System to the Futue
A model project in a rural area
Over the course of six months, REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT developed a participatory project together with inhabitants of the community Grambow in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Its assignment is to initiate a new community consciousness and perspective of action. Regional shrinkage and the loss of communal sovereignty in the rural area are to be counteracted. Based on a questionnaire about the living conditions and future perspectives in the agrarian area, the RG developed a directional system to the future. It consists of traffic signals the pictograms of which point to future tasks. Starting from structural challenges such as demographic development, job perspectives, living opportunities and a changing climate in the rural area, the directional system offers orientation points for social action.
Under the heading Art for Villages – Villages for Art, the German foundation Kulturlandschaft (cultural landscape) brought a model project into life. Within the framework of the pilot project, artists were to create a work of art for a community of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania during a sojourn in the countryside. The dialogue with the inhabitants of the place and the artistic working process are part of the project. RG was selected by the community Grambow, near Schwerin, to develop and implement an art project.
Grambow has about 700 inhabitants. Schwerin, the state capital of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, is only about 10 km away. This proximity has immediate effects on the character of the town. Ever since the settlement was first mentioned by name in the 14th century, agriculture has been central to the area. Even after 1945, when the number of inhabitants increased exponentially due to refugees, the life of the town primarily revolved around the husbandry of the estates in the area. Today the estate is still the primary local employer who cultivates the acreage around Grambow. The structural changes after the German reunification brought a cutting transformation of living conditions. While the employment of the town population in agriculture receded radically, a constant employment migration towards the West set in. Often people from Grambow commute between 80 to 100 km for their jobs in Lübeck or Hamburg. At the same time, young people who must orient themselves nationwide, for their jobs have begun moving away. Parallel to these developments, the village character is changing due to a newly created residential area of privately owned homes. The inhabitants often come from urban residential areas and have job related ties to urban areas. In the course of this suburban flight, those commuting for reasons of employment are expanded by one additional group. The development of the number of inhabitants is, despite these shifts and increases, negative, when taken as a whole.
A specific characteristic of the area is the Grambow Moorland nearby. A large part of the moorland has been placed under natural conservation since the 1930s. In order to preserve the wealth of species of the endangered moorland, people have been hired via employment creation measures, particularly since the 1990s, in order to restore the land.
The moorland is a significant resting place for cranes. The route of the migrating birds reaches from Scandinavia through Northern Africa. Approximately two hundred cranes hibernate every year due to increasingly mild winters. The animal kingdom reacts to climate change. In 1998, a coat of arms showing three flying cranes was created for the community of Grambow. Every crane symbolizes one of the three districts of Grambow.
At the beginning of the project, RG learned about the specifics of the rural area on tours through the village. Aside from dealing with the natural space and regional history, living conditions and existential difficulties in the village lay at the center of the interests. It was important to search for committed people and initiatives. It was apparent that there were hardly any personal connection between older and newer village inhabitants. On the one hand, this has to do with the lack of employment opportunities in the village, resulting in a high degree of commuter mobility. Due to technical developments in agriculture, hardly any workers are needed in the region. The village is changing and with it the relationship between rural and urban space. At the beginning of the project the newly developed residential area, where from 1990 to 2004/5 single family homes have been receiving support through a national private home provision, resembled a suburban residential area with small land parcels. Adjacent to the private homes, garages and carports where, as a rule, several parked cars took up quite a bit of space. The need for a private car for almost every member of the family became the most important basis of survival. Public transportation connected the place to the outside world only on a few days of the week. In addition, there were no shopping opportunities in the village. The closest supermarket was in the next village.
Basic services with groceries and services such as doctors, schools and cultural institutions became an infrastructural challenge. In 2009, the internet was still in the age of RDT (Remote Data Transmission, a communication protocoll developed in the 1980s). These factors form problematic preconditions for attracting young people to the village or to a life in a rural area.
How can one succeed in conflating differing views of life, strengthening the village as social micro-cell? In order to answer this question, RG took on the attempt of projecting the village into the future, with the goal of finding collective assignments and thereby finding a new collective identity. At the center lay strategic considerations such as to how the existence of the village might be secured and shaped independently and in a sustainable way. On several public appointments the inhabitants of Grambow were invited to share their thoughts and to develop their visions of the future. RG developed a questionnaire which was received by all Grambow households. The evaluation showed that possibilities for more common ground and a better way of living together were missing. Upon being asked by RG about the advantages of country life, the proximity to nature, quiet life and good neighborly contact possibilities were mentioned. But it also became clear that precisely these advantages are increasingly disappearing within the current realities of rural areas. It was considered a problem that that intensively used large agricultural areas created a barrier to nature. The quiet life is disrupted by the hustle of commuting. Connected to this is the fact that there is little time for getting to know one’s neighbors.
The results of the questionnaire were presented in form of an exhibition in the village hall and subsequently discussed with those present. The infrastructural disadvantages and the deficits of the increasingly significant demographic development became significantly apparent. One specific suggestion was, for example, the creation of a village store for the improvement of provision and communication. The improvement of the infrastructure for the elderly can contribute to enabling them to stay in the village. This and other suggestions about how the village of the future might look were compared to what is currently the case. It became clear that only individual initiatives can counteract the increasing deterioration of life in the country.
A first initiative for the improvement of village relations was the creation of the Grambower Moorbote (Grambow Moorland Messenger), an information newsletter which has since been appearing on a monthly basis. A former editor voluntarily supervises it, and it is copied, folded and distributed into all households by additional volunteers. Among other things, the Moorbote presents inhabitants and their hobbies. In addition, presentations, appeals and local political themes are dealt with. The Moorbote became a newspaper with which, for the first time, all people in the community could inform about the occurrences in the village and exchange views. Based on the results of the questionnaire RG developed twelve pictograms symbolizing challenges of the future and possible fields of action for individual initiative by the village inhabitants. As a Guidance System to the Future, the pictograms will be set up in central spots throughout the village. Concerning themes of the future, such as energy concepts, individual businesses with regional products as well as community sovereignty. The indicator and warning signs are visible for village inhabitants every day. The plan is to remove the respective traffic signs after implementation of the project. An image developed by RG offers an utopian vision of the transformation of the village in the year 2057. In that year, Grambow celebrates its 700th year of existence. The image shows, among other things, people from global crisis centers who, due to climate warming and civil unrest, have found a new home in Grambow. As reaction to demographic changes, an age appropriate infrastructure was created, making it possible for the elderly to remain part of the village community. The advancing climate change also leads to a transformation of flora and fauna. The absence of winter in the mid-21st century leads to three harvests.
The Village Today
Much has changed since 2009. A library was created in the village hall. The books come from donations. The shelves were built through private initiative. In the fall of 2010, the association Unser Grambow (Our Grambow) was founded with the goal of developing a collective for the economic life of the community at a later date. A feasibility study was comissioned and with a start-up funding the extension of the community center enable the special conditions for the village shop. The cooperative „Our village shop – Grambow” was founded to operate the shop. Currently it has 60 members. They bought a total of 70 shares each for 200 Euro. The village shop opened in October 2014. On 180 square meters there can be purchased 1000 articles. There is also a parcel service. The village shop is more then a shop. As meeting- and communication space it forms identity.
On the property as well, there is a cattle barn with approximately 400 cows. The cattle farmer opened a milk-filling station, where, for a small sum, fresh milk can be drawn. In Grambow, one of the two beekeepers also opened a store with diverse honey and beeswax products. The estate of Grambow invested in a 500 kW biogas plant for the production of electricity.
Not far from the bio gas plant, a plant nursery started operating as a business in June 2012. The garden nursery is being supplied with heat from the feedback of the biogas plant. It produces organic vegetables and kitchen herbs that are sold freshly harvested in the farmyard store. The intention is to have the inhabitants of the village use the extra warmth of the biogas site as well. The collective is to invest in the extension of the network while, at the same time, becoming proprietors of the network. This is the basis for an independent, decentralized and stable energy source. Thus the town can achieve a clear reduction of CO2 emissions in its balance of energy and provide an important contribution to climate protection. Close to the village a photo voltage site and two wind generators for gaining electricity are to be installed. The generators stand at a large distance to the village and the nature protection area in order to avoid endangering the local crane population.