Yesterday Hisae and I visited this bewitched village in Berlin's Treptower district, just east of Kreuzberg. Lohmuehle describes itself as a Gesamtkunstwerk -- a synthesis of the arts, Eden, playground, field of experimentation, lifelong residence, inspiration, childhood dream, magnet, community, paradise. Just twenty years ago the leafy site was all barbed wire and military patrols; the Berlin wall passed through here. I've made a Flickr slideshow of the place here. Somehow, I find the ramshackle homemade architecture much more inspiring than the kind of house you're supposed to hype yourself up to spend £300,000 -- and a lifetime's labour paying off a mortgage -- on.
Lohmuehle is terribly German -- not unlike the gardening allotments you see in Berlin suburbs. Of course, here the petit bourgeois Protestantism is tempered with radical protest -- in the bushes nestle banners against deportation or yuppification. And although all the allotment fences have been removed and the Protestant virtues of self-sufficiency and autonomy have been tilted slightly towards communitarianism and anarchism, this is essentially a rather conservative pastoral dream -- to opt out of the rat race, to live organically, to wash in water pumped up by hand from the water table, to gather rainwater from the eaves and electricity from the sun.
On their website, Lohmuehlers explain their way of life to the curious. "We are an emancipated extended family living together by our own free will. We are 21 young and young-at-heart humans with cats, dogs and rabbits, who invest much love, time and money in their site trailers, cabins and wagons. We live here all year round."
But isn't it cold in winter? "You burn wood in the stove and your ass gets cold when you go to the chemical toilet. In summer, if it's hot, it's worse. You rot like melted Emmenthal. I like the transitional seasons best."
The Lohmuehlers put on a pretty nice summer festival, with sardonic cabaret songs and organic beer served by lesbians. Hisae and I wandered around the site yesterday and what I liked most was the cheap yet idealistic pastoral utopian feel the village had. There was definitely something enchanted going on there, something banished by the kind of buildings and streets most of us spend pointlessly vast amounts of money for the privilege of living in. There were also lots of interesting colours and forms at every turn (wood, ply, plastic, corrugated iron and tarpaulin, bamboo) -- temporary materials and structures here taking an idealistic, eco-friendly shot at permanence.