18. October 2023

Leading a Workcamp in the "Wilden-Weiden-Taubergießen" (Germany)

Anna and Melina led our Workcamp in Kappel-Grafenhausen this summer. The local nature conservation project 'Wilden-Weiden-Taubergießen' supports a forest pasture project in the Rhine plain between Strasbourg and Freiburg: Cattle and horses graze all year round in around 70 hectares of forest and over 30 hectares of pastures. The aim of this grazing is to enable the dynamic coexistence of different habitats.

Here Melina and Anna write about their experiences as camp leaders:

"Many weeks before the Workcamp, we contacted our project partner Bernd. We briefly introduced ourselves via email and were able to ask a few organizational questions. Bernd founded the 'Wilde Waldweiden Taubergießen' association there and has been inexhaustible committed for many years to nature conservation in this area.

We met him for the first time one day before the official start of the Workcamp, right at the elementary school, our accommodation. There, Bernd and a woman from the community showed us the school and at the end handed us the important central key. When we discovered that a few things like pots and cups were still missing from the kitchen, Bernd brought everything from home with him, including a small coffee machine, to the great delight of some people. As soon as something was missing during the camp, Bernd was there to bring everything with him and make it possible.

After the school tour on the first day, we two leaders and Bernd did our first big purchase, where Bernd actively pushed us with the shopping cart and helped us transport it to school in his car. At the end of the successful first day of preparation, Bernd invited us to lunch in a very tasty restaurant.

When the participants came up with requests during the camp, such as being able to do laundry, Bernd invited us to his home, where his wife did all the laundry for us. Not to be forgotten, as just mentioned, it was also Bernd's wife, who made a lot possible in the background and gave Bernd fresh tomatoes every day for everyone during their lunch break.

On the last Friday we organized a big farewell dinner and invited Bernd and his wife to an international, home-cooked three-course dinner.

Thanks to the open and appreciative communication between us leaders and Bernd about our ideas, expectations and needs, our cooperation was very good throughout the entire Workcamp and we felt very comfortable.

We were accommodated in the Taubergiessen elementary school and slept on cots in two classrooms. This was actually more convenient than initially feared.

Since the Workcamp took place during the summer holidays, there were actually only us at school, but one or two teachers came by every now and then and in the second week the holiday care was also active in another corner of the school building. But none of it was particularly disturbing.

The (large) showers were located a little ways away at the back of the sports hall and were perfectly fine. There was a spacious kitchen and dining room in an adjacent building. Bernd also gave us a lot of support when it came to equipping the kitchen and we were able to conjure up some fantastic dishes over the course of two weeks.

The only real problem of the two weeks was the fact that we only had one master key for all (!) buildings, i.e. the school building, the sports hall with the showers, the annex building, and therefore it took some coordination.

The topic of work was Bernd's territory. We didn't know in advance what specific tasks we would face.

At the beginning Bernd gave us a list with a rough plan for the two weeks. But since the weather was either too good with sun every day and 35 degrees or it rained a few days in the second week, Bernd adjusted the plan depending on the weather. We were also constantly discussing how it suited us best as a group with getting up, the overall length of work and the breaks. On the particularly hot days of the first week, we decided together to start very early so that we were finished after lunch and we could then cool off at the lake.

Our tasks were very varied throughout the entire two weeks. We built small wooden boxes as a nesting place for the hazel dormouse and huge wooden boxes as a litter box for the wild cat. We distributed the nesting boxes for the dormouse along with so-called tracking tunnels (for monitoring purposes) around the area and attached them to bushes and trees. We built fences and gates and cut back many hazelnut bushes to create clearer conditions for great crested newts.

Bernd guided the tasks very well and everyone always knew what to do. Overall, the workload was very pleasant for everyone; we usually worked from around 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a long lunch break. Sometimes when we worked very quickly, we finished early. The group was consistently motivated and everyone was there every day. Getting up on time and having breakfast together also worked great.

Everyone gained a lot from the work, from understanding the connections in ecosystems, getting to know new animals and plants, to technical skills. After the two weeks we have at least all become professionals in using cordless screwdrivers.

Our leisure program was also a complete success.

Since we had such good weather, we actually went swimming in the Kappler Baggersee every day after work, at least for the first week. One evening we leaders gave a swing dance workshop, which then turned into an international dance performance.

On the first weekend we went hiking in the Black Forest (Hinterzarten) and then cooled off in the Mathisleweiher. On the second weekend we went to Freiburg to celebrate, where the group was divided into half who stayed in the hostel and half who went back to Kappel-Grafenhausen. The next day we all explored Freiburg touristically together.

Sunday in Europa Park was definitely a highlight. The entry fee was kindly financed by the community and it was a great group event. In the second week we also played twice in the evenings with the table tennis club that trained in the sports hall and played group games such as activity and even improvisational theater games several times.

An absolute highlight of the two weeks was the food and the willingness of the participants to adopt a vegan diet.

At the beginning of the Workcamp, we initiated an open discussion on the topic of nutrition and suggested that we just try veganism for the two weeks. And lo and behold it worked wonderfully. We also purchased some replacement products, which were warmly welcomed and “approved” by the participants.

The dishes that the cooking teams produced over the two weeks were all very tasty and there didn't seem to be any major difficulties in giving up meat. Our farewell dinner for the project partner and his wife on the last evening was also completely vegan and seemed to be a hit.”

(Anna and Melina, camp leaders)

Would you like to read more stories from Workcamps? Here you can find all reports from our volunteers.