what are we going to do with all this zucchini?
Fall air brings dreams of canning and visions of beautiful rows of glass jars filling old wooden shelves. Despite my constant apocalyptic reverie, I still hadn’t learned anything about canning. But my pirate friend, who is actually a wise old grandma in disguise, brought the ingredients and the recipe, and I had a try. Unfortunately this recipe tastes so good that the glass is already almost empty.
Zucchini Relish ala Martin
1. Get a really big pot. Cut 3 kg zucchini and 1 kg onions into smallish chunks and toss them in. Stir in 3 Tablespoons salt and let sit overnight. This draws some of the extra liquid out of the vegetables.
2. The next morning, pour out the water that has collected in the pot. Add 1 kg sugar, 1 liter herb vinegar (we couldn’t find any and used apple vinegar instead–worked just as well), 3 Tablespoons mustard, stir, and then simmer for 1.5 hours.
3. Stir in 3 Tablespoons curry powder, 3 Tablespoons sweet paprika, 1.5 Tablespoons cayenne pepper, and 4 Tablespoons flour. Simmer for ten more minutes. (Don’t let it cook too long or things will start burning onto the bottom of the pan and the flavor will become a bit smoky.)
4. Put into clean glass jars. Let cool. Smear on everything.
sticks and carrots
A confession: I hate building. The closest I’ve been able to come to liking it is mindless neutrality, a meditative, trance-like state that comes from the repetitive motions lulling me out of thought completely.
Until Workshop called to tell me that there was a wagon to be had in Russelsheim, and I dragged trash house back to Mainz, I had built exactly one thing in my entire life. It was a CD shelf, and I guess it turned out ok.
Maybe it’s the learning curve that frustrates me, the feeling of not being able to do something right off the bat, and then not being particularly good at it. Like a child, stuck in an adult mind and body, a sudden feeling of helplessness when I am used to already knowing what to do and how to do it. It is uncomfortable. And that is exactly why it’s good.
At the beginning of the building process I constantly felt like my head was about to combust. People had advice for me, and I didn’t understand half of the words they used to explain their suggestions. Now I know a lot of new words, and I can operate the power tools that used to scare me. Now I know about insulation and siding and bolt sizes and crowbars.
As empowering as all that is, there are still the bad days. The days when you just stepped on a rusty nail (Thursday) and are limping around worrying about tetanus while trying to replace some rotten support beams that are real fucking pains in the asses, the kind of job where you spend all day working and then step back and it doesn’t look like you’ve done anything at all (Friday).
“Are you enjoying building?” Top Hat asked me at the end of the day.
“To be honest, not so much. Building isn’t really my thing.”
He looked shocked. “But this is your future home.”
“Ummm…” I replied. Top Hat is the most optimistic person I know. He often believes what others think is impossible, plunges ahead into madcap plans that even the lunatics call crazy. To me that this is my future home is the only reason I haven’t already gone postal and am still getting up and unpacking the tools every morning. I look forward to setting up the inside, but that remains a hazy, far-off dream.
In the meantime, the trash showers me with further housewarming presents, which gives me a little motivation kick now and again. Last week it was wood stove pipes (another thing to cross off of the “to-buy” list) and two pretty antique engraved metal sheets for protecting the wall from the wood stove from the heat. This week it was an entire dumpster full of kitchen stuff, out of which I fished a box full of purdy things to eat off of and with. And in a hot second there will be dumpstered organic vegan toast. Yum.
hammer, säge, scharfe zähne
I have reached the magical point where I can now imagine finishing the wagon. Which might sound shabby, but it makes all the difference. The fall air has everyone building–fixing a leaky roof, building a shelf, installing a new wood stove. The feeling of fall gives me energy, makes me want to hoard food and chop wood. But this year it scares me as well because winter is coming, and being able to clearly imagine being finished isn’t enough to keep me from feeling uneasy when the air starts feeling cold.
Today, however, it is warm, hot in the sun, and I almost feel like the summer will last forever because I’m going to be finished by the end of the summer, damn it, and it sure feels like it’s taking forever.
Two weeks ago I was still riding high on having installed the new window with Bean (which is only partially pictured here but you get the basic “this is what it looked like two weeks ago” idea):
Now I have re-sided the right side up past the window…
…and am ripping boards off of the left side to use to finish closing up the right.
Nothing has really changed on the inside, except that when it was raining one day, I started sanding the paint off of the ceiling. What a pain in the ass. Now everything is covered in white dust, and my arms are starting to look like Popeye’s.
Once I finish siding the right side, things will move very quickly. I don’t have enough intact original boards to do more than one side, so the rest of the siding I’ll buy which means 1. no sanding and 2. fast fast fast! (because the tongue and groove boards at the building supply store are twice as wide–rumor has it that you can only still buy small boards like mine in France). Then all that will be left are the roof (crap) and the floor (less crap), sanding the ceiling (ouch), painting (yey!), building a bed and shelves (woo!), and moving all my crap. !! Oh glorious, glorious day.
*The title means “Hammer, saw, sharp teeth” and is the name of a German children’s building lexicon that I bought at the flea market last week.
the marauder’s guide to “wagenplätze,” continued
And then the questions kept coming. If you didn’t read part one of this question and answer, you can find it here . Otherwise, here are some more detaily details about living in a wagon community with a whole bunch of people.
What about animals?
There are at least as many animals here as there are people, wild and otherwise. And they make for good argument fodder, tell you what. When I moved to Mainz, there were two dogs and three cats. The dogs were used to the cats, everybody ran around free, and even though the cats killed a lot of mice, the dogs didn’t kill any of the cats and everybody was generally happy.
Then came the chickens, which brings the count here up to three cats, one dog (the second dog having recently gone to dance with Patrick Swayze in the big disco in the sky–pictured above, RIP Moritz, sweet old geezer dog, pat pat), and ten chickens. Of all the “pets” here, the chickens have been surrounded by the most debate. One of the intial roosters was regularly attacking male residents, which landed him in the pot. Then some of the vegans got upset because they didn’t want the chickens to be slaughtered (and had only agreed to the chickens living here at all with the stipulation that they wouldn’t be eaten, but that was before my time), which led to a four-hour plenum, which led to the decision not to let the chickens keep any more of their eggs to avoid the situation where we have too many chickens and slaughtering becomes logical.
But–oh beautiful, stubborn life!–the chickens managed to hide some eggs in the blackberry bushes anyway. The result: a lot of people have their panties in a bunch and there are 10-20 more chickens on the way. The chicken people, meanwhile, are secretly peeved about the no-slaughter decision and have also declared all-out war against punks with dogs who refuse to leash their dogs. Funny, the way every dog owner insists that “my dog wouldn’t do anything,” and how that statement has repeatedly led to another bloody carcass by the coop. Oops. Guess your dog is still a dog after all, huh.
Then there are all the others who live here: the hedgehogs whose coughs you can hear in the bushes at night and the magpie couple who I most often see dive bombing Momo the cat as she attempts to steal their eggs and/or babies from their nest in the maple tree. There are a handful of red, pointy-eared squirrels who throw nuts at me from the walnut tree above my wagon and who look suspiciously like elves in pompous fur coats. In our kitchen is a green and black striped spider (a garden spider, says the dictionary, though their name in German–Kreuzspinne or cross spider–more accurately reflects their ominous appearance) who builds her web above the tea and who we leave alone as an ally in our constant battle against the fruit flies and this year’s overly aggressive wasps. And last but not least are the rats, who I–surprisingly–have only ever seen on the compost pile and who are–lucky for us–more interested in the building across the street than in us. Who knows what other little creatures we unknowingly share this land with.
Are there any families living on the wagenplatz?
At the moment we don’t have any children living here, though one resident’s ten-year-old son comes regularly to visit. Just after I left the Frankfurt wagenplatz two residents gave birth to a son in the mother’s wagon, and another resident’s teenage son has lived on the wagenplatz for years.
The social benefits for a child here seem obvious to me–”It takes a village to raise a child,” right? Well, try telling that to your conservative social worker. I’ve heard people say that they “don’t think it’s right to force a child live in such a place,” and I’m sure children have been taken away from their parents for less.
One mother who often brings her 3-year-old here for the afternoon and who is a part of a group trying to find land for a new wagenplatz in the area explained recently that they haven’t found land yet because they have to be picky about things like water and electricity. Why? Because she is terrified of losing her daughter and is regularly checked up on by social workers employed, among other things, to enforce the status quo. All because of the government’s perception of wagenplätze as asocial, politically radical slums.
Do some people work 9-5 jobs?
I think one of the most common myths about people who live on wagenplätze is that they are all asocial leeches who don’t work and live off of government money. I do know people who live on a wagenplatz and get unemployment or disability money but whether or not that makes them leeches is debatable and a conversation for another day.
There are Wägler (a term we use to mean “people who live in wagons”) who work 9-5(ish). An English teacher comes to mind. At the Frankfurt wagenplatz there were people I rarely saw because they were always at work–one women owned a joke article shop in the city, another worked at a printing company, and oth- ers were students always in class or in the lab or the library.
More common, however, is that people living on wagenplätze work seasonally or freelance. A lot of people build and take down stands at trade fairs or take the occasional job helping someone move, renovating a house, or selling mulled wine at the Christmas market.
Living here are a furniture maker, several carpenters, a sound engineer, several mechanics, a master of props at the state theater, students, and quite a few clowns (due to Mainz’s renowned clown school). There is a man who works one night a week on a factory assembly line, a carpenter’s apprentice, and a women training to be a camera(wo)man. The thing is that wagenplatz living is cheap, and when you don’t need a lot of money to cover your basic expenses you don’t need to work 9-5 and can take the time to do more (or less) work for money and more (or less) work for yourself or as a volunteer. Because this lifestyle involves a lot more work (chopping wood, lighting fires, carrying water), it can be more of a hassle than it is worth to work so many hours a week.
So what does it cost then?
The rent we pay was decided on by a group before my time, and covers the water and electricity we borrow from Haus Mainusch. It is 40 euros a month. If you can’t pay one month, or eight months, it’s no big deal to pay in big later (or earlier) chunks. Generally the ebbs and flows of people paying and not paying balance each other out so that we can continue to pay the trash and electricity bills, which we split with the house.
Besides the occasional wagon repair expense–tar to stop up a leaky roof or new boards for a rotten bit in the wall–the only other living expense is wood, which, if you’re crafty and observant you could scavenge entirely. One man here bought a press at the end of the last winter and has been pressing his own paper briquettes (saw dust and paper scraps courtesy of the trash) all summer, which we sometimes order together in bulk from the building supply store. If you were to buy all of your wood, you would need 1.5 to 2 square meters for one winter here, and this year’s prices are 55 euros for a “shaken” meter of beech, 65 euros for a meter of oak. (“Shaken” meter is not stacked, but poured into a square meter box by a big machine–never quite a true meter, but all that is available in our area this year.)
So your average yearly expenses–not including food–are approximately 630 euros: 480 for rent, 100 for wood, and maybe 50 for wagon repairs. You might also consider things like health insurance and/or doctor’s bills and luxuries like booze and vacations and concert admissions. Me, being an avid dumpster diver and Pfand collector (the cans you can return for cash), I currently live a really sweet life for less than 1,000 euros a year. I think of it as taking the “starving” out of “starving writer.” And once upon a time I made 800-1,200 euros a month, to pay the rent and all the other bills that come with a 9-5 job and apartment life. Wow.
According to the (American) Federal Poverty Guidelines, however, I live in such deep poverty that I would probably be statistically categorized among the bearded hobos who drink Drain-o and live in boxes, even though I am able to own my own house, having running water and electricity, and eat like a sultan on the money I have. According to those guidelines the category “poverty” begins when a $10,000 (6,800 euros) yearly income supports one person. Almost 7,000 euros a year I can no longer even imagine.
At the Frankfurt wagenplatz rent was 5 euros a month, which would have left me with about 150-200 euros worth of solid expenses each year. However as we didn’t have electricity there, I probably would have invested the initial savings in solar panels, 12-volt gadgets, and candles.
I want to know more about the communal kitchens. How do you get food for the vokü? Is there some kind of schedule that makes everyone lend a helping hand for community-based activities or can a wagon owner be lazy and live off of others’ toils?
First of all, I have to stress that there is a very clear difference between the communal kitchens and the kitchen in Haus Mainsuch out of which we run the vokü. The vokü is run by a diverse (and constantly changing) group of people. Each day’s cooking group is responsible for obtaining the food they need to cook what they’ve planned for that day, cooking it, and cleaning up after themselves. This does not always happen (that is, the cleaning part), and we are often understaffed (hey, want to come cook with us?) and stressed out. But then right when you think everything is the worst ever and are about to lose your faith in humanity and communal-living projects completely, everyone comes together and gets everything done and lives happily ever after.
Each of the resident’s communal kitchens are run differently, and I don’t know a lot about what the others do to keep the dishes washed and the cabinets full. In Hell (die Hölle, or hell, is our name for the vegan kitchen that I currently share with two others) we don’t have any specific system. We’re the crusty dumpster divers, and our kitchen reflects it. We have a vague order for whose turn it is to wash the dishes (“I washed the dishes yesterday and Scissors washed them the day before, so it’s your turn again”), and whoever feels like it cooks and cooks enough so that we can all get a portion.
Because all three of us are living under that imaginary poverty line, there’s also no question of counting up receipts. Whoever has money at the time goes shopping and puts all the food in the kitchen. Everything in the kitchen is there for everyone to use as they want. If you buy ingredients for something special, then you let the others know not to eat it or leave a note. Whoever is broke doesn’t have to feel guilty or go hungry, probably largely because we all know that the person who went shopping yesterday will be broke in a week and someone else will have just gotten paid. And when we’re all broke at the same time there are the dumpsters and leftovers to be picked up from the market.
We also have no schedule for whose turn it is to go dumpster diving or to pick up leftovers from the farmer’s market. Whoever feels like it goes, fills up the cabinets, and everybody eats really well, money or not.
All of the kitchens here have refrigerators, but in Hell we toss ours out every winter, and grab a new one from the student trash across the street every summer (most common dumpster finds in the student trash: bags of bags, refrigerators, clothing, oh wait, fucking everything). Why use so much electricity when you can just put the soy milk and the beer on the windowsill to the same effect?
In the residents’ kitchens or in the house kitchen, it is always possible for one or the other person to “be lazy” and “take advantage” of the work of others. However, I don’t find this to be the case. What from the outside might appear to be a “lazy person taking advantage” is often more of a tidal situation–one week I might feel depressed or lazy or be simply too busy to do anything for the kitchen and the others take care of things, and when they feel that same way I am there to back them up and do what they did for me when I wasn’t doing a lot of chores. For me personally the only distressing event is when the tide stops, and people start bitching about individual events instead of taking a look at the give and take of the big picture. But I grant it, in the moment when you don’t fucking feel like doing the dishes again, it can be hard to maintain that perspective.
What’s it like having a kitchen with no running water?
It takes a little getting used to, and a few small changes in cooking style, but is otherwise just like cooking in any other kitchen. We carry water from the faucet in the bathroom to the kitchen in a ten-gallon canister which usually lasts us a day or two. Some people have canisters with little taps on the bottom so that you can just turn a lever and have water run out into your cup/pot, but our canister does not, so we just pour.
To do the dishes we have a large metal bowl in place of a sink. We fill the bowl, heat up the water on the stove, wash the dishes as you would anywhere else, and then pour the used water into the gutter on the street behind Hell.
Who cleans the communal spaces? Do you guys decide on a schedule, or does anyone even clean them at all? And other communal spaces–is there communal cleaning that goes on at all?
The communal kitchens are the respon- sibility of the people using them. In Haus Mainusch, the people who cooked the vokü that day, or the organizer of any event that goes on there is responsible for cleaning up after themselves. Sometimes it works, and sometimes we all get really pissed off and have to clean it all ourselves anyway. But lately it’s been working.
The only thing we have a plan for is cleaning the woman’s bathroom. There we have a schedule with one lady per week to make sure things stay tidy.
As for the other communal spaces–the movie wagon and the guest wagon–it’s not really clear cut. For example a few weeks ago we had a pajama party/double surprise birthday party in the movie wagon, so a bunch of people spent the day cleaning it up and decorating together and did the same the following day. It’s mostly event based. If you walk into the movie wagon and think, eww gross, you either get started cleaning, or find the person you know made the mess, yell at them, and get them to finally clean up after themselves.
The guest wagon has only recently become a guest wagon again–for the last few years various people have lived in it for longer periods of time–so no cleaning pattern has had time to establish itself. When I have a guest coming to stay I make sure it’s cleaned up beforehand and after they leave, and I assume that will be the general trend, with random people sleeping in it, making a mess, and not cleaning up after themselves in between.
And that concludes this segment ladies and gentlemen.
If any of you still have questions, that would make me very happy, and you should leave them in the comments for me to answer in another installment. They’re lots of fun to answer.
ulcer, thy name is visa, part the second
Even the extra week didn’t help, and I couldn’t have gotten the paperwork together in time anyway. My checklist said I needed a copy of my birth certificate issued within the last six months. To do that I had to send away to the States, to a company that refused to actually send me the birth certificate, no that would be too simple, but who instead insisted on sending it to my American credit card billing address, in America.
Then Ms. Handbasket came to visit and we burned bibles and made music and tore up the town, and I went and forgot that I had an appointment at all. She left, and I sighed contentedly before going back to work on my wagon, not an unrepressed care in the world.
When the 17th came–the day of my appointment at the Ausländerbehörde–I slept in, I drank coffee, I made another pot of coffee, and I even washed the dishes. Then, satisfied, I sat down at my computer to check my email. In my inbox was an email from myself, an email to remind myself that I had an appointment today RIGHT NOW OH FUCK FUCK FUCK.
I turned into a Tasmanian devil and made it into town exactly eleven minutes late. This did not calm me. Once upon a time at the Ausländerbehörde in Frankfurt I watched a woman working there send a Japanese family back down to the first ring of waiting rooms, which is something like the equivalent of the “go to jail” card in Monopoly, or being covered in oil and lit on fire.
“But we’re only five minutes late,” they protested, pointing at their watches. “We missed the first train we had to bring the baby with us…” Their words trailed off into the dark abyss of the woman’s eyes. “Not my problem,” she replied, and turned back to her computer. They left defeated, and I learned to hate and fear the people running that office. People who never smiled, people who were encouraged, for all I knew, to be as unfriendly as possible, and on top of it, they were tenured–German government employees can’t be fired, which leaves only one question in my mind: Can they be killed?
I took the steps up to room 173 two at a time. If I had remembered the fucking appointment I would have been here early. If I had remembered the fucking appointment I wouldn’t be sweaty and wearing clothes covered in paint. I knocked on the door, opened it, and saw that the man inside was talking on the telephone. “Sorry!” I yelped, shutting the door again, even more flustered than before.
Now what? I thought. Was my appointment time slot over, would I have to make another appointment, or would they just deport me directly? Several minutes passed. Maybe he doesn’t know I’m the one with the appointment, I thought, maybe he’s just sitting there tapping his fingers and waiting. Maybe I should knock again. Yeah and really piss him off by being both late and annoying, said the cynic in my head.
It was 11:17, so I decided to knock. Just in case. No answer. I opened the door, and this time he didn’t even turn around, the phone still pressed to his ear. I paced the hallway, hoping someone would walk by who could explain to me what exactly it was that I should be doing. The Mainz Ausländerbehörde is smaller than the one in Frankfurt, and there are fewer waiting rooms and no little machines to take a number from. Expecting the worst I could barely comprehend it when the door opened to a friendly man who gave me a bright blue form to fill out. He even smiled.
I gave him the blue form, and he gave me a three month visa extension, just like that. “Come back in three months, and we’ll do the rest of the paperwork,” he said. He was still smiling. I was still shocked.
It’s like a joke. Actually, it is a joke. Why did the aliens officer give Nikki a visa extension? And the punchline–and punchline really is the appropriate word for it–is that I’m getting hitched.
ulcer, thy name is visa
I have known that this day was coming for three years. The day the Ausländerbehörde (“aliens department” as the online dictionary so ominously translates it) issued my last visa, I left the office thinking vaguely of the day when I would have to come back with a new stack of papers, take a number, and stand in another 6 levels of lines and waiting rooms. But the image was hazy. Three years sounds like such a long time.
Well, it isn’t. With three years and two visas worth of harrowing experience to prepare me, you’re probably thinking, “Well I bet she was ready this time. Got everything done in advance. All planned out, no stress.” Well. If you aren’t just a bad judge of character, then I am a very good actor. And pretending I have my shit together when it comes to deadlines and paperwork is one of my specialties, a skill to which I probably owe every job I’ve ever had.
But those were skills birthed and fine-tuned in America, a country where you can talk your way into and out of just about anything. Here you can’t even work a crappy retail job without a certificate.
So I was terrified. Though terror might have prodded others into making appointments and getting paperwork together months in advance, I waited until exactly one week before my visa was set to expire–September 15–freaked out, and called the Ausländerbehörde to make an appointment.
“Nicolette Stewart?” said the man’s voice on the phone. “Well my computer tells me your visa expires on September 25, so why don’t you come in on the 17th?” I hung up and ran to look at my passport. Well look at that. My visa really didn’t expire on the 15th. Fool’s luck and another week to get my shit together.
the marauder’s guide to “wagenplätze”
I have been exchanging emails with a soon-to-be Frankfurter who, through his questions, has made me realize that despite all my winding narrative attempts, I’ve left a lot of unanswered questions about wagenplätze for the detail-oriented and the seriously curious. So here is a detailed question and answer with some of the most common questions I get about wagenplatz life.
So what the hell is a Wagenplatz?
The short answer is that a wagenplatz is an intentional community in which people live together on a piece of land in a variety of wheeled dwellings.
Most of these dwellings are what are called Bauwägen (building wagons) which can be moved from place to place like any other heavy trailer-on the back of a tractor or truck capable of handling the weight. Others live in the back of trucks that have been converted into living spaces. Your classic trailer–what is often called a Wohnei (living egg) or Wohnmobil (living mobile) in German–are rare, and often unfairly stigmatized by the wagon community as being undesirable and unpleasant.
The fact that wagenplatz dwellings tend to be wheeled leave many English-speakers tempted to translate the term as “trailer park,” though the term rings false in my ears as the trailer parks I have known were not neighborhoods based on common left-leaning political ideas, consensus, mutual aid, and autonomy, but accidental communities brought together by space and not necessarily similarities, much like the traditional off-wheels neighborhood.
When it comes right down to it, there simply is no term in English for wagenplatz, because the concept does not exist in the United States or Britain. When friends from back home ask me to describe our community, I often say things like “Remember the Boxcar Children? Something like that, but with a lot of us,” or “Oh I don’t know, something like a wooden gypsy/circus nomad trailer settlement.” (Shhh, a lot of wagon dwellers get really pissed off when you mention the word “gypsy romantic” in relation to this lifestyle.)
Who owns the land?
In most cases, the land is squatted. For example, the wagenplatz where I live started after Haus Mainusch was squatted in the 80s. Within a few weeks the squatters had come to an understanding with the land owners, in this case the Johannes Gutenberg University, and were allowed to continue to use the property. Eventually a wagenplatz sprang up on the land behind the house, as a housing solution for those involved in house organization and renovation.
All this means that somebody could decide to show up at your door with a lot of police officers with riot gear and guns, and physically force you to leave, and be completely within the letter of the law. I have heard horror stories of people who have had their wagon homes removed from squatted land by crane and compacted before their eyes. In other more peaceful incidents, land-owners negotiate and provide or help find another suitable piece of land for the community to move to.
Recently we were evicted from the back half of our land by the university because they wanted to build a new chemistry building and needed the space to park their building equipment. Luckily, the university was willing to negotiate and provided a second piece of land, to be bought over the course of 20-something years, where half of the residents then moved over the course of several months. It was quite an act, but in the end it means that our town now has two wagenplätze, and maybe someday, when the construction is finished, we can squat the back half of the property back, and fill it again with color and life.
And just what is a bauwagon?
A bauwagen is a boxcar-shaped trailer, today most commonly used as the temporary office at construction sites, thus the name bauwagen, or building wagon. Some people have them in their garden as tool sheds, chicken coops, or play areas for the kids. They are common among circus folk and other nomadic groups–I’ve heard tell that very similar structures can be seen in the United States at SCA and RennFest gatherings.
Older wagons are usually sided with wood, while many of the newer wagons are sided with metal. They range from a few meters in length to ten or twelve, with width averaging at about two meters (inside). They are insulated for winter weather and heated with woodstoves. Some people build towers or additions, and if you’re a creative builder, you’ll find that wagons are structures with a lot of room for innovative space savers and additions.
How many people live in each wagon? And what about shared spaces like kitchens and living rooms?
Usually each person has his or her own wagon, though occasionally you can find a couple sharing a wagon.
Communal space differs from wagenplatz to wagenplatz. At the wagenplatz where I previously lived, we had a large communal kitchen; a food wagon; two platz-built buildings: a pub/meeting room and a cinema (complete with old school red velvet theater seats that someone had thrown away), a library wagon, multiple guest wagons, and a meter-long telephone wagon.
At the wagonplatz where I currently live we have a 9-meter cinema wagon (imagine a big living room, with a table and games to play on it, couches, and a TV and VCR for watching the hundreds of films that line the walls), four communal kitchens, a guest wagon, and the house/venue/bar that another group consisting both of people who live on the wagenplatz and people from the region.
The variations depend on space, need, and wagon-availability.
How are decisions made?
Most wagenplätze meet regularly for what is called a plenum, which is a meeting to discuss current issues, solve problems, share news, and make decisions. At the beginning of the meeting a list of topics is made, and then each is discussed and decided on through consensus. Sometimes this means a ten-minute discussion, and sometimes it takes weeks, but everyone gets a chance to speak his or her mind, and nothing is final until a solution is found that everyone feels comfortable with.
What about electricity? Bathrooms? Internet?
This, again, differs from place to place, but I will use my previous residence again as an example here, as I think it is more typical of wagenplätze across Germany.
In Frankfurt we did not have grid electricity. Just about everyone had solar panels that ran 12-volt power to their stereos, computers, and lights. In the summer this meant an endless stream of electricity; in the winter it could mean a few hours of light before the juice dried up. I lived in a guest wagon without solar panels. At night I read by candlelight and used a headlamp to find my way around outside.
We also did not have running water. There was a parking garage next to our land where we jointly rented a small room with a faucet, two washing machines, and electric plugs for charging cell phones and computers and electric razors on the days when there wasn’t enough sun to make it on solar. Drinking water was carried from there in large canisters, or bought bottled from the grocery store.
As for bathing, everyone seemed to have their own ritual. Some took constant cat baths, others used solar shower bags (large black bags that you fill with water, lay in the sun to heat up, and then hang on a tree to shower under), and still others showered at the homes of friends. Quite a few had memberships at a cheap local gym so that they could shower indoors all year round.
Toilets were mostly homemade compost toilets, each lady for herself, though there was one compost toilet located next to the pub for communal use/visitors. I peed outside and got permission to use my neighbor’s compost toilet. Other friends walked across the street to the building supply store that had a bathroom near the entrance.
At my current residence we have it plush: grid electricity and running water in the house and in the toilet wagon (with urinals, two toilets, two sinks, and a washing machine). Showering we either do on the university campus or, in the summer, in one of several outside showers in which you can either fill a watering can with heated water or hook up the hose for an ice-cold, but running shower.
In both communities we had the internet.
What if I want to move to a wagenplatz? What should I do?
Since these are communities built on the common ground of the members, it is probably a good idea to start going to some events at your nearest wagenplatz and getting to know some people. It’s not necessary, but it helps.
Then you”ll need to go to a plenum and officially ask if you can become a guest or a Probewohner (trial resident). At this meeting you will be expected to introduce yourself to the group, explain why you are interested in moving in, and let them know what you are expecting–do you want to stay in the guest wagon for two months or do you want to get your own wagon with sites on becoming an official resident at the end of your trial period (every wagenplatz handles this differently). The group will probably then send you out of the room for a while to talk it over among themselves and let you know what they have decided.
Part two of this post can be found here.