What is it like to live off-grid and self-sufficient? With a group of 18 Wageningen students we went to Strohplatz in the rural German Eiffel to find out. During our roadtrip towards Strohplatz we experienced that Germany is leading the way in the renewable energy transition. Not only did we notice that the German landscape is filled with solar and wind power installations, during our visit to Energielandschaft Morbach we learned how this energiewende is organized on a regional level. Biomass (biogas and wood pellets), wind and solar are complementary technologies that are utilized by the community of Morbach in a circular economy setting. Did you know you can combine a sheep farm with a solar farm? Neither did we.
Sauce is everything. This we realised during the vegan dinner at the local Thai restaurant where 3 different sauces were presented to spice up our meal. The Asian kitchen lends itself beautifully to a no-meat, no-dairy diet.
That evening we arrived at Strohplatz where a burning campfire was waiting for us. We were welcomed by Niels Gorisse, the founder of Strohplatz. Six years ago he saw the raw potential in this place and has been working on transforming it to a self-sufficient, sustainable and off-grid settlement since then. A truly life-changing decision. We received some rather specific instructions during the introduction (Groups never eat enough, so please eat more + How to use the compost toilet and the gravity lights.) and celebrated our first night of this adventure at the campfire.
The next morning we started by making coffee and tea on a rocket stove. We now know that coffee tastes even better if you have to put a considerable effort in making it!
Before getting into the various technologies and systems at Strohplatz we first got a permaculture primer. This proved very helpful as the permaculture philosophies and methods underpin everything that makes Strohplatz such a remarkable place.
The tour through Strohplatz showed us the many elements in their various states of development. We saw highly efficient solar heat collectors called solar tubes, Ecologically responsible insulation materials, the food forest, the constructed wetland, the shower system, the wall heating and the 12 volt electricity system.
A group exercise proved to be a much needed reality check: we had little to no idea how much energy and water various essential tasks consume and how much heat and electricity can be generated renewably. We’re now painfully aware of our energy-illiteracy. Off-grid and self sufficient living might seem like a more simple and relaxed way of living, but that is (at most) only part of the picture. You have to manage your own grid, own water, own food and own heat, because no-one is doing that for you anymore. In order to do that well you have to have both the skills to create and manage the systems that provide these services, and to have an understanding of the needs and flows in these systems.
Walk the walk
Our hiking trip on Sunday was captured in video by Mehrab. It shows both the sublime landscape and the enthusiasm of the participants.
During the walk someone described Niels’ project as doing an awful lot of work to not have to do an awful lot of work. This is a spot-on summary in my opinion. For example: the food forest has a very detailed design plan aimed at letting nature do most of the work and keeping the amount of human intervention/maintenance as low as possible. The idea is that when you do something you have to make sure it is the right thing, otherwise it is a waste of time and energy. As we learned in the Permaculture primer: Work is something the system hasn’t taken care of yet. I’m not saying Niels is choosing the lazy way: I’m saying he’s mission-driven and wants to do things effectively. I’m also impressed by the fact that Niels chose to build beds for 25 people before finishing a great deal of other tasks. It shows me that he is dedicated to sharing his experiences, stories and place with others.
Visiting strohplatz in the middle of this unique transformation made our visit more fascinating. We can already clearly see the different parts and systems coming together in a synergy that will allow for a fully self-sufficient lifestyle that largely eliminates the necessity of having a job. We then started to think how we could apply some of these ideas and ways of thinking to our own lives.
Due to our time constraints we’ve got only a weekend-long taster of the “story of Strohplatz”. Based on our experiences we can warmly recommend you to check out the workshops offered by Niels.
To conclude I’d like to answer our question about off-grid and self sufficient living with a metaphor: Stohplatz is like the coffee we made there during the weekend. It takes more planning and work than one would expect for something we had mistaken for just “simple and relaxed” but once you get into it, it turns out to be a lot of fun and the result tastes extra good with a rediscovered appreciation for the basic components of life.
To sustainability and beyond!
This post has been written by Erik-Jan van Oosten, Coordinator at RUW Foundation.