ZEGG (Zentrum für experimentelle Gesellschaftsgestaltung or Center for Experimental Cultural Design) is an ecovillage located on the outskirts of Bad Belzig Wp→, Germany, about 80 km (50 mi) south-west of Berlin.
It is an intentional community and an international seminar centre aiming to develop and implement practical models for a socially and ecologically sustainable way of living. To do this, it integrates personal growth work Wp→, the establishment of a cooperative and environment-friendly way of living and participation in political issues. In particular, ZEGG focuses on exploring innovative approaches to love and sexuality and it has developed and practices the use of tools for personal expression and trust building in large groups, including the ZEGG Forum.
ZEGG was founded in 1991 on a 37-acre site (15 hectares), where approx. 100 people now live, including 15 children and youth (as of 2011). The facilities on site include: an ecological sewage plant Wp→, a CO2-neutral heating system, organic vegetable garden, some clay Wp→ buildings, a meditation Wp→ room, artists’ studios, workshops, a guesthouse, the "Children’s Building" and a range of other rooms and facilities for events and seminars.
Workshops and Festivals
The community-owned limited company ZEGG GmbH Wp→ organises four large-scale festivals each year, attracting several hundred visitors. Most of the work involved in these festivals is carried out on a voluntary basis by the whole community.
Additionally, approx. 120 other workshops and events take place on the site each year, including events organised by both internal and external workshop leaders. These covers topics such as community knowledge, communication, love and sexuality, non-violent communication, empathy, arts and singing.
In total, ZEGG had more than 10,000 overnight stays in 2010, making it the second highest spa tax contributor in the spa town Wp→ of Bad Belzig Wp→. The official host for all these events is ZEGG GmbH and this seminar business is the main source of community income.
ZEGG’s social aim is the long-term promotion of a community-based way of life and it has created its own social structure to achieve this. Community members participate in social processes designed to promote communication, resolve conflicts and support personal development processes. There are also regular discos, seasonal celebrations, internal lectures and discussion rounds and other cultural events.
Many of the community members work within the seminar business, which encompasses catering, accommodation, organisation of events run by external workshop leaders and running ZEGG seminars. Other areas where members work directly for the community include the garden and the site maintenance team (which also has external employees). These working areas are responsible for their own organisation, with the employees also making the decisions. Other members are self-employed, some have day jobs in the region and a few earn their living further afield. Members are also expected to carry out some voluntary work within the community.
Most community members live in shared accommodation of various sizes; some live alone or as couples. Most children live together with their parents and go to nurseries or schools in the region. In the afternoons, a parents’ initiative organises childcare in the Children’s Building. The whole community shares the costs of maintaining this building and providing accommodation, food and care for the children.
Focusing on Love, Partnership and Sexuality
One of the ZEGG community’s founding aims was to research the issues of love and sexuality. In the early years the prevailing idea was that of free love Wp→. Inspired by Dieter Duhm’s ideas, the community set off on a search for a way to be together that would help to overcome the fears and possessiveness we often experience that hinder our ability to love. After the initial radical approach, more and more emphasis then began to be placed on partnerships. Today, some ZEGG members live in various forms of open relationships Wp→ and others live as monogamous Wp→ couples. The aim of ZEGG is still to take an open approach to love and sexuality, building trust among each other whatever form relationships may take.
"ZEGG-Forum" is a ritualized form of transparent communication between individuals and groups. It was invented by the original community of the "Bauhütte" in 1978 and proved essential for the continuation of ZEGG. It is a social process for groups of 12 to 50 participants and has been adopted by groups in the US and abroad including the Network For A New Culture. It is used to create transparency in relationships, to reduce social tensions and to create bonding. Its playful and ritualized form makes it easier to share thoughts and feelings that usually are hidden, thus strengthening social contacts. The idea is that social systems and individuals profit from supportive feedback.
Ecology and Energy
The community aims to take as much of its energy supply as possible from CO2-neutral, renewable and regional energy sources. The lignite Wp→-fired power plant on the site was modernised and converted to run on woodchips Wp→ soon after taking over the site. The woodchips are sourced from forests in the surrounding region. With this fuel ZEGG generates 100% of its heating needs on-site. ZEGG’s first measure to convert its electricity supply came in 2003 with the installation of the first photovoltaic plant Wp→ (24 kWp). In 2010, three gas-powered combined heat and power plants (cogeneration plants) Wp→ were installed and commissioned. This measure increased the proportion of ZEGG’s electricity needs generated on site to 65%. Additional electricity is purchased from a utility company that ensures the supply comes from renewable sources. ZEGG has also taken steps to ensure the reduction of its energy consumption – a measure which complements these conversion measures well. Thermal insulation Wp→ measures since 1991 have resulted in savings of approx. 40%.
ZEGG has also developed a closed water cycle. Its water comes directly from groundwater through three wells, it is then treated in a filter, used, cleaned naturally and then seeps back into the ground. A constructed wetland Wp→ sewage treatment system was built in 1992, which purifies all the wastewater from the site in a specially planted marshy area, which also provides a new habitat for animals.
Permaculture is a guiding principle for ZEGG when it comes to developing and using its site. For example, mulch Wp→ and green fertilisers Wp→ ensure the sandy soil benefits from long-term improvements in fertility and soil structure. This created a humus Wp→ layer, which began to regenerate itself. Then, as the soil became healthier, higher-order creatures followed, such as birds, hedgehogs, martens, toads and squirrels. The site also now boasts an edible landscape Wp→ with indigenous fruit and leaves, as well as apricots, peaches, grapes, kiwi fruit, mulberries and figs growing in sheltered areas.
The ZEGG garden (1 ha) follows organic gardening Wp→ guidelines. Vegetables, salads and flowers are all thriving there, including pumpkins, carrots, leeks and kale Wp→. There are various sorts of fruit as well.
Food provided for residents and guests at ZEGG is vegetarian Wp→ and partly vegan Wp→. In the summer, the food comes from daily harvests in the garden, prepared in the large kitchens and served fresh to the guests. Additional food required is purchased from organic Wp→ wholesalers, regional producers and/or fair trade sources.
In 2004 ZEGG was awarded the second prize in the Agenda 21 Wp→ competition in the local government district where it is located, Potsdam-Mittelmark Wp→, because of its woodchip-fired heating system and constructed wetland sewage treatment. In 2011, the community once again won the second prize in the district’s Agenda 21 competition, this time for its new, innovative energy concept.
The site was first settled in 1919 and used agriculturally, with a market garden and small farm animals. Ownership of the site was then transferred to the SS at the beginning of the 1930s. Before the Olympics in 1936 Wp→, the site was used for German cavalry for equestrian Wp→ training. After that, the site was used as a training camp for leaders in the Hitler Youth Wp→ and League of German Maidens Wp→ (National Socialist youth movements). The Sportlerheim Belzig (Athletes’ Home) was built as a destination for holidays organised by the Kraft durch Freude Wp→ movement. In the 1950s, the East German trade union federation took over the property and used it as a training school for officials. At the beginning of the 1960s the site was taken over by the foreign intelligence service of the GDR (HVA). It was used as a training centre for reconnaissance abroad. The school was under the direct command of the Head of Foreign Intelligence, Markus Wolf. After a top agent called Werner Stiller fled to the West and revealed the existence of the espionage school in 1988, it was decided to change the school's location and turn this site into a sanatorium Wp→. The renovation work was still being carried out when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Work stopped and the property was transferred to the Treuhandanstalt Wp→. In 1991, ZEGG GmbH purchased the site for 2.1 million German marks. Since then, ZEGG has untertaken numerous landscaping and other ecological measures to regenerate the flora and fauna on-site. The ZEGG community has researched the site history, collecting old photos, historical documents and other accounts. There is an exhibition about the site’s history in the large seminar building.
- Beyond you and me - Inspirations and Wisdom for Building Community S.128 (Forum – A way of group communication; Richter)" Free download: Beyond you and me e-book at Gaia Education website
- Bang, Martin: Ecovillages. A practical guide to sustainable living. Edinburgh 2005.
- www.zegg.de ZEGG official website
- English website ZEGG English website
- www.zegg-forum.org/index_en.phtml ZEGG-Forum English website
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