Travel: Volunteering through Workaway on a farm community in Germany

In the current part of my last-20s travel journeys: I’ve left London, my television office job and extremes of living in such a large city, and have some how stumbled upon farm life in Northern Germany.  How does a city slicker like myself cope with life in an agricultural environment such as this? Better than expected it turns out.

There were ups and downs in the first 6 months after leaving my office life in London, but I was able to fall on my feet thanks to the decision to become a volunteer worker to fund my travels. Using the site http://workaway.info  , I searched until a found a community that interested me. This happened to be in Lower Saxony, about one hour south of Hamburg via train, at a little village called Sammatz. It was actually closer to Luneburg than Hamburg, and in terms of address it was situated in the area of Neu Darchau (a nearby town, nothing to do with Dachau), but disregarding geography, in turned out to be a great place to volunteer. There were lots of other fellow travelers working in order to have free food and accommodation, in fact in summer we had up to 85 volunteers on the farm! This is not to mention the 90+ permanent residents. Sammatz (google map it here) is a community unlike many you’ll find on the Workaway database – it’s well organised, with much varied work, cooked meals every lunch time, a fridge always full of food to cook your own, good accommodation, really friendly locals and some beautiful surroundings in the Northern Germany forest. As well as an organic farm, they have farm animals including many rare breeds (horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys, an avery, chickens, turkeys, ducks, dogs, cats, people), a bakery for fresh bread, dairy for making organic yoghurt and cheese, an excellent cafe with deserts drinks and meals and also home and schooling for special needs and disadvantaged children. The volunteers can get involved with any or all of this, from caregiving with the special needs kids, to gardening – weeding is somewhat of a prerequisite when you first arrive, there’s plenty of stables and animal work to get involved in and also construction and larger labouring type gardening. Oh, I forgot to mention the kitchen as well, with prepared meals everyday the catering is fantastic from the cooks. These are served Monday to Saturday and you can also get involved cooking there.

Daniel, my friend and blogger, check his hot blog out: https://www.failingforward.today/

So there’s a lot to do within this little (but in a sense, big) community in the heart of Lower Saxony. When I arrived, I was but a mere volunteer, but soon my plan to stay 2 weeks had sped by and it wasn’t long until I found myself staying 6 months, until nearly Christmas. I eventually had my own room to myself, used lent instruments such as Piano and Guitar to continue writing songs, and had gotten the basics of German down thanks to one of the mentors on the farm who also teaches German. I probably would have stayed past Christmas as well, if it wasn’t for a nagging call to return home to my birth land of New Zealand. Coming back to New Zealand had an element of shock to it as well – after the freedom and social environment of the farm – I feel the experience changed me. I will no longer be able to return to the confines of the usual 9 to 5 office job without the knowledge that other, more communal ways of life can exist.

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Not that working at the Sammatz community in Germany was a holiday, we would work 7.5 hours a day, starting at 8am and going until 5pm, with the 1.5 hour break for lunch. This was a little on the excessive side as most Workaway’s have the guidelines that there should only be 5 hours work a day, but the extra work was made up for by the good social environment and good food. The work was rewarding as well, perhaps not the excessive weeding, i.e. ripping grass out of the ground (which could be fun in summer as an excuse to flirt and bond with fellow workies, but was pretty tough by cold Autumn).  With the larger construction tasks, care giving, labouring around the farm something could always be learnt, about team work and individual skills. Cow herding was a highlight of mine, something I took the lead on for several months, along with a Scottish friend of mine. Cow’s turn out to be highly emotional and interesting creatures, not unsimiliar to what a dinosaur might be like. This lead to a screening of Jurassic Park with the borrowed farm projector, which in turn led to an impromptu road trip with the friends group I had at that time, up to the city of Lubeck. Lubeck was in no way connected to dinosaur’s but the trip was a lot of fun, and an indication of the cool things that you can do with the cool people you meet in community volunteering experiences such as this.

Will I volunteer on farms or community’s again? Yes I probably will. Now back in New Zealand I have the choice of staying here, getting an normal job to pay off my ever escalating student debt, or escape back overseas on a flight I’ve booked to return to Germany and start the traveling once again. Since I’ve turned down the job and thus the opportunity to make money, I may as well go for broke and see what will happen in Europe for me in 2018. This time I think I’ll try find a workaway closer to the city, like Berlin and perhaps get involved in the sights and sounds of city life once again. But I have a feeling it won’t be long, until I’m back at that farm in Lower Saxony once again…

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Observations on London: The Weather

British people love to talk about the weather. This is no secret. Living in London, the locals constantly complain about the cold days, the overcast days, the wet days, and if a hot day comes along, they’ll complain that it’s too hot. Although it is true that London weather isn’t the best in the world, the time I’ve spent here so far I’ve been a little underwhelmed. London weather is quite manageable, if not calm and pleasant the majority of the time. Far from the completely miserable conditions Londoners act like they live in most of the time. Auckland seemed wetter. Dunedin seemed just as cold. Admittedly I’ve only been here four months, and just in time for one of the better summers in recent British history, so I may have just got lucky. It does make me wonder why British people are so much more obsessed with the weather than other nations of a similar climate (New Zealand being one of these).

Another horrible London day in Hampstead Heath

Probably it’s just that English people like a good moan, or so my co-worker has suggested as a reason for the London obsession about discussing the weather. It is the most obvious and consistent topic one can moan about, so I guess the theory makes some sense. But I would be a hypocrite if I claimed it was only the British over here complaining about the weather, because as this blog proves, the immigrants, over-stayers and ex-pats are doing it too. I guess I’m only going to raise more questions than give answers here, but is England weather so bad that it deserves all this attention?

When I first arrived, I was greeted by blue skies and sunshine. Not exactly the image of England I had been expecting based on the images of this country I had seen broadcast on TV back home. Coronation Street always seemed grey and grim, the same with most crime dramas and the news reporting never delved much into British weather. I was warned before I arrived about how bad British weather is, so much so that one of the large reasons for me delaying my UK arrival was due to fear of weather. To my surprise, almost all of the first three months I’ve spent here have been in pleasant conditions. A British heat wave was reported on New Zealand televisions back in 2012, but the way it was reported seemed only a few days exception to the depressing norm. It barely rained the whole of June to September, which is more than can be said for my first summer in Auckland where I was constantly caught in torrential downpours. Forward to the present time in London, and although late October is seeing the climate getting colder, it’s bearable and not even as cold as my home town Dunedin would have been in early Winter.

view from london weather

The view outside my work window – The Westway

For example, we are nearing the start of November and on this particular day at 4.30, it’s not terribly cold and sky has plenty of colour to it. The grey British sky that I was expecting to see constantly seems to be partly a stereotype. Perhaps I got the wrong end of the stick, and London weather was always calm. Or could it be evidence of climate change, global warming or whatever name you like to use, that things are getting calmer around these parts. I can’t claim to be an expert of the weather of this country though – I’m yet to experience Wales or Scotland, which I’m sure is where all the really turbulent weather is found.

There is much to suggest that I am currently merely inexperienced and the bad weather has not yet hit. I am start to have to wear coats, and the sun is setting much earlier. I must admit that some nights after work, sitting outside having a pint with the work mates, it’s been pretty damn cold. But I’m adjusting. My friends and co-workers say that the worst is yet to come, so I’m bracing myself. Will it turn out that like other things in London, the worst weather will be a little bit over-hyped? (on a side note, other over-hyped things include – Hyde Park, the coolness of Hackney/Shoreditch, the quality of the local bands & the general social scene). Although I’m betting on a harmless winter, I will update you all in another few months time with word of whether things have gotten any worse. It won’t be long I’m sure that I’ll be eating my words.

Basically, if I can say anything constructive on the topic of British weather, it would be: don’t let it put you off coming over here. There’s plenty of other reasons to be turned off moving or visiting England, but the weather I don’t think should be the dominant reason. Unless you’re from California or Hawaii and you’ve never had grey skies and some cold ever in your life. But if you’re from a normal place like Auckland, Toronto or even Melbourne – London is probably on par with whatever weather conditions you’ve already faced. The winters are kind of cold, but not horrifically miserable and the summers are actually quite pleasant. Or at least so my fairly naive experience has led me to believe.

People reluctantly leaving their London houses