The country needs young people!

Our cooperation with the Grüne Werkstatt Wendland

WERKHAUS founders Eva and Holger Danneberg are members of the Grüne Werkstatt Wendland and have already realised several projects within this initiative. The Grüne Werkstatt Wendland is an association that aims to bring the creative, economic, and social potential of the Wendland region to life and, above all, to increase its popularity amongst young people. Co-initiator and board member Michael Selig talks about how the association started, which projects it (has) realised, how WERKHAUS was involved and what the challenges in the rural area around the Elbe are.

What is the main goal of the Grüne Werkstatt Wendland?

Our aim is to contribute to regional development. We do this by networking. Basically, networks between universities and regional business. That is our key area. We have been doing this since 2010.

How did you come up with the topic of regional development for yourself?

We are here in the district of Lüchow-Danneberg and Gorleben is a particularly important topic in the entire 40-year history. The idea of an environmentally friendly model region has been around since 1980. This idea, which I never really let go of, has led to many associated initiatives. In 1985, we started to organise a Pentecost market at our Kukate farm to show how we actually want to live and work. It was a response to the post-industrialisation caused by the nuclear facilities in Gorleben. That worked well – for twenty years. This then resulted in the “kulturelle Landpartie”, which was developed here on the farm. Of course, you can’ t do things just on your own, but without me it probably wouldn’ t have happened, that’ s the crucial part.

“It is always easy to be opposed to something and far more difficult to develop a vision of what you actually stand for.”

How do universities and companies cooperate in the network?

We always ask ourselves: How do we attract young people to the region? At the beginning we thought this through: What do we have already achieved regarding the protest against Gorleben? What alternatives have we already developed? It is always easy to be against something and far more difficult to have a vision of what you actually stand for. And this “what for” has led us to the idea of creating something that will make the lifestyle and the idea of an ecological model region visible. With this idea, we contacted the Giebichenstein University of Applied Sciences, a professor who teaches game and learning design. A game was developed – the Super GAUdi game. We needed a game that would make the Gorleben drama visible. Game and learning designers from Halle helped to design it and it was produced by WERKHAUS. It was a success! And it showed everyone that there is no final repository anywhere in the world in sight.

Design Camps and Tiny Living Festival

Fascinating idea!

Yes! And from here, the contacts with the universities evolved. Young people were visiting, and we organised design camps. It was really important for the young people to learn about the various challenges faced by different companies – WERKHAUS was involved. We have known Eva and Holger Danneberg for a long time thanks to the Pentecost Market. And then personal contact led to their membership in the Grüne Werkstatt.

The association’s homepage talks about “dormant potentials” in the region. Where do you think this potential lies?

In any case, the potential can be found in the people. A mixed crowd has gathered here, and the protest movement has also brought a few young people to the region. The structure of the population has changed fundamentally. Many urban inputs were brought to the traditional rural population. A lot of young people have participated in the protests here and have realised how beautiful it is here and how nice the people are and have begun living here themselves. That’s where we’re picking up. The second is the particularly strong organic farming movement. In Germany as a whole, around 8% of agricultural land is cultivated organically, here the figure is around 30%. The biosphere reserve, which extends across four federal states, has additional potential. It is a special place here.

And how do you awaken and encourage these potentials?

The Wendland is a land of desire! We are currently noticing that many people want to move to the region and are moving – where possible. Property prices have been exploding and this development began in 2017. More people are moving to the region than moving away. But only people who can afford it are coming. On the one hand, that’s really good, the population numbers are growing slightly. But young people, the group with children at the beginning of their working lives, don’t have enough money. There are hardly any rental flats, only property. Those who can’t afford property have no chance of settling here. So only well-off people can move here. In the long run, we will become a retirement home if nothing changes. Here we are now looking at how we can establish a housing that is attractive to young people and at affordable prices.

Tiny Living is perhaps the solution. You initiated that, WERKHAUS was also involved there…

The festival is a little miracle. We wanted to keep it small at first, but an incredible number of visitors came from all over Germany. That really surprised us. It was a kind of congress and people brought back many ideas about sustainable lifestyles – a very fruitful exchange.

What are the upcoming milestones?

Now we have a project running since September. It is a project of the Ministry of Education and Research. It is about change through innovation. To develop a sustainable, self-supporting structure in the biosphere reserve. So how can we ensure that this area becomes a key zone for sustainable living? There are three main topics we must address: New work, new ways, and new housing. You must look at these three concepts coherently. Living and working in the countryside is all fine for young people, but they also want to be flexible and be able to enjoy the urban culture from time to time, i.e., in surrounding cities, and there needs to be a good infrastructure that works without cars.

New work is certainly not about simply creating more jobs, but about developing new forms of meaningful work oriented towards the common good. And here we work together with professors to find feasible solutions.

Power at its best in the PostLab

What is the PostLab in Lüchow all about? The WERKHAUS destinature team is based in the same building!

We meet regularly with Eva and Holger and the destinature team and think about possible contributions we can make. We are a kind of think tank. Things have developed in a way that WERKHAUS has taken over the whole post office and now owns the building complex. The Grüne Werkstatt is a subtenant of the entire ground floor, and we continue to rent it out to project teams who need co-working space. Upstairs there is the district administration with all the people who deal with regional development and the future of the district.

Here we have the Economic Development Agency and the Welcoming and Qualified Workers Agency “Wendland leben”, which supports people returning to the Wendland or young people who want to settle here. There is very close cooperation with the aim to make Lüchow-Dannenberg fit for the future. Everyone contributes without standing in each others way. We benefit from each other!`

Destinature is the main performer in the PostLab. People know each other and that is very important – you can rely on WERKHAUS a lot. Without this place, the Grüne Werkstatt would not have become what it is today. At this point we would like to say thank you to Holger and Eva, who made all this possible for us. It doesn’t feel like a tenancy, but more like a shared mission. It is a constructive cooperation, supported by shared ideas. This is the most important thing and has developed over a long period of personal relationships – it can’t be determined from the outside.

How does the current debate on climate affect your work?

The district of Lüchow-Dannenberg has approved a master plan for 100% climate protection. Everything that is planned in the district must be checked for climate relevance. Of course, this has an impact on our actions. The responsibility of the individual counts – I must be aware of the consequences of my lifestyle. In this respect, the actions of the Grüne Werkstatt are always based on the premise of sustainability. In the PostLab, for example, you can find all 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). WERKHAUS printed them for us, and the SDGs are the rule of the day!

Interview: Jennifer Wilke