It’s a dreary scene: a few people standing on an empty field in the rain. Nothing about this place looks promising. But people don’t seem to care. Some are curious, others euphoric, but all are confident. “This is my bed,” a woman says, pointing to a spot on the floor, then jumps for joy.
The project is to build a village on this land in the Wendland region, in the German Land of Lower Saxony, an ecological, intercultural and united village. With the help of his own cooperative, rents will remain affordable. 300 people will live here, including 100 elderly people, 100 young people – preferably with families – and 100 refugees. The idea is that they are there and that they look after each other.
Demographic change is a global problem
The question of how we want to live in the future is shaped not only by the climate, but also by demographic change. Most societies are aging: in Germany, one in two people is over 45, according to surveys by the Federal Statistical Office. In Indonesia, the average age is expected to increase by eight years by 2050, and in China by more than nine years. Who will take care of the elderly? And how to avoid a growing gap between the generations?
The number of single households in Germany is also steadily increasing, from 34% to 42% between 1991 and 2019. A third of women living alone are between 60 and 79 years old. In rural areas, population numbers decline as people move to cities. The demand for alternative lifestyles, such as shared multigenerational lifestyles, is increasing.
This scene in the empty field happened five years ago. Filmmakers Antonia Traulsen and Claire Roggan captured it for their documentary, Wir alle. Das Dorf (All of us. The Village). “It’s a socio-political and cultural question of how we want to imagine life in the future,” says Traulsen, who actually lives near the experimental village.
Bring together different generations and people from different backgrounds
The filmmakers accompanied the project for four years. “At first we didn’t understand where their euphoria was coming from,” says Traulsen. It has become clear over time “that people really care to make a difference”.
12 houses stand today on the former farmland, and about fifty people live there. By the end of the year, the population is expected to rise to around 90. Negotiations are underway to purchase additional land. “The demand is huge,” says Hauke Stichling-Pehlke, one of the initiators of the project. He describes himself and others who have been involved from the start as pioneers.
Rural structures everywhere are disintegrating, says Stichling-Pehlke. “This is why it is not just a housing project, but a sustainable neighborhood hub adapted to the future.” He says it’s about continuing to develop the community together, not just the village. “When I see people chasing their visions, it’s already close to the initial idea,” he adds.
The film also shows conflicts. At the start of the project, residents and refugees discussed and agreed on floor plans for the future houses. Years later, when the houses were being built, a refugee family had different ideas, which made it unlikely that they would be able to settle in the village. One woman reacted angrily, saying everyone agreed when the plans were presented, while another admitted that the refugees may not be sufficiently involved.
The initiators, Hauke Stichling-Pehlke and Thomas Hagelstein
“The refugees had other problems at the time, some did not even have their residency status clarified,” says Roggan. “For these people, these were basic things; for them, it was not tangible that there could be a house here in three years.”
In the aftermath of the 2015/2016 refugee crisis, German society faced the question of how to integrate refugees. Refugees were rarely asked how they wanted to be integrated. The village project shows that there is no model of integration, even if it is well intentioned.
The film also reveals traditions and cultural reserves. A young Afghan woman said in a meeting that she had to look after her parents and stay nearby, even if she had to go to university. The group reassures her that she doesn’t have to stay in the area because they might be able to help her, like arranging doctor’s appointments. But the idea was unthinkable for her: the family takes care of the family.
At first glance, the people who were in the original group don’t seem as diverse as the project claims – there is a Waldorf school teacher, a remedial teacher, an educator, a few left-wing members of the anti-nuclear movement. .
Antonia Traulsen and Claire Roggan, the filmmakers
But tensions arise even in what looks like a fairly homogeneous group. Everyone is supposed to contribute as much as they can and want, but there are no binding guidelines. But is it fair that some people contribute more than others, even though they all have the same goal?
“It’s amazing how people listen and constantly question themselves instead of blaming others,” says Roggan. Its co-director, Antonia Traulsen, explains that the constant negotiation of compromises is one reason the village thrives and grows. “It is an art to stay in the conversation even in arguments and not to be offended, but to take advantage of the variety of opinions.”
In this regard, this social experience on land in Lower Saxony could be seen as a test for the future coexistence of society.
The filmmakers are currently on tour in cinemas with Wir alle. Das Dorf.
This article was translated from German.