Back then, it was already possible to work from anywhere via the web, but due to restricted bandwidths and metered internet e-mails and file sizes had to be minimized. Using a precursor of crowdfunding (before the actual term existed), we managed to raise enough capital to launch Werkstatt Wendorf in an abandoned school.

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Urban planner Ton Matton in front of his Werkstatt Wendorf

Since then, a lot has changed. With the advent of rural broadband, the city has come to the countryside. Now, everyone uses the same social media, watches the same TV show, and shops in the same online outlets. Some of the few remaining distinctions are the different consumption and production patterns. Due to increasing specialization, most urbanites are consumers of the metropolitan and multinational marketplace and its resulting lifestyle choices.

Werkstatt Wendorf, on the other hand, subscribes to heterotopic and productive urban living concepts. But how do you throw off the shackles of an infrastructure that determines the shape and guise of our cities and everyday lives? Within hyper modern surroundings, we examine how traditional country life – and its nod towards self-sufficiency – might translate to contemporary production approaches. Our prime focus: How to regain responsibility for our own lives.

During the summer months, solar panels supply us with warm showers, although on cloudy days we might have to wait until late afternoon or take a cold shower. Once winter sets in, heating and hot water are generated by our own wood gasification facility, often powered by our own wood. With 500 birch trees already planted, we are now aiming for a four-hectare plot. Water is collected in a lake and purified by reeds. On the roof, 120 solar panels (25 KW) generate five times our electricity requirements, so we can spill green electricity. Meanwhile, our “free range sink” remains unconnected to the water supply or sewage system. Dishwater is filtered through several layers, treated by aerobic bacteria, carbon-filtered, and then reintroduced into the lower collection basin. Beyond these efficiency aspects, our “jungle shower” offers plenty of space beyond the cramped conditions of your average city shower stall: Luxuriate in reed-sheltered surroundings – a natural spa within the filtering marsh plants.

A wide range of objects and installations, thought up and implemented at Werkstatt Wendorf, highlights alternatives to urban services and ever-present cables and pipes. Here, the social aspects of countryside living come into their own, with a focus on production. Take the “chicken cabinet”: A compact cupboard suitable for urban apartments, yet dedicated to free range egg production. In line with European free range legislation, it offers enough space for three chickens to potter about, roost, and lay eggs. The cupboard also features a curtain, a chicken prefers to lay in the dark, appropriate nesting space, a food dispenser, plus a supply of straw and corn.

Wendorf is sparsely populated, forcing us to cultivate more than just one identity. In order to find common ground and interests with the few people in close vicinity, you have to leave some notions of identity and lifestyle behind. What might sound like ‘social control’ is considered ‘respecting your neighbors’ by the locals. Here, people from all backgrounds tend to depend on each other. While the city’s anonymity allows you to ignore and filter out those who are not on your wavelength, outsourcing responsibilities and living off others, such behavior would not be tolerated in rural areas where everyone needs to improvise, work together, or at least practice commensalism to survive.

This extremely progressive, yet pragmatic approach requires plenty of flexibility and creativity. Tackling so many different tasks throughout the day has become almost exotic in today’s specialized and urban society. We have forgotten how to deal with everyday necessities – it almost seems to be prohibited.

So, it’s high time to act and reclaim responsibility for our lives.

Text and all images: Ton Matton