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Country life in self-experiment: "Finally a hackathon with a hoe"


In search of a better life, Verena Töpper and her family moved to the provinces three months ago together with 19 other city dwellers. Are you happier now?

Enlarge image

Work after work: Verena Töpper helping out with pointed cabbage.

If you look closely, you will discover a baby among the cabbages.


Verena Töpper / DER SPIEGEL

Next to me in the field lies a five-month-old baby on his stomach, nibbling on a cabbage leaf.

It's okay, says Marie, his mother, and pulls out a thistle.

Armed with long-handled hoes, we fight our way down the row together, from pointed cabbage to pointed cabbage.

1500 heads of cabbage are to be harvested here soon and then, packed in organic boxes, land in front of 1500 front doors in Marburg.

But things are not looking good for cabbage right now: thistles, knotweed and other weeds take away the nutrients.

I'm on a rescue mission.

It is the third month of our country life test in Northern Hesse, and I have the feeling that I have arrived in Homberg (Efze).

We have arrived in our new everyday life, which is so different from that in the big city, although our jobs have remained the same.

I already have my actual working day behind me. I sat at the computer, made phone calls and wrote, just as I have done in the SPIEGEL office at the Ericusspitze for the past ten years. But instead of always having the same Hamburg small talk in the same Hamburg playground, I'm now standing in this field in nowhere in northern Hesse and pecking at thistles while my two-year-old daughter looks for earthworms and the gardener's baby nibbles on cabbage.

Next to me, two other "homies", as we 20 Homberg country life testers call ourselves, toil: Johannes, a communication designer from Hanover, and his wife Kerstin, a graphic designer.

They too moved to Homberg (Efze) for the "Summer of Pioneers".

They too are looking for an answer to the question: How do we actually want to live?

A question that encompasses more than just where you live.

This experiment is not just about swapping the big city for the small town.

It's about combining the best of both worlds: the creativity, the free spirit and the élan of the city, the tranquility, the cheap rents and the fresh food from the country.

Does that sound arrogant?

Critics accuse us of that.

You don't have to export anything from the city to the country, everything is already there, the creativity and the free spirit. But when I look at the many empty shops here and the matter of course that members of a motorcycle club adorn their clubhouse with iron crosses and pithy "United, loyal, proud and strong" slogans, then I think: Yes, an exchange has to take place here . How can it be that in 2021 a vision for the revitalization of Homberg's old town is to convert the beautiful market square, lined with centuries-old half-timbered houses, into a parking lot? It has to be done differently. More sustainable, more people-friendly, more future-oriented. And I am not alone with this opinion.

The field belongs to Malte Groß, the organic farmer we buy from every week.

He is one of the many Hombergers who welcomed us with open arms.

Someone who doesn't turn up his nose because we use English terms like co-working space or flat white.

One who understands our search for a better life.

Better to sell to the customer right away than to the supermarket first

Malte studied social pedagogy. After graduating from high school, he left his parents' organic farm to move to the city. But life in Kassel and Darmstadt did not appeal to him. "It started with high rents and ended with the parks," he says. "Creating artificial nature in the form of parks is somehow very suspicious when you come from the country." And so he came back to reinvent his parents' farm. But not alone, but with his partner and two friends: Florian, another social worker, and Niklas, an energy consultant and carpenter.

Together they built a new half-timbered facade on the ailing barn to make room for a café. Reduced the number of pigs because the barn seemed too narrow for them. Experimented with vegetables that are threatened with disappearing. Expanded the range of the farm shop and focused on direct sales. Better to sell to customers straight away than to the supermarket first, is their motto.

At the ceremonial handover of the organic farm from Maltes parents to the next generation, we "homies" sat in the courtyard in front of the large, green barn doors at tables decorated with colorful bouquets of flowers from Maltes mum's garden, ate homemade cakes and drank homemade lemonade .

The birds chirped, the pigs grunted, our daughter played tag with other children.

A country life idyll like from a picture book - and we are right in the middle of it.

Call for help from the organic farm

Marie, the new gardener, showed us around the greenhouses with the baby in a sling.

"Look, that's where the cucumbers grow that we buy from Florian at the market," I said to my daughter and thought: How great to be able to say such a sentence.

A few days later, Marie's call for help came via email with three exclamation marks.

"We welcome everyone who helps!!!"

The weeds had already grown over the cabbage in some places, and she would now like to return to our offer of cooperation, she wrote: "You just need a desire for physical work and a good mood." Behind it a winking smiley.

In fact, during their tour - standing in amazement in front of the fields full of lettuce and kohlrabi - we all assured us how much we love gardening.

My co-pioneer Anna, a specialist in agile working, immediately reported for duty.

"Finally a hackathon with a hoe," she commented on the help email from the gardener in our Slack group.

Inga didn't think twice either.

Tearing up plants with your hands, that is exactly the right balance to your online training for a cosmetics company.

I hesitated at first.

Isn't it absurd if we also subsidize the organic farmers, from whom we buy expensive on the market, with our labor?

Aren't we townspeople making ourselves look ridiculous?

On the other hand, how can I ask others to grow vegetables without pesticides and then refuse to help at the crucial moment?

Knowing where the ingredients for our food come from and knowing the people who work for it every day feels good - but it also brings with it a new kind of responsibility.

Somebody out of 20 people always has what they are looking for

We're not just testing country life here.

We test whether all the empty phrases and slogans that we loved to throw around in the city can be filled with content: Living in harmony with nature.

Stop exploitation and overproduction.

Recycle instead of waste.

Share instead of own.

At least with the latter, we as a group can report successes.

Whether it is a mop, extension cord or drill, tomato sauce or ointment - after three months it is clear: out of 20 people, someone always has what you are looking for.

In Hamburg, too, I was part of a neighborhood network.

But the help never arrived as quickly and easily as here.

And unlike in Hamburg, sharing is no longer limited to objects.

Looking for a programmer, a presenter, a graphic designer, a DJ?

The solution is only a Slack message away.

Everyone helps everyone here, with time, know-how, sometimes just by listening.

And if need be, also with the hoe.

After two hours in the field, something like routine sets in.

I'm no longer afraid of accidentally chopping off a pointed cabbage.

Every thistle that is torn out is a small triumph.

Marie talks about her training and her love for vegetables.

Counting working hours is alien to her.

Your day-to-day work is not determined by times or days of the week, but by the weather.

In two days it should rain again, by then the weeds must be gone.

But together we are making good progress, the row is already clearing.

It's a truism, but it's true: It's nice to be able to see the results of your work at the end of the day.

As we put the hoes in the transporter, Johannes says that he now sees pointed cabbage with different eyes and that he will never let you spoil again at home.

Same for me.

And one more surprising finding unites us: The physical work was fun.

Two pioneers now run the Hofcafé

Two from our group are now on the organic farm almost every day.

Christina, who used to work as a unit manager, and her partner Julian, a cameraman, now run the new Hofcafé.

It is already clear for both of them that they will stay after the "Summer of Pioneers".

Jörg, an entrepreneur from Darmstadt, has already registered his first place of residence in Homberg.

So three of us 20 will stay, three other "homies" are at least toying with the idea of ​​extending their stay in Homberg.

Four want to go back to the big city, ten are still undecided or did not take part in our survey.

My partner Marian and I are undecided.

Before we moved to Homberg, we made a list of the pluses and minuses of our place of residence.

The Hamburg city center scored with its variety of restaurants and events, with well-known routes and punctual subway.

But there was also the noise and the exhaust fumes, the lack of green and the narrowness.

Being able to sleep with the window open at night was at the top of our wish list.

The wish has come true.

At night in Homberg we hear the splashing of the fountains on the market square.

Our daughter cannot walk past them without holding her hands under the running water, and the experience always puts a smile on her face and on us.

We can no longer complain about the lack of green either.

In a few minutes we can walk to the forest of the castle hill with our overgrown community garden or the meadows on the river Efze.

And again and again Hombergers invite us to their gardens, one more impressive than the other.

There is always a trampoline for the children, homemade cakes with fruits that you have picked yourself, sometimes a sun deck with deck chairs or even a small lake.

In the evening there is a barbecue, with meat from the yard next door.

It could stay that way.

40 minutes for one upload

But there are also the days when the little one comes out of the daycare and declares that she would rather go to "the blue daycare", the daycare in Hamburg.

She asks about the teachers, friends, grandma, grandpa and the zoo.

Are we going there by subway?


There are days when I need 40 minutes to upload my podcast to the SPIEGEL server.

The days on which we find flyers from our favorite Hamburg restaurants in the mailbox, forwarded by the post office.

The days when I miss the supermarket delivery service.

Above all, the question of daycare worries me.

In Hamburg there were only wooden toys in the daycare for the children.

Every day began with singing together in the morning circle, then marble runs were built, glitter pictures were made, waffles were baked, or shaving foam was splashed around.

Here in Homberg we have to re-enact the morning circle at home in the evenings. They say there is no singing in the daycare center because of Corona. Most of the toys are made of plastic, they hums, tumbles and squeaks. To eat, the children climb on high chairs around a large table. This is back-friendly for the teachers, but doesn't look very inviting. It is painted on discarded company paper, with colored pencils over the printed letterheads.

I don't really know why that bothers me.

Why shouldn't paper be recycled this way?

Our daughter loves the squeaky toys, and she hasn't complained about the high chairs either.

The care key in Homberg is also better: three, sometimes even four teachers take care of ten children.

In Hamburg there were three for 15 children, and all three teachers were almost never there.

Which daycare is the better?

Which life is the better?

I dont know.

But I know what I don't want to miss anymore: fellowship with the other "homies".

Source: spiegel

All business articles on 2021-08-04

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