Cohousing in Herne, near Bochum, Germany … The WiG Community

Heading out to Wohnen in Gemeinschaft (WIG) community, we catch the metro to Herne and Micha describes the local area. A small village just out from Bochum, Herne was where the coal-drilling hammers were once made and the street where his community of thirty-five households is located is called Bohrhammers. It was all decommissioned when the mining and industry stopped. One building was preserved and became the local community cultural centre. The contaminated soil was either taken away or piled up and contained and then some development could occur including some very expensive, quite large houses, some apartment blocks and the cooperative co-housing community called Wohnen in Gemeinschaft (WiG) meaning ‘Living Together’.

(Please note if you read the post that went up yesterday you will see that it has been reformatted in two separate posts for easier reading. Essentially the same with a few minor changes.)

After dropping the luggage in the sumptuous Guestroom which was actually a small apartment with its own kitchen, big bathroom and living/dining room looking out over the community towards the back. The red roofed building in the distance is the Community Centre for Herne – that last remnant of the old industry.

The Guest Room is a fully self-sufficient apartment.

Micha conducts the tour from there starting with his own apartment’s kitchen (looking into the community quadrangle), and living space looking-out over ‘private space’ of the town and countryside. He shows us the cupboard which houses the furnace that manages the fresh air quality and heat exchange, as the dwellings are extremely well sealed, being passiv haus. The quality of the build of Wohnen in Gemeinschaft is exceptional.

Outside the front door, the balcony overlooks the other flats. The three rooves all have sod rooves

The view from the balcony is the private view to the neighbourhood and forest

We head out the back to the garden, past the Bee Hotel for lonely bees, and the strawberry patch to the Garden Shed with its wooden plaque commemorating its existence.

We ended up sitting out there talking for ages in the gathering dusk of the warm Spring evening.

In this community there are not a lot of rules.
Community members are required to participate in the four to six community work days that are held every year to look after basic maintenance etcetera, i.e. everything except the garden. Not everyone participates.
They are well organised and coordinated on the responsibilities of running the community.
However they eat together infrequently and irregularly as a community.
They do have a Selection Process.
The main energy of community life is apparent in the garden for those who take the opportunity.

In the lovely area out the back there is heaps of space available for growing food, growing fruit trees and for just growing grass and having some more natural, untended meadow to enjoy.

We talked about climate change and the challenge to have the conversation about restoring safe climate conditions while most people are fixated by the horror of over-shooting two degrees. Like watching an oncoming train crash they can’t avert their eyes to see how to jump out of the way of danger.

We discussed the symptoms that are already evident of nature falling out of synch where, for example, baby birds are hatching ahead of the emergence of the caterpillars on which they depend and how forests can’t move with the isotherms on which they depend.

At 0.4°C (of warming) (above safe climate conditions) per decade, the isotherms are moving so fast towards the poles, 100-120km per decade, that virtually all ecosystems will not be able to survive and very large percentages of the dependent species will die out, ecosystems will be simply torn apart. Already with temperatures increasing at 0.2°C per decade, ecosystems are finding it hard to adapt or migrate to keep pace with the moving isotherms. (Spratt and Sutton, Climate Code Red, p17)

Micha relayed the story of the terrible storm that hit Herne two years ago and devastated their nearby forest. The wall of large logs on the fence-line, recently cut and dragged out of the forest, was evidence of the scale of the disaster, as was the torn and open canopy. Micha said there is a big hole in the middle of the forest now. He thought the revegetation that was happening nearby needed to be thinking ahead about climate change and planting trees robust for the future and the intensifying storms, rather than just preferencing the local indigenous species.

Sitting out there on a balmy summer evening listening to Micha and another community member, Ralph, talk about their experiences and their community. It was again impossible not to see the common elements – positive elements of friendships with neighbours but also inadequate participation, struggle with grievance processes, conflict mostly over how to do things (the same old struggle between the garden designers and the garden DO folk had us laughing) – and also all the other benefits were still there to be appreciated and enjoyed and somehow coordinated.

When it started to get cooler we headed inside. Saying “Gluk Auf” for goodnight, Ralph explained the meaning of this very local term. As an old mining area it had become the custom to wish someone ‘luck’ – “Gluk” and that they ‘come up’ – “Auf” as in from a mineshaft.

“Good luck coming up”. Ha ha.

Low rent for a single person renting 40 sq mt. at this community is 300 euros for ‘warm’ rent which includes heating and elevator fees. There are some lower income members here, no doubt also aspirational.

Here they talk about cold rent and warm rent. They also wrap their community fees into the rent so there is no dispute and no potential for individuals to argue – for whatever reasons – that they don’t have to pay so much. Micha likes that there is no room for complaint or dispute regarding these fees when connected to the paying for upkeep of community amenities.

Something is missed however by doing it this way. When you’re forced to face the cost of the amenity and facilities you are able to see things in a different way. You see that you’re contributing a bit extra and you’re in fact obligated to, contracted to, and that this amount is set by the community, and that then gives you further choice to see how the amenity, your amenity, is managed, what you get for it and what new innovations you may want to build into it. You also then have a greater incentive to look after it and turn the lights off etc. because you’re paying for it and you can keep the costs down. You can say, for example, ‘let’s keep the mower going for another year.’ ‘Lets repair the trampoline and not buy a new one’. It is made to be something relevant to your cost of living and your amenity

Micha regrets that conflict has a bad image because, via his professional work, he too has seen the potential to grow through the experience. We discussed how the benefit to be derived from the gaining and improving of good ‘mindful’ communication skills as a whole community is evidenced in the potential to achieve greater understanding and the subsequent lessening of misunderstanding and disagreements that could otherwise escalate to conflict.

The following day the tour continued through the large Community Room actually owned and utilised by the co-operation that owns and built the property. It had recently been used by the Co-operation and was still set up formally for a meeting. It and the guest room are free to be used by the community in return for the Co-operation’s ready access to the Common House and freedom to run tours through the community grounds from time to time.

Looking through the common areas, in the laundry it was astounding to see that every single household has a washing machine. This was apparently a safeguard imposed by the Corporation in case the community failed one day and the properties had to be rented to non-co-op individuals each of whom would demand their own private machine. There were driers provided in addition to the ample drying room with its pull-out racks – they looked more than adequate for a community of that size. Micha and his wife have elected to share a machine with another household.

The basement contained a workshop and individual storage lock-ups and a large bike storage space because everyone seems to have at least two bikes each or more.

The notice boards contained lists of the rosters and responsibilities.
I’ve utilised Google’s translation from German to English. It was interesting to note the German for Organisation is Organisation. The idea of the cleaning zones being described, according to the translation, as “United Lung” sounds like an apt descriptor – similar to “One in, All in”.

Arbeits Projektgruppen – Work Project Groups
Eintelung Putz-Zonen – 10 ‘United Lung’ cleaning zones
Hauptarbeitsgruppe – Principal Working Party
Untergruppe – sub groups
Garten – garden
Gemüse u. Obst – Vegetables and Fruits
Blumenstreifen Staudenbeete Vorgarten / Krauterspirale – Floral Stripes perennial beds Garden / herbal spiral
Kompost / Hochbeete – Compost / Raised beds
Wall u Wiese – Wall and meadow
Spielplatz – playground
Kinderbeet – Child worker
Haus – house
Technik – Technology
Gemeinschaftsraum Deko – Common Room decoration
Gemeinschaftsraum Vermietung – Community Room Rental
Küche Organisation – Kitchen Organisation
Gästewohnung – Guest Apartment
Offentlichkeitsarbeit – Public relations
Presse/Vernetzung – Press / networking
Organs Besuchergruppen – Organisation of visitors
Koordination Nachmieter – coordination tenant
Festausschuss – Festival Committee
Selbstverwaltung – self-administration
Mediatoren – mediators

Hauptarbeitsgruppe – Principal Working Party
Untergruppe – sub groups
Beauftragte u Sonderaufgaben – Supervisor and Special Tasks
Mülltonnen-Bereitstellung – Dustbins deployment
Aquarium – aquarium
Internet – internet
Aufzug – elevator
Ansprechpartner Reinigungsfirma – Contact Cleaning Service
Türschilder erstellen – Create door signs
Luftfilter f. Wärmetauscher – Airfilter Heat exchanger
Lüftung CW/CV – Ventilation CW/CV
Wartung der Lüftungsgeräte – Maintenance of ventilation systems
Wasseruhren ablesen – read water meters
Info-Tafeln / Pinwand – Information boards / Pinboard
Gieβplan erstellen – Plan creation
Defibrillator – Defibrillator

Over the seven years of its existence, the community had moved away for participatory cleaning of the common facilities and amenities and had voted (overwhelmingly) to employ a contractor to clean for them. They fortunately did allow those who voted against this move, including Micha and his wife, to clean some areas instead of paying the significant amount of 17 euros per household per month.

Micha commented that he regretted that his community had gone this way and that the decision had further eroded the glue of the connectedness of the community.

He also said that there was no real ecological basis for the community.

It would seem the solar hot water and the Passiv Haus (poly-styrene) construction was more about saving money and ticking the environmental box than making an effort to grow awareness and improve behaviour.

All in all, WiG is a relatively affluent, educated, fairly middle class community that is very attractive, well built and comfortable albeit with a social sustainability principle involved. There did not seem to be a community connection about changing the world.

In comparison with communities that eat together regularly there seems to be less contact.

In Australia, with abysmal Government determined to turn our country into a quarry and hell bent on grinding the renewable energy industry into oblivion, there is a much greater impetus to take personal and community responsibility. There is no room for complacency.

It’s become clear on this study tour that in the countries where their governments are at least having a go at tackling, sustainability, liveability, and the controlling of emissions, many citizens feel they can abdicate responsibility to their government for the big ticket items – renewable energy, public transport, built environment – and not worry about their own efforts. They tend not to sweat the small stuff.

Of course there are notable exceptions to that generalisation. People who ride bikes, don’t own cars, share facilities and work to bring about change – like Micha.

It’s not that the provision of secure, affordable housing that provides a comfortable home with a few extra optional community benefits isn’t a good thing. This is obviously a big part of the rapid transformative change that is needed in the world if we are to have a chance at dodging the dangerous climate change bullet.

It’s just that that there are so many further benefits to be gained by more fully engaging and exploring connection within a cooperative community and this study tour search is looking for the innovations, the creative self-expression and the important breakthroughs that community can enable; the truth behind Wohnen in Gemeinschaft, Besser, es zu tun – Living Together, Doing it Better.

About Giselle Wilkinson - 4allsentientbeings

Environmental conservation, community and cooperatives have been enduring threads in my life. Promoting sustainable lifestyles and more lately, focussing on restoring a Safe Climate, is work expressed predominantly through organisations such as The Sustainable Living Foundation (which I co-founded in 1999 - current President) and the others listed as links below. I am some way into a professional doctorate with MIECAT on "Mobilising Whole Communities to Restore a Sustainable Environment" and have in recent years moved into MURUNDAKA – a (more) sustainable, (more) affordable co-housing community / housing cooperative in Heidelberg, Melbourne (for which I gave up my co-op house of 19 years including veggie garden and small orchard) and it's great. I'm also a mum of two grown up daughters and have five step children.
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