This is where the Ecoquest really begins, car sharing from Colmar to Baden-Baden for our first ever, naked, seventeen circuit spa extravaganza (we kept our eyes lowered) ok, so not quite Eco but we were told it had to be done!

Learning that German train efficiency is actually a myth we headed to the beautiful city of Heidelberg, stayed in student digs, ate our first Schnitzel, Bretzel and Schneeball accompanied by plenty of beer (we were in a student town remember) and purchased warm  clothes and work clothes from the charity shop. Getting over the disappointment that a Permaculture lecture that we had signed up for with Sepp Holster at the Bhaktimarga community near Springen had been cancelled, we took another car share, (this time in a VW of course) further north to a small town named Medebach.  Staying in the cosiest Eco Lodge we helped a beautiful Dutch family to build a straw bale extension Permaculture stylie, on our very first “Workaway” volunteering project, where Olof got to enjoy his 32nd Birthday playing in the mud.  With no rest for the wicked, seven days later, after a car lift, two trains, one bus and another car lift, we are at our second Permaculture small holding, in the town of Bösingfeld, with our super hosts Fiaz & Anne, helping to plant an Organic fruit tree orchard and build a wooden fence, all the while the weather is taking a turn for the worst.  We were treated to some of the scrumiest meals here and we even managed to squeeze in a trip to Hamelin, yep you got it, the place where the Pied Piper is from.   Taking another train we found ourselves “lost” in Berlin.  Staying both East and West it took us a full three days to get our “heads” around this city, we dined in the dark, experienced the beginning of the Christmas markets, which meant lots of Wursts & Glühwein, learned a hell of a lot at the Topography of Terror museum and walked and walked and walked.  In Berlin we took our first night train, to Munich, with a snoring stranger, but the lack of sleep did not deter from our excitement to meet our good old friend Michael, with whom we lodged for two nights whilst enjoying this beautiful and rather plush city.  But our plans to visit the fairly tale castle of Neuschwanstein got thwarted, we slept through the alarm!!

Click the interactive map to see the places we visited during our 24 days in Germany.

 

Germany Pictures

 

“Always ask for a discount”

Jeroen

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Fiaz

Ecoquest Learnings and Overview

Wow, where do we start.  Germany was a massive Permaculture and history lesson all rolled into one, oh and I guess you could say that we learnt how to become comfortable with our naked selves in front of total strangers!!

Lets start with our volunteering.  Staying with Jeroen and his family, it was interesting for us to learn about all his different investment choices, tools, systems and set ups, plus his approach to establishing a Permaculture small holding; source of income first, comfortable family home second and then getting the land to produce food third, it made sense.  Also we learnt a decent amount in relation to building with straw-bale.  Due to the fact that Jeroen had already built a straw bale house he shared his learnings, what to do and what not do to with us.  I think we can safely say that not only would we be comfortable to build a straw-bale house but we would be comfortable choosing straw bales as a sound building material.  We also saw the amount of work that is involved when starting from scratch, Jeroen purchased an empty canvas and with his primary focus being on building two homes first it was going to take some time to build up a productive eco-system, I’m not sure we’d want to start from scratch with the land (or the property), having a plot with some mature food bearing trees to begin with definitely seems to have more advantages that starting from scratch.

At Fiaz and Anne’s we were initially blown away by their dedication and hard work.  It quickly became apparent that “the good life” isn’t all about lazing in the hammock, in fact lazing doesn’t even get a look in.  But we could see ourselves in Fiaz and Anne and as a result we got a sense for what we too will be able to achieve when we have found the right place.  We learnt lots of different techniques, mainly around planting and protecting trees but got some insights into the importance of neighbourly friendship (for tool & machine sharing) and taking time to find out if there are any government schemes that you can take advantage of for the development of your Permaculture establishment i.e. Fiaz and Anne were able to obtain a grant from the government if they planted an Organic apple orchard.  In addition it was here where we saw how volunteers can really contribute, not only in a physical manner but also from a social perspective and we learnt very quickly that there were going to be many great things to learn from this Gift Economy that we had just started to dabble in.  This list could go on and on, so perhaps it’s best to read our travel diary to get all the detail.

It was Berlin that gave us our history lesson, not only in relation to the atrocities of the second world war, but we can now understand how Hitler managed to create a nation to support and follow him in his vision.  What gave me the goosebumps however, was not what I read about Hitler, the shame still clearly hangs over Germany and one can only hope they are now a nation that would never repeat it’s shameful history.  But as for the rest of the world, especially those which don’t carry or visibly display any scares from a war, it’s worrying to see how a population can so quickly and falsely support its leaders immoral dictations based only on their commentary and media Propaganda, into waging any kind of war onto a civilian population.  As the new generations, replace the old, as the psychology behind how Hitler managed to gain and or force support from the population at that time is not taught and how the motivations from other world powers to join in the war is omitted from school texts it’s no wonder that some 75 years on we face the same political fractions.   We learnt more in the couple of hours we spent in the Topography of Terrors museum about the second world war than we ever have in a school classroom.

We were in Germany for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall, that combined with the start of the Christmas markets, created a great sense in the air, but we found ourselves lost in Berlin on many occasions, the construction of the wall has left a big hole in the city, a city without a true centre.  We wondered from East to West but in the end it was the East where we felt content, here the city seemed to provide hope, inspiration, community, it was artistic, things were close together and it was easy to get around, it was practical.  I guess this was our first experience of what would have been former communism and we preferred it.  Yes the atmosphere did seem a little greyer on the East side but it felt cozy.  On the West side we felt lost, too much open space, empty, soulless, pointless large buildings and monuments and if we didn’t have the intention to consume or make purchases then there was really not much else to do.  Perhaps it was in Berlin we learnt that we weren’t fans of Capitalism but I guess we had more time to discover if this would be the case as we moved further east.

 

Managing the Budget

We were in Germany for a total of 24 days, living on an average of £64 a day.  During our time in Germany we actually only paid for 6 nights accommodation, 15 nights were free due to our volunteering activities, our friend Michael “put us up” in Munich for 2 and we had the very sleepless night on the train.  Even with all the free nights accommodation the costs for resting our head was still pretty high, at an average of £55 a night.  Accommodation in Baden-Baden was very steep even on the edge of the city at £58.50 a night, then there was city tax on top.  In Heidelberg, even though we shared a single bed the student halls at the university, it still set us back £34 a night.  But perhaps the biggest bill was the price we had to pay to stay in the Eco Hotel in Berlin £90 a night!!  Food was yet again our biggest expense, in Baden-Baden and Heidelberg we self catered using budget stores such as Penny and Netto.  It was in Berlin where we spent a lot of money on food 55% of our total food expenditure was actually spent during our 3 days in the capital.  Dining in the dark, Sunday brunches and countless hotdogs at the Christmas market, I guess it all adds up.  When we look back at how well we ate during our 15 days of volunteering yet only spent £60 on food and drink we think we could have had a very low food bill for Germany had we altered our eating habits in Berlin.

If you look at our interactive map for Germany you can see that we really did cover some ground in this country, we almost did a full circle.  Our travel was a mix of train and car pooling, the most expensive ticket being the night train to Munich from Berlin which set us back £118.

Given we spent 60% of our time volunteering in Germany, our costs on activities was pretty low, the biggest expense was the Spa circuit in Baden-Baden at £61 with the rest spent on museum entries.

Our “other costs” were also pretty high as we purchased expensive light weight sleeping bags, more clothes for the winter weather, second hand work clothes and sent another box of items back home.

Click the interactive map to see a detailed cost breakdown for our road travel.

NB when detailing the budget, this is the cost for two people.

 

Eco Barometer.

We gave 60% of our time to helping Permaculture smallholders in Germany, which instantly gives our Eco Accommodation and Food Barometer a boost.  At Jeroen’s we were actually staying in his Solar powered Eco Lodge, whilst at Fiaz and Anne’s we were helping to establish a food forest.  In Berlin we stayed at the Almodovar Hotel, an Organic and Eco conscious hotel and we walked far out of the centre to dine at a Permacultre restaurant called Cafe Botanico.  When buying clothes for the winter and for working Anna purchased all her clothes from a second hand store in Heidelberg and we stocked up fully on Organic toiletries.  When self catering we also purchased 100% Bio products from our Pasta right through to the wine.  Whilst in Germany we took five taxi’s otherwise our entire travel around the country was done on public transport and two car shares.  All in all we were extremely eco conscious during our time in Germany, we now need to keep this momentum going.

 

Could Germany be for us?

There were many things we liked about Germany, but given our path was mainly led by where the volunteering opportunities were we don’t feel that we got to see all the different sides of the country.  It would have been nice to have spent more time exploring Bavaria and the more forested area’s of the country.   Also it was very cold during our time in Germany, the days where short and the nights very dark which will have undoubtedly effected how we felt about the country.  In some parts of the country It also felt like it was on the brink of a collapse.  Town centres (especially in the north) were closing down, cheap and discounted stores seemed to predominate the high street and what we really didn’t like was how food in supermarkets just didn’t seem fresh.  On the other hand there was a much greater focus on the practicalities, keeping things simple and functional and everyone we met was driven and focused.  Public transport connections where great, despite some surprising infrastructure cracks the country is clean and decently maintained.  There seems to be a consciousness towards the environment in Germany with Eco towns such as Freiburg, the promotion of cycling across the country the availability of Bio products even in the most basic of supermarkets and there industry innovations all of which are highly positive indicators.  We’d most certainly like to re-visit Germany, but the weather, especially during the winter months offers zero attraction.

 

Top Tips for Germany

Coming soon top tips and advice for travelling around Germany the Eco way!