try out and discover something new. We were motivated by the desire for a refuge, and for a healthier life - both physically and emotionally - to escape the anonymity of the city. And when we arrived, those of us who founded the community were faced with the challenge of a site - confronting us with the darkest side of German history. Uninhabitable buildings, which had stood empty for quite some time, awaited us. We could feel the past in every corner, and it even pursued us into our dreams.

Whilst we were settling in, we had our first experiences with healing: healing this place so that we would feel comfortable living here. The differences between us were reflected in the different ways in which we sought to drive away the negative forces. Some were satisfied with renovation their new homes; others used sage smoke and positive energy, with the aid of Reiki and other forms of working with Light. We were visited by many healers - both invited and otherwise. They found black holes, unredeemed souls, and even urged people to leave the settlement as quickly as possible. But we remained, and had our hands full trying to make the houses habitable. And we took advantage of every opportunity that presented itself to celebrate: birthdays, newcomers, finished rooms, births, etc. Doors were covered with sheets and laid on trestles to form charming, improvised tables for celebrating – and that, too, was part of the healing process.

The first winter was very cold. Only a few people were living here at the time. We had arrived in the spring of 1985 - and by summer 1986 - all of the houses were either inhabited or had been renovated by their future tenants. The sun brought us light and warmth. This was also the time of the accident at Chernobyl and, consequently, of discussions and trying to deal with energy sources hostile to life. Measurements were taken with unusual instruments and mental forces. We prayed, tried to think positively and act practically. There were moments when we believed that we could neutralise the effects of radioactivity by the power of positive thinking. And who knows…?

It was also at this time that we began to come closer together, to get to know one another better and become familiar with one another‘s visions, desires, fears and differences. We began to find forms of expression for all these things. Rituals were created, some of which we still perform today: rituals expressing our community of interests and giving them a tangible, healing quality, as well as rituals creating space for expressing differences and controversies.

By living closely together every day, everyone has an opportunity to use the community as a mirror in which they can understand themselves with their projections - and grow accordingly. Processes of this nature generally evolve spontaneously – often within the framework of intense debates between ninety divergent wishes and the necessity of finding a joint solution for all communal decisions! Since we first arrived, every one of us here has probably had to go through painful processes. We experienced the way in which the community has provided support for getting through such phases. Thanks to the myriad of skills and abilities that people have brought with them and developed here, everyone has been able to find help and support, whether physical, emotional or intellectual, in a way that suits their nature. And in this context, we, as a community, often needed the help of experienced therapists and wise masters from outside to find solutions. We would like to express our gratitude to them for all they have done for us.

 4. Organisation and decision-making

Not sharing a single ideology, guru or economy, we are compelled to constantly recreate our own structure in a never-ending process. Hence, the most suitable framework for our community is the legal form of a non-profit-making association for adult education and culture under the motto: Fantasy and Tolerance.

We meet once a month at a general meeting. When we first started, our meetings were seldom characterised by tolerance and fantasy, despite all our efforts to the contrary. Perhaps their absence saved us from having more dramatic conflicts over a single economy. Nobody felt called upon to risk a social experiment of this nature, although our community includes people from all strata of society: from social-welfare recipients to millionaires.

Our joint economic activities are consequently limited to the Association membership fee, on the one hand, and ever-recurring discussions about the need for voluntary work, equal pay for equal work, the value of labour, "state grants: yes or no"… On the other: all the issues that many of us, well-versed in the radical ideas of the late sixties, had discussed many years ago. This time round, however, we were viewing matters through the eyes of the employer, because our Association has seven permanent employees, not to mention a number of semi-independent and temporary employees.

Many were courageous enough to face up to the laws of the capitalist market and work on an independent basis, e.g. trading in biological building materials, running a book shop, an Internet and computer consultancy, an ergo therapy practice, practices for natural healing and various other forms of therapy, as well as ecological architectural and planning offices, a jewellers and a workshop for handicrafts, a school of meditation, and a guest house for people wanting to visit Lebensgarten without having to attend seminars…

Other members of the Lebensgarten are continuing to work in their occupations in the region and some have never wanted to do otherwise.

With all our fantasies, how do we get round to taking decisions? Depending on how delicate an issue is, everybody effected engages in a more-or-less-heated debate before voting for or against a decision at a general meeting. As a rule, tolerance and a little fantasy (which we all possess, of course, even if not always at the right time) help us in finding a solution. Sometimes the possible solutions take such different directions that we need to make use of our very own, local conflict-solving consultancy (the School of Meditation). If the school is also directly involved in the decision-making process, we bring in the support of a neutral supervisor. All of these things cost time, money and demand strong nerves.

Our idea of a consensus principle is as follows: a decision is only made once we have found a solution that everyone agrees to, and which every single person is prepared to accept, even if he or she has voted against it. Everyone has the right not to accept a decision, which means further debate, during which the opponents have to present new proposals. In other words, we do not fight to obtain consensus because we are democratic, not only because usually anyone who votes against something has their reasons for doing so, and fights to get their position accepted, but also because majority decisions do not work here; . In most cases, this "qualified consensus" procedure opens up undreamed-of opportunities, and we then find new solutions quite unexpectedly.

5. Excerpt from the Statutes

The purpose of the Association is to promote adult education and culture

The Association aims to offer, run and hold advanced education courses, seminars, performances and other suitable events, and engage in corresponding research, to promote the following educational goals:

a) The application and dissemination of different forms of natural nutrition as well as holistic healing methods.

b) The development and dissemination of ecological models in which plants, animals and human beings can live together in a limited area in a manner that is mutually beneficial (e.g. as in the field of Permaculture).

c) The development, testing and dissemination of biological building materials and their application in conjunction with local crafts and artistic designs, as well as the development of techniques and production methods that foster the conscious use of raw materials and energy.

d )The use and presentation of music, theatre and other forms of the fine arts, and their integration into modes of healing and into instruction in modes of direct inner communication.

f) The development of intentional communities that emphasise far-reaching self-sufficiency, mutual aid and self-help, respecting each person‘s individuality, and practising the knowledge thereby gained in the upbringing of children and in their school education.

g) Instruction in self-awareness through meditation.

The Association is establishing a educational and research centre to pursue these goals. The promotion of culture will be carried out by holding cultural events such as concerts, plays, exhibitions, etc. Through its educational activities, the Association wishes to contribute towards making everyday life more human, and towards reducing the physical, mental and emotional illnesses produced by civilisation. Members practise the art of perception, as well as learning, setting examples and serving one another in love and trust. The instruction offered is not only directed at the rational human mind but also aims to help convey personal experiences from heart to heart.

The Community Glue
Social Togetherness
New Form of Communication - Mediation
Experience with inner Composure - Meditation
Showing Respect for Creation
Everyday Ecology

The Departments within the Community

Steering Committee
Members Meeting
Management Team
Task Force Groups

Seminar Organisation
Thematic Fields
Personal Further Education
Conflict Resolution
Connection: Body-Soul-Spirit
Art and Culture
Spring Culture
Artistic Activities
Commercial Art
Fine Arts

Circle Dance
daily - for everybody

Ecological Structures
Rainwater Collection
Combined Heat & Power Generation
Solar Filling Station for 2 Solar-Cars
Solar Hotwater Collectors
Passive Solar Systems
Car Sharing
Meeting Rooms
Art Studio
Halls for Events
Meditation Rooms

Vegetarian Nutrition


Communal Spaces
Children‘s Rooms
Organic Food Co-Op

6. Light and Shadow: Lebensgarten as a Stage

We have learned that anyone can be our teacher. Each individual reflects a different aspect of our light and shadow sides. We tend to like those who reflect our light sides; they do not disturb us. Some become our friends. But we tend to dislike those who reflect our shadow sides; we find them disturbing, depending on the extent and intensity of their shadow sides. Encounters with such people can lead to quite hostile relationships. In our community (in contrast to the town or city, where we give such people a wide berth), we cannot afford to be involved in such destructive relationships. It didn‘t take us long to learn that we cannot change others: we can only change ourselves. Interestingly enough, whenever we succeed in doing so, others invariably change themselves, or at least cease to worry us. And if we take a close look at our shadow sides, we always discover sides of us waiting to be seen, acknowledged and loved. We find repressed sides waiting to be lived out; and if we are able to give ourselves this chance, they ultimately enrich our lives and make them more fulfilling.

The community is our hall of mirrors. It compels us to live out all those parts of ourselves and of others that we are holding back, and allows us to develop the many different sides of our personalities in the diversity of relationships open to us. Initially, we sometimes found it difficult to accept this, but once we discovered just how liberating it could be to shed our skins in this way, it became increasingly easy to do so.

Another important thing we learned was that when we concentrate on something, or allow our energy to flow into something, we strengthen it; and this applies to both positive and negative things. What you resist, persists. In other words, when we fight against something, we strengthen it, no matter whether it is within us or outside ourselves. For this reason, hatred is not the opposite of love, but merely the obverse. The opposite to love is indifference, detachment, not getting involved. The most effective way of switching off something we dislike is to turn our attention to something we desire, to occupy ourselves with it, and to let go of negative feelings like suffering, pain and unpleasant kinds of behaviour.

We have discovered that it is easier to go through all these learning processes as a group, and that those who are able to speak openly about a difficult conflict - both from their own individual viewpoints and with the others in the group - always find a solution. And it is often one that had not previously occurred to anybody; for the group produces synergetic effects far greater than the sum of the intellectual activities of the individual members. Generally speaking, the most important thing is to allow the hurt feelings of those involved in a conflict to heal. An open presentation by a group or by a neutral person, as well as giving a person the chance to be heard and understood without being judged or condemned, can be enough to heal the wounds.

Another thing we have learned in our everyday lives is that we are responsible for everything that happens to us. If we look closely, the universe, God, the gods, Allah, the great mother or the Being behind all being (or whatever we may choose to call it) teaches us everything that we are capable of learning. On this complex world stage, I am directing the play called My Life. I choose the scenery and setting, the roles, as well as the script and the music. The key word for a successful performance is patience; the second word is love. Our experience tells us that without love everything is nothing. With love, even nothingness is everything.

Everyone living in a community undergoes this experience in one way or another. And this creates ties between people. Long relationships are the first step towards a long life.

The most important thing in our eyes is that people create ever more places which give hope and courage to those living here as well as to those visiting us: hope and courage that a sustainable mode of life is possible that serves the individual, the group, and the whole.

7. Conflicts as an opportunity

The diversity that not only characterises our community but is also encouraged here finds its expression in a wide variety of interests and different ideas. How do we deal with the tensions arising in such a situation?

"At the very latest, when I went home from our community pub with a black eye for the first time in my life, I knew that things couldn‘t go on like this," said one of our founder members. He set off to find out how people in other parts of the world deal with conflicts. There simply had to be knowledge and experiences that would help us to deal constructively with conflicts.

We were fortunate to find good teachers in solving conflicts; teachers who had tested their knowledge in many trouble spots around the world. We fetched them here and learned about concepts of meditation, non-violent communication and essential peacemaking for men and women.

An argument without losers? Are there such things as solutions in which there are only winners? All of these concepts are borne by the experience and confidence that all sides can win when they have a conflict. This contradicts our normal experience stemming from our socialisation.

Space is provided and respect shown for the different values and perceptions of everyone here. Self-assertion and empathy are a precondition for not having to accept a bad compromise. The protective space thus created makes it easier for those involved in conflicts to elaborate and express their own needs and desires. Together they can seek solutions to conflicts. And by offering support in the form of meditation, neutral, trained mediators help them work through the conflict.

Many of us have taken part in advanced training in these communication techniques. Consequently, in our community we are now very aware of this approach to dealing with conflicts. At the beginning, some members of the community felt that it would be next to impossible to put what they had learned into practice without falling back into old patterns of behaviour. However, we are now hopeful that we can learn to deal with this too.

If some conflict situations still seem too much for us as individuals, we can call on the support of neutral helpers, offering advice and meditation, in our community. In 1990, a few members of the community founded the School for Communication and Meditation in Lebensgarten Steyerberg. Courses and instruction in meditation have meanwhile become integral to our seminar programme. An important branch of this school is the meditation centre in Vukovar, Croatia.

8. History 1939-1945

The brick-built settlement was erected in Steyerberg in 1939. It consisted of twenty-seven buildings, housing approximately 700 women, brought in from Holland, Belgium and France to work at the EIBIA ammunition factory for the armaments industry. The settlement, which was enclosed by a fence, with a barrier and a guardhouse at the entrance, also had a T-shaped community house (on a foundation of natural stone) housing the offices of the camp leaders as well as the canteen, showers and a dining hall. There was another brick-built camp between Steyerberg and Liebenau as well as six hut camps accommodating a total of 4,500 people who did compulsory – and, in some cases, voluntary - labour at the ammunition factory.

In 1941, as soon as the EIBIA factory had been completed, work started producing gunpowder, laminated ammunition and rounds of ammunition. By the end of the war, production had risen to 20,000 tons per annum. In 1945, English troops occupied the intact plant and used it as an ammunition depot.

Work in the ammunition factory was hard, very unhealthy, and dangerous due to the ever-present, high danger of explosions and accidents. Medical care for the men and women working there was completely inadequate, food supplies and clothing were insufficient; they had to walk a long distance to work, and the accommodation in the hut camps was of a very poor standard. These conditions were harmful to the workers‘ health, particularly to the respiratory organs, the liver and the blood, and also caused dyschromia and discoloration of the hair, leading to chronic illnesses and death. Polish and Soviet workers had to wear special badges and were subject to special restrictions and prohibitions.

Under the cover name of Karl, the following facilities and equipment were constructed and installed on the site between Steyerberg and Liebenau:

After the war, the settlement passed into the hands of the British occupying forces. From 1946 on, a number of labour companies were brought together at the so-called Helena Camp; these companies included German prisoners of war as well as Russians, Poles and Yugoslavs still in Germany. The camp was under German management. In 1947, prisoner of war status was abolished and the entire unit renamed the GCLO 447 (German Civilian Labour Organisation). The unit primarily carried out transports. At times, up to 400 men lived at the camp, and more than 2,000 prisoners passed through it. By the standards of the time, the camp had modern conveniences: a large canteen providing twelve warm meals a week (consisting of a daily ration of 1 kg of potatoes, 230 g of meat, 5 g of salt, 500 g of bread), and the common showers in the main building. In addition, every house was equipped with its own toilet. Vegetables were grown in the gardens, and events were staged at the large hall, which had modern theatre facilities. The hall became a cultural centre for the entire area, as people longed for cultural activities again now that the war was over. Theatre evenings, concerts, the cinema, Christmas festivities, May celebrations, New Year‘s Eve dances and summer-night balls were held, as were courses in foreign languages and shorthand. Sales fairs featuring local firms were also organised. Alongside work (forty-six hours a week) and cultural events, sports activities also played an important role in camp life: football, table tennis and handball teams as well as boxers made a name for themselves locally and in the surrounding area.

The camp also had its own medical services (in the former military hospital), a hair dresser, a library, workshops for tailors and cobblers, not to mention painters, locksmiths, heaters, cleaners and gardeners, as well as its own pig-fattening station.

When the English left the camp in 1977, the buildings stood empty for a while, until the entire site was bought by the Benzin family in 1983 and subsequently made available for the establishment of a community.

Foreign workers and compulsory labour
Registered foreigners 1939 - 1945

Country of origin:

Poland 631
Czechoslovakia 120
Belgium 466
Holland 562
France 837
Serbia/Croatia 94
Greece 10
Denmark 1
Luxembourg 1
Unknown 244

 9. Spiritual diversity and global thinking

Ever since it was first founded, the Lebensgarten has been open to new and old currents of spiritual thought. The spiritual paths laid down by almost all of the great religions are practised here: Christianity, Zen Buddhism, traditions inspired by Indian Gurus like the teachings of Osho and Sai Baba, as well as Shamanism and other creeds; all these spiritual paths enjoy equal status in our community. This spiritual diversity and tolerance may stem from the fact that Lebensgarten, owing to its specific historical development, challenges people to reflect upon the need for individual, social and global change.

As a place with a dark past, where something new is arising in a peaceful way, Lebensgarten offers space for experiments of all kinds. The spirit of openness and tolerance creates a safe haven for testing and becoming familiar with new ideas. Lebensgarten attracts many people who have a special message and know they can find an open and understanding audience here.

Over the course of time, a great number of interesting events have been held at Lebensgarten: people working with earth forces and earth energy centres, Shamanist drumming, Indian sweat lodges, tree concerts, meditating for peace, and many other activities besides. These activities are all marked by a common desire to experience more intensely our links with the spiritual world, with nature and the cosmos as well as the diversity of our different levels of existence.

Lebensgarten is a member and co-founder of many different globally-operating networks such as the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), the Earthstewards Network, the Network of Holistic Centres, the Centre for Non-Violent Communication), and the World Prayer Society. This international presence has had a great influence on our community, and these local and international networks serve as a constant reminder to us that we are part of a greater whole and that, together with other projects, we are working for spiritual, ecological and social change.

10. Three paths of spirituality experienced each day

Every morning, three rituals take place in Lebensgarten: silent meditation in the meditation hall, singing in the chapel and circle dances on the village square. These different forms of meditation acquire greater force and significance when they are performed collectively. Therefore everybody, inhabitants of Lebensgarten and guests, is warmly invited to participate in these exercises and start the day meditating, singing and dancing together.

Beginning the day in silence, emptying one‘s mind to create space for new impressions and spiritual tasks, concentrating on nothingness to gather strength, finding equilibrium in one‘s own inner centre: in this way we can build up the strength we need to meet the challenges of the new day.

The meditation practised in the chapel takes on a very different form: with Taizé singing, Gregorian hallelujahs, Hebraic psalms and the song and sounds from other cultures. Each morning in the chapel is an experience of music and sounds. Anyone who wishes to encounter themselves and others in a world of sounds will find like-minded people here.

The chapel also provides a place for silent prayer, a place where everyone can worship their own divinity as they choose, and in accordance with their own tradition.

Circle dances on the square

This ritual, which takes place every morning, has become one of the trademarks of Lebensgarten. Before we set off to work, the simple movements of dance help to bring the left and right halves of the brain into harmony with one another. Dance helps to establish a balance between the emotions and the soul, to evoke a feeling of joy deep down inside and also has a spiritual dimension. The interplay of melody, rhythm and dance steps creates ever-new patterns of energy. Since 1985, we have been compiling traditional and folk dances as well as meditative and sacred dances from all over the world. We also have instructors to guide us.

We are delighted to see that our activities have inspired many people to establish dance groups where they live, too.

Meditation: 6.30 - 7 a.m.
Singing: 7.30 - 8.30 a.m.
Circle dance: 8.303 - 9 a.m. (Sundays and public holidays 9.30 - 10 a.m.)

11. Zen Buddhism and permaculture

The goal of Buddhist doctrine is to develop the ability to lead a fulfilled life in close harmony with one‘s own true nature and with all feeling beings.

In 1985, the Japanese Zen master, Oi Saidan Roshi, blessed the room in the gable of the west wing as a place of meditation. The Choka Zen Do - the Bird‘s nest seating hall - was officially opened in June 1986. Zen Buddhist meditation Sesshins have been held there regularly ever since. During working hours, which alternate with meditation, the Zen pupils have made an invaluable contribution to the development of Lebensgarten over the past few years. The number of Zen followers who live in or visit Lebensgarten is growing constantly; and in 1999, the Choka Sangha Association was founded to launch further projects related to the Lebensgarten Association.

One example of the common goals of the two associations is the permaculture site (500 m from our settlement), made possible thanks to the dedicated efforts of two founding-members of Lebensgarten in 1986. Here, sun traps and natural cycles (as closed as possible) were planned, arranged and developed with the aim of achieving self-sufficiency. Shortly afterwards, a miniature paradise (the Persian word for garden) came into being with the active involvement of some of the inhabitants of Lebensgarten.

The permaculture concept of sustainable cycles is still firmly rooted in the Lebensgarten community. In 1999, the Choka Sangha members took over this Permaculture Plot, which has an area of approximately 2.6 hectares, in order to practice the ideas of permaculture in harmony with their Buddhist beliefs and external nature. The design of the site, the building, and the cultivation of vegetables and fruit were planned in such a way that nature would only be supported by using biologically compatible fertilisers. Here, a training area is being established that involves the continued practice of permaculture and self-sufficiency. It is to be open to all those practising Buddhism, no matter which particular tradition they follow.

Human beings are perceived as an integral part of a closed ecological system within a permanent culture. Together with plants, animals, the soil and all renewable resources, human beings are an integral part of the cycles upon which this permanent culture is based. These cycles will continue to function as long as rain falls and the sun shines.

Permaculture is a dance with nature where nature leads!

12. Shamanistic Rituals

Various rituals we have adopted from the North American Indians also help us on our spiritual paths. Medicine men and women representing different traditions have visited our community and entrusted us with their rituals.

On the Shaman journey, the monotonous beating of the drum helps us to make contact with our inner, archaic images.

The medicine wheel, located at the Sweat Lodge area, was created in the manner it was revealed to Sun Bear in a vision. The wheel is a source of energy; inviting us to reflect, pray and meditate, and to establish contact with nature and the entire creation.

At the edge of the wood there is a stone spiral. Slowly walking up the spiral, taking each step consciously, helps us to channel our energy flows and, once we have arrived at the centre, to experience our own centres.

Almost all indigenous cultures have used the sweat lodge for intense purification and healing rituals for the body, mind and soul. The sweat lodge symbolises the bosom of Mother Earth, from which we can be reborn again and again in the course of the ceremony. The purification and energy-transforming powers of the ritual have proved to be very effective, as we became aware, in particular, during the early days of Lebensgarten. During the past few years, our sweat lodges beneath the full moon have attracted ever-greater numbers of people from outside the settlement.

The Sweat Lodge itself is a dome made of willow and covered with a woollen blanket. Our big lodge there is enough room for twenty people seated in a circle. The sweat lodge ceremonies held in the tradition of the Lacota Indians consist of four rounds, whose themes are gratitude, making requests, giving and taking. At the beginning of each round, stones are heated to a high temperature in an open fire and then brought into the sweat lodge and laid in a hollow in the middle, where water is poured over them, causing steam and heat to rise.

On one particular full moon, in 1997, the sweat lodge fire at our square burned for three different Indian traditions at the same time – a symbol of living together in peace.

13. Community Centre

The conversion of the main building (now the Community Centre) and its present function reflect the organic growth of our community. We started by renovating the row houses to make them fit for people to live in. At around the same time, the Meditation Hall, the Zendo - a room for spiritual activities, was finished. Then the commercial buildings were completed: offices and private businesses as well as the Seminar House. The large hall was the last to be finished. In the fifteen years since we started to renovate the buildings, the west wing has established itself heart of the community. Initially, the rooms on the first floor were used as bed-sitting rooms, and were only converted into offices later. These rooms now accommodate the Seminar Office, the Association Administration and the Office of the School for Meditation; the area being rounded off with a room containing a small kitchen, community photocopiers, fax machine and the internal network computer. This development also reflects the growth of Lebensgarten. The administrative wing has been extended to include two more rooms: the recently added events office and the extended seminar office. In 1985, after the building had stood empty for seven years, the huge continuous attic was home to the redstarts nesting there. Now, however, in addition to the Meditation Hall, which serves as a Temple for Zen-Buddhists from almost the whole of North Germany, the attic also accommodates a small light-therapy room and two large seminar rooms. The majority of the seminars and educational events are held here. Furthermore, these rooms are available as a meeting place to groups, be they Lebensgarten dwellers or outsiders: women‘s groups, groups practising for non-violent communication, special music lessons for small children, the Celestine group and various self-help groups. The entrance area serves as an international forum for Lebensgarten dwellers and guests. Notices, displays, and an information board form an important communications point.

The commercially run Phönix book shop is situated on the ground floor, next door to the Food Co-op, which is supervised by the community and provides us with biological foods supplied by farmers and wholesalers.

The building has been converted in line with our social goals and economic capacity to meet our needs. All spaces are fitted out for flexible, multi-functional use. We see it as a great opportunity and as our task to infuse this settlement with life. The renewal and conversion of various buildings represents a new chapter in the history of the community. And with the completion and opening of the Main Hall in the year 2000, a further chapter has begun - two large studios (one with a stage) are now serving us and the surrounding region for innovative, cultural events.

14. The Seminar House

The Lebensgarten Association aims to promote adult education and culture. The idea of holding seminars originated in the desire to share the competence and knowledge that some of us brought with us, or have acquired during our time at Lebensgarten.

In 1985, community life and seminars gradually assumed form in and around the former military hospital, which had a small, makeshift kitchen and a few rooms that were furnished enough to make them inhabitable. The building was christened the Heilhaus (healing house), a name that alluded to both its former use and its new function as a meeting place for seminars broadly related to health, healing and becoming healthy, in the sense of becoming whole.

The first seminar was held, amidst great enthusiasm, with many imaginative ideas and great improvisational skill in a small seminar room on the ground floor in 1985. It was entitled: "Self-experiencing and massage". When the first guests arrived, those giving the seminar quickly cast off their painter‘s overalls and dropped their paintbrushes in order to receive the guests in the freshly wallpapered seminar room. The carpet on which the participants were to lay had been quickly purchased and put down only an hour before the seminar was due to start. The guests were captivated by the pioneering spirit that filled the air. They were also delighted to be the first seminar participants in Lebensgarten, and to learn that the carpet on which they were lying, and taking (as well as giving) massage had been paid for from the proceeds of their seminar participation fees.

During the first few years, almost all of the seminars were held by Lebensgarten dwellers and specially invited lecturers. Since about 1998, however, it has been difficult to fill the house with the seminars offered by Lebensgarten dwellers, so we have developed a new concept with the guidance of external advisors. The seminar programme is now taken care of by a management team. Instead of us presenting ourselves with our own programme alone, we have increasingly turned to instructors from outside who work on subjects of that are also vital interest to people in our community: e.g.: family line-ups, body-oriented psychotherapy, relationships, non-violent communication, nutrition and dietetics, eco-village design, complementary currencies, spirituality, art, psychology, acidosis treatment, etc. Apart from the seminars, we also try to organise special events and hold conferences on these particular subjects. Along with our cultural events, our educational activities ensure that we are not isolated from the outside world and that our lives are enriched by the many guests we receive.

For ten years, the Association and Seminar Office was located in a small room, together with the pantry and the cleaning equipment, situated next to the kitchen. As the number of seminars held by lecturers from Lebensgarten grew, the office became too small to cope with all of them, so we finally had to find new guest rooms and seminar rooms.

In 1994, in a major operation, a group of Lebensgarten dwellers set to work converting the attic of the building. This work was financed from a private loan taken out by inhabitants of Lebensgarten. A considerable part of the money was swallowed up by the extensive fire safety measures required under the building and planning regulations.

The gloomy attic was turned into a spacious, bright seminar room, comfortable guest rooms and bathrooms. There was also enough space for a caretaker‘s flat under the roof. The ground floor was converted to cater for people with special needs, and the small seminar room redecorated; the showers, guest rooms, dining room and kitchen were renovated. As with all the other building measures in Lebensgarten, we took great care to use non-toxic, environmentally-friendly and ecologically-produced building materials for the conversions.

During the course of the conversion work, the Association and Seminar Office were relocated in separate rooms in the main building, where the other seminar rooms are also situated. Additional guest beds can be obtained privately from Lebensgarten dwellers. At the present, 120 seminars are held on average each year, and up to 60 people can be accommodated in Lebensgarten over the weekend and catered for by the seminar kitchen. As a result, Lebensgarten is one of the largest private sponsors of adult education programmes in the rural district of Nienburg.

Groups hiring the seminar house can either do their own catering, or be catered for by our seminar kitchen.

The Seminar House can be hired by groups

The following facilities are available:

For information on terms of hire please contact: Tel.: +49 5764 - 2370

15. Art, culture and festivals

The arts have played an important role in everyday life at Lebensgarten ever since it was founded, and has taken a variety of forms, such as making music together at the square or in the hall, painting with the children and putting on short plays, especially at festivals. In the early nineties, the jour fixe became an established tradition, with performances of music and cabaret at regular intervals. Artists also live and work in Lebensgarten, presenting their latest works on occasions like the open day or at summer festivals. Furthermore, small concerts are performed now and again in the chapel and the Zendo to accompany our seminar programme.

In 1992, there was a large-scale performance of the City People here in Lebensgarten. In the autumn of 1997, a studio community was founded - the so-called culture-kitchen group - consisting of fine and performing artists who had set themselves the goal of improving the conditions of artistic production in Lebensgarten. Their main studio consisted of the old large kitchen in the eastern wing of the community building - hence the name of the group.

Our participation in EXPO 2000 makes it possible, for the first time, to conceive and plan cultural activities within a larger framework. A greater part of the grants from EXPO organisers have gone into converting the former festival hall into a modern multi-functional venue where events can be held. Apart from major seminar programmes and small congresses, it is possible to stage concerts and theatre performances all the year round. In order to create the appropriate infrastructure, a job has already been created to plan and organise cultural events. The success of the first Cultural Spring in April 2000, which included a colourful array of cultural events such as theatre, concerts, exhibitions and readings, was made possible partly by the funds from Lower Saxony‘s Association for Socio-culture (LAGS).

If we are to establish our cultural work on a long-term basis in this rural area, we shall have to concentrate efforts on networking the existing associations, societies and cultural establishments. For example, the first co-operative event Paths and Detours is planned in conjunction with the Scheunenverien Liebenau and the local Kulturimpuls group; it‘s focal point will be to illuminate and present the dark sides of the history of the two parishes during the Third Reich - in a manner that is both communicative and meaningful.

In the medium term, we would like to create a cultural forum locally and further afield with the aim of exchanging and networking groups, associations and individuals involved in the field of culture. At the same time, we hope to build a bridge between the cultural centres in the region as a whole and our rural area.

The parties and ceremonies held to celebrate birthdays, marriages and seasonal turning points have been great highlights in the life of our community. The entire symphony of our diverse talents has unfolded at these events, which have contained almost everything under the sun: from choirs to recitations of our own and other‘s texts, acrobatics, magic, masked dancers - intensively studied as well as spontaneous orchestral performances and imaginatively arranged buffets. By co-preparing these events together and sharing our enjoyment of the festivals, any tension is relieved more or less in passing as we come closer together.

16. Ecology in Lebensgarten

When we started renovating the old row houses in 1985, our numbers included several doctors and non-medical practitioners who had become very interested in building biology. Hence, even then, there was no question of our using anything but natural, non-toxic paints, insulating materials and floor covering, despite the occasional derogatory remarks made in our direction, like: "They stick newspaper in their walls", when we were insulating our roofs with cellulose insulating material.

ÖkoLoggia, which markets natural building materials, arose out of our experiences during this pioneering period. ÖkoLoggia meanwhile has a staff of five, and its business activities extend well beyond Steyerberg. Most of the dwellings and guest rooms in Lebensgarten have been renovated using biological building techniques, creating a pleasant atmosphere that many of our guests cherish.

Pioneering work also became necessary in the field of ecological energy generation. The first photo voltaic generator (solar electricity), the first solar-car, the first combined heat and power generation stations, one of the first solar warm-water collectors and one of the first fuel injected boilers in the region were put into operation here thanks to the great dedication of everyone involved, especially ÖkoLoggia. And the concepts for generating solar energy by using glazed roofing and lean-to conservatories were even published for their exemplary character by the EU during the Building 2000 programme.

Lebensgarten now has seven photo-voltaic systems, eight thermal solar systems, five rain-water systems and two solar-cars. We have long since accustomed ourselves to living with solar energy and are glad that we have played our part in making solar energy acceptable and helped it to spread.

Further projects are in the pipeline: a chipped timber heating boiler, an emergency water reservoir; a low-energy house (so-called three-litre house) also with a wood chip heating system and a small reedbed sewage-treatment plant with composting.

Car-sharing has also become accepted practice here since 1989: fifteen users share five cars in a car-pool; a car attendant takes care of repairs and maintenance. In this way, people have easy access to cars at a low cost per kilometre. The two solar-cars are also run on this principle, so that they quickly pay for themselves due to their high kilometre performance.

Alongside these outwardly visible endeavours to bring human beings and the environment into harmony with one another, a number of more mundane steps have been taken in the field of everyday ecology such as: good thermal insulation, economical heating awareness, waste separation, purchasing biological foods, avoiding the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, creating small biotopes (wild gardens) and the consistent use of natural healing methods.

The car pool – a balance sheet

Our car-pool has worked satisfactorily for ten years now. Apart from the saving for each individual, a few other positive aspects deserve mention here:

It fosters communal behaviour amongst the members, e.g. in co-ordinating times, and encourages an awareness of an energy-saving approach to driving. As every kilometre has to be entered into a logbook, everyone involved is very conscious of the cost of each journey, and people think twice about whether a journey is really necessary and even look round for alternatives. People become accustomed to looking for and offering lifts.

The maintenance and repair of the cars is another great advantage to the members of the pool. Furthermore, there are different types of car available for various uses: from passenger cars to estate cars. The car pool is successful and has meanwhile found imitators in the surrounding area.

Electrical cars

Our two electrical cars are driven by approximately thirty-two people. They jointly financed the solar-unit, which now supplies fuel free of charge. Taken together, the unit and the combined heat and power plants generate more electricity than is needed by the two cars and the community building together. The surplus is fed first to other buildings and then into the public network.

The vehicles are mainly used for short shopping trips to the local village and nearby towns, and are used instead of conventional cars for many of the short trips. Statistics show that 97% of all automobile trips involve distances of less than 50 kilometres, which means that they can easily be covered by a solar-car.

17. Children & Youth

Lebensgarten is an ideal place for children. Thanks to the lack of traffic, a variety of play facilities and the open gardens, it is easy for parents and children to remain in contact with one another and to organise group activities. Lebensgarten offers children of various age groups regular painting and pottery classes, music lessons, as well as batik, sculpture and dance courses. The children are often represented at community festivities, giving performances staged by themselves: from circus performances to fashion shows.

When the community was founded, the oldest child had just turned four; the number of children soon rose to more than forty (a baby girl or boy caught its first glimpse of the world every five months on average during the first few years of the settlement‘s existence). - Communities can be very productive in some respects! We fitted out three large, well-lit rooms for our children in the community building. We consider it a great privilege, made possible by our living in the community, that we are able to give them this space. For six years, a children‘s group met every day until the children had reached school age. Gradually, the parents also found themselves confronted with the question of their children‘s schooling. The desire for a holistic spiritual life, which had motivated us to join this community, was to manifest itself when it came to the children‘s education too. People came up with a variety of ideas: the founding of our own Free School was seriously considered and a conference held with representatives of various alternative schools who were interested in the idea. Nothing came of the proposal, however. In 1992, a Waldorf School opened in Minden. Some parents felt this was a good alternative and became involved in establishing the school, whilst others preferred to send their children to the local schools. Now, twenty-two Lebensgarten children are attending the Waldorf School. They travel there in three minibuses driven by parents on a rota basis. Eight years on, the parents believe that, despite the 45-kilometre journey, it is worth giving their children a school education based on a holistic approach.

Now in their youth, the children have now set up their own meeting place where they celebrate birthdays, spend the night with friends and indulge in creative activities. It is only natural for them to want to experience and discover things for themselves, and break away from their parents. Having said that, we hope that they take on our best sides.

18. Lebensgarten as Eco-village

Eco-villages are a contemporary endeavour on the part of responsible human beings to live with one another in harmony with nature and with one another at a local level. These villages are the forerunners of a movement to develop sustainable ecological communities. They provide space for experimenting with new ideas, techniques and technologies, which can then flow into mainstream currents within society.

The decisions set out in Agenda 21 at the World Summit in Rio (1992) confirm the need to develop ecological settlements and promote an exchange of ideas between such settlements and "normal" society.

Politicians and decision-makers are calling for new forms of information and of communicating knowledge; many people are longing for ideas, guidelines and advice. And many of us feel unsettled in the face of changes we find chaotic, and which seem to be leading nowhere.

In 1999, the Lebensgarten was one of the pilot projects to receive the "best practice" rating from the UNCHS.

By pursuing our non-profit-making goals of adult education and culture, we are striving to impart information and knowledge. We present possible alternatives in our seminars, and at international congresses as well as special eco-village training courses.

The Lebensgarten community is political inasmuch as it advocates the creation of new infrastructures within society, and thus endeavours to help find solutions to problems.

We are not waiting for the next world to see "paradise". We assume the responsibility to act here and now. The paths we have chosen are:


Every decision we make ought to take into account our future needs, as well as those of our children and of the present. We support all efforts aiming to reduce the consumption of resources and to respect natural cycles.

Healing and a change of consciousness

Our present society and the ecological crisis have been made by human beings. The way we humans treat nature is closely related to the way we treat one another as human beings. If we are to change our behaviour, we also need to change our consciousness, we need to change our truth. The following points have been very helpful in bringing about this change of consciousness and an individual healing process:

-respect and space for the basic social needs of human beings, especially the desire to feel secure within society: social interaction within the community not only gives birth to suggestions, it also creates joy and warmth; it provides support and encouragement; it creates the space in which we can also accept and work on our so-called weak sides, it also reflects our own projections – a painful experience at times - and helps us to see them.

-Space for transcendence, to ask about the meaning of life, for inner searching and for composure.

Living together in diversity, freedom and peace

If we succeed, as an international community practising grass-roots democracy, in living in tolerance and peace in accordance with our diverse social values and conflicting interests, we shall have increasing cause to be optimistic that this can happen elsewhere too. New communication techniques and a culture of active debate create a sound basis for exchanging opinions and finding solutions together.

Networks and holistic approaches to activity

The limits of linear solutions and activities are quite evident today. Community life creates an exceptionally close network between various areas of life such as work, daily life, free time, home life, as well as the broader social, economic and ecological aspects of our existence. Feedback on the success or failure of a particular approach is registered quickly and directly.

The strengths of a local economy

Exchange on new developments

Above all, our seminars and the European Network of Eco-villages (GEN-Europe), which had its headquarters here until only recently, provide space for further developments and an international exchange on current developments.

Public acknowledgement


We know that the world we can measure concretely, the world we perceive with our own eyes, is not the only reality to which we have access. We are all enriched when we help one another in experiencing our multidimensional reality. With our individual visions, optimism and resulting practice, each of us contributes towards a new collaborative social process.

We are registered as an EXPO 2000 Project: signing the contract June 1996