unMo, Reef, OpenVillage: Now there's this place in Germany and I need a concept …

(Putting it here, as it has to be kept under wraps for a bit. But I seriously need some input, friends …)

A friend found an abandoned place while on vacation with family in Thuringia, Eastern Germany. Turns out that it is owned by the state and soon will be up for privatization. So last Friday, he went to visit it again and got shown around.

This is one of those cases where they do not look for money but a good concept that will benefit their local town and the region. So far, we got the mayor of the little town Saalfeld (ca. 30,000 people) hooked with a concept note about an eco-industrial innovation area – think “Wir Bauen Zukunft”. He really liked it – so much so that the person from Thuringia also present on that guided visit was asking “What did you tell him that made him so enthusiastic that he made an appointment for a guided tour so fast?” :smiley:

Thuringia intends to offer this place publicly (“call for concepts”) early next year. So there is now a window of opportunity of ca. 2 months where it is guaranteed that only we know about this opportunity, and being able to hand in a detailed concept on the basis of which we might “win” the space. In our estimation, a 1 EUR sale is in the realm of the possible but the area needs (say) 500,000 EUR to be operational again, and then more investments over years and decades.

The problem is, the object is far too large to manage and operate as a small association (which was my friend’s original idea, to use it for the food rescue operations). So I’m turning to you for ideas, proposals of how you or somebody you can recommend might want to be involved, and so on. You can talk to trustable people about it, but not make anything public please. If we decide on building a consortium-like concept using our networks, then we can start to publish about it next week, after talking it through with the mayor early next week as promised.

What follows is a rough description of the place.

1. General Information

Red dashed area in the map below is the area for sale. Total size ca. 80,000 m² with approx. 26 buildings on it. It had been a GDR army military installation and lateron a vacation village for children, which closed its operations in 2017 due to insolvency of the association operating it.

Condition of the buildings is generally good, as they had been in use until 2017. One building is very new (the kitchen / common eating hall), one is decent looking (the “Kulturhaus”, or culture house) while most of the others have an 1980s flair and need renovations.

Issues with the compound include (1) the missing plans and licencing of most of the former military buildings (means costs to re-licence, but the municipality is cooperative), (2) mobile objects being part of the liquidation mass, creating a legal mess / limbo, (3) there being a wastewater treatment system on the object that now serves the whole part of town (a few hundred people) but will have to be replaced with a modern one, (4) frost damage to the heating tubes, which can however be repaired relatively cheaply in DIY manner … but then again, it’s many buildings, so it’s a lot of cost still, (5) heating system is a district heating with oil burners, which would have to be replaced for ecological (and economical) reasons.

There is also a 22-page detailed document about the object from the time when the object was offered for sale (unsuccessfully) about three years ago. At the time, the sales offer ended when the town decided they want to check in detail if they want to own and operate the object, but eventually they decided against it a few months ago, due to which the object is in limbo again.

2. Notable buildings and objects


Of these there are five. One is ready for destruction, the others are fine, but serious fire safety issues have to be solved. The one pictures has an attachment as it was used as the reception building of the former vacation village.

Two dorm buildings in full:

Dining Hall

This is the most modern and “best” building. Was built with >3 million EUR in public funding. Has cellar and two levels, the top level of which is still unfinished.

(original condition in 2017 / 2018)

(condition as of the visit last week)

(entrance area of dining hall; friend says all the buildings are as if left ina hurry, they even left this house plant, and the Christmas decorations)

Other living spaces

Apart from the dorm buildings which are in a bit of a questionable state, there are other buildings that can be partitioned into at least 15-20 generous flats.

Culture House

This is a kind of a large event space, with a stage, a restaurant kitchen, bar, attached flats etc…

(condition as of last week)

(road leading to Culture House, as of last week)

Hedges labyrinth

“Hmm, what is this labyrinth for?” – “Dunno, it came with the house.”

Visible here on Google Maps.

Warehouse, garages

One large 35 m x 8 m warehouse, and 17 or so garages of 21 m² each that could be easily adapted for use as workshops for small companies etc… Several other garages. Several asphalted parking lots.

Sports stuff

There is a downhill roller coaster thingy there, but the situation is a bit tricky (might be partially liquidated, and is on rented ground). But it’s still there, and complete, and licenced to operate until next year (at which point it needs another safety check).


There is also a basketball area, a skater park, enough space for tents / camping / festivals etc…

Fable Book House

(Putting it here b/c it’s such a fun story:)

There is a super large book with children’s stories made by an artist, and they built a building around it. Now the book is still owned by the artist, but it is impossible (means: too expensive, and does not fit) to transport that book out of the house again.


3. Concept so far

The concept we have pitched (and that met with interest) is for a kind of small industry park for ecological innovation. Startups etc. would get commercial space for their projects very cheaply, and could also live on the compound for cheap. If and once they are profitable, they would contribute more (and pay taxes to the local town). It would be a space for pre-market innovation. The focus was meant to be on food efficiency technology (recycling, preserving, rescuing etc.), but that can be opened up easily. The amusement elements would be used to provide day trip experiences for school classes (learning about food rescuing and also having fun …). Beyond that, they can also be used in a commercial manner.

Now, of course, that kind of basic concept can be bent a lot. Like, a full-on commune concept with common purse and all, as a space to experiment with ecological autarky. Or a space incl. demo ground for ecological living, such as the Sieben Linden ecovillage (of whom @felix.wolfsteller is here on Edgeryders). Or maybe @hugi might want to bring the Borderland festival to Germany? Since Borderland is looking for an area already? :slight_smile:

Personally: This is just my current idea, up for discussion and changes as everything else at this stage. On the social side I’d want a space that creates a completely sustainable “best life” for people currently at the edges of society, from downtrodden inventors to refugees and everyone else of the type of the original Edgeryders crowd. Making the most intensive, most fun use of the area, at the lowest cost to participants. Life as it should be – without having to worry about rent or being forced to do bullshit jobs. An “eco-industrial commune” similar to Calafou, but with 100+ people present at any time. On the tech side, well, you know the kind of autarky tech I like to invent, and I’d want to pioneer some of that in the space, and also PayCoupons as the local money. All results would be documented as open source technology for others to replicate (“appropriate tech for the next civilization”). I am up for moving to that space and organize it for about five years, but then would want it to be able to continue on its own (and would return in old age).

Another big open question would be a suitable governance structure for this. Maybe, with the learning experiences we had of unMonastery and OpenVilage House Sidi Kaouki, we could now come up with something great?

Oh and, funding of course. Happy to hear your recommendations of funding sources. Not so much for the initial purchase, but for the necessary investments and repairs afterwards.

At this stage, anything goes. Happy to hear your ideas. Not sure at all if we can pull this off and how, but I think it would be a shame not to try.


:astonished: ok WOW. Gonna think about this for a day or two.

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Hey Matt what about the equivalent of the Human Mission to Mars simulation but for alternative economies?

So rather than going to/building Mars the concept is visiting and building witness’s different distrikts as a blueprint for possible paths through the transition/ approaches to building islands of resilience and adaptation to climate disaster (and its consequences)?

Each one of those distrikts could act like its own R&D lab that focuses on different things. And we even have a possible program design to go with it :slight_smile: I did a mashup of a bunch of stuff we have from the OpenAndChange Swarm fund application to the MacArthur foundation, The OpenVillage concept developed with Hugi, Oci lab peer to peer incubator for green social ventures (with some data on how the OCI lab prototype performed).

I did not add manage last night yet to add info about unmonastery because I couldnt find a succinct description to easily mash up with the other more structured stuff I had. Nor did I add info about the Scifi Economics Lab or Witness but there is a nice video I made for a fellowship application I just submitted and we could repurpose the script/framing/narrative for this project (it says “I” instead of “we” a lot because the grant needs to be tied to a person, not an organisation or team)

Also note we have a lot of media coverage for previous projects: https://www.edgeryders.org/in-the-media

Incidentally Inga Popovaite, our first ethnographer post- Council of Europe is currently on that expedition.


This is seriously interesting, something worthy of big thinking people who want to really take a swing at doing something equal to the size of one’s dreams. But would need a ton of funding just to tread water given the condition and type of systems that need major modernizing.


Oh, yes. Certainly true, even though costs can be lowered significantly by DIY work and using recuperated materials.

But, assuming the funding issue can be solved: Do you have some wise words for how a self-governance mechanism for such a place should look like? Based on your experience with The Farm and otherwise. You can assume that the members on the ground would own the place.


It’s very exciting, @matthias! I also need to think about it, but the first things that come to mind are are first one question and one observation.

  • What can you tell me about the area? What is the nearest urban center? Density? Economy? Notable local stakeholders?
  • If this mayor is like other mayors in similar situations (recall the 1 EUR houses in southern Italy), his main problem is attracting people, ideally young couples with children. More people mean a more lively local community and more leverage when your regional govt wants to pull the plug on local services (the pharmacy, the school, and so on).

About ideas as for the contribution we could give to filling the space with content, so that it becomes more attractive:

  • A thing we could try to do is propose a sort of campus around alt-economies, with maybe a yearly conference. Of course, long shot, and would need some thinking about ramping it up. But at least we know where to start, and have a bit of track record here. Another person we could try to involve is Fabrizio Barca, whose swansong as Treasury DG was the Strategy for remote areas (Italian). Maybe he knows of some comparable initiative in Germany, which would of course be an important stakeholder.

  • What would you think about trying to involve the Messina folks? They are a bit out of remit, because their next 10-year strategy (presented three weeks ago) is looking towards the south bank of the Mediterranean, but still. They have invaluable knowledge, though it is true that their knowledge developed in a mid-sized city.

  • About the Borderland, Germany has its own Burning Man events. Maybe worth talking to them?

  • Finally:

    Probably Edgeryders OÜ would not want to own and run that place permanently, but maybe it could take a zero-cost lease for a few years until it has together the organization and people to take over the ownership from Thuringia. Or something like that. You will have better ideas. :slightly_smiling_face:

    Yes, I would say this would be exactly the kind of thing Edgeryders would step into the breach for.


I have to think about it more. Generally I like as few rules as necessary but with a workable way to resolve conflicts.

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you should also talk to @Susa (Susanne Stauch) who has wanted to set something like that up in Germany forever. She’s a product designer and master goldsmith and has held a professorship (associate) at UDK.

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Hi @matthias, terrific opportunity indeed

Do I understand correctly that you are talking of something around here

the nearest “large” center seems to be Leipzig, but I could still not figure out a public transport direct connection…

Where is the lot in the context of Saalfeld itself (to figure out what other “services” are just next door… or not)?

Saalfeld seems to be base, unsure about the investment and type of operations, to a number of companies (Bosch, Amazon, SAP, IBM, …) if I trust the likes of Glassdoor …if I know how these companies treat their hired, this might impose interesting local asymmetries between demographics, needs, and publicly offered services… would the Mayor be willing to disclose a bit of information about welfare, care services, …? Maybe an immediate need/opportunity might serve as a flywheel for a moonshot (international schooling, and school restaurants, as laboratories for sustainable food and water practices? …care services as laboratories for local decentralised mutual care networks with a digital support system?)

However, logistics imposes plenty of boundary conditions, hard (as in, making things outright unsustainable) and soft (requiring extra “investments” either in social/brand capital or resources, to jump the gap), I learnt the hard way … can we discover more about the number of people joining and leaving the municipality every year? About the volume of health transactions operated within the municipality, and relying on surrounding centres? About the nature of the afore mentioned companies’ presence, and the services the source locally from the public or they offer on the market?

Talk soon :slight_smile:


Here’s a thought!

:clap:t5: :clap:t5:

Right here. Also shown in the embedded map below. When switching to satellite mode you’ll see the compound’s labyrinth :slight_smile:

It’s a bit under two hours by train from Leipzig to Saale (direct train, every 60 min) (see).

Regional and national public transport is really not bad there, as Saalfeld train station is connected to the national high-speed train from Berlin to Munich.

Local public transport (bus) is existing, but could be improved a lot as in many rural areas in Germany.

Good direction, I think. You may be interested to know that the mayor of Saalfeld has been a GP (urology) until 2018 and is mayor only since 2019. Holds the CDU party book, but is not a “career politician”, which is a big plus in my book …


About the economy, just relaying some observations of my friend who was recently in the area: the economy is in no way “bad” there. There are many well-filled industrial areas as close as 5 km to the North (or North-West) of the compound. Also the mayor said that real estate prices in the local are have gone “through the roof” recently, as is happening in many parts of Germany now. (Not sure how much this affects rents already; if it does, providing decent living space for a low cost would be attractive for the locals.)

Logistically, the place is not well connected by highway, but has regular train connections from Saalfeld to Leipzig (1:52 hrs, no change), Berlin and so on. Berlin is ca. 300 km away, so the compound is still within reach for Berliners for working over the weekend in ones art studio, hackerspace or something.

Population density in Saalfeld is 200 people per km² (see), which is about the average of Germany overall. Besides a small core city, it’s mostly a “rural municipality”, created as an administrative unit by adding many villages to Saalfeld the city. The compound itself is next to such a village (of just 300 people), 8 km removed from Saalfeld the city.

Another fact about Saalfeld is that it voted >20% for AfD (new rightwing party) in the last national elections. That was attributed to “many lonely elderly people” in that area. Not sure how accurate, but that says something about demographics at least.

Mayor himself is a super friendly and open guy. No issue proposing any concept with European international integration. So, no xenophobic issue to take into account – it’s not the last corner of Saxony, so to speak, but rather well connected into the rest of Germany by geography.

So yes, I think bringing up the Messina connection is great. Not for the short concept I’m writing now, but I’ll already mention our international network and how it could be connected to the space.

Thank you! Very important to keep in mind when writing the concept.

From what the mayor told us, it appeared that he was quite unhappy about the closing of the place (a former vacation village), as that also meant, for now, the closing of its event space (Culture House in the list above). That house had been used a lot for plenum events by a local school, for weddings, large parties etc. and there are no real alternatives in the area now.

Heard today that this house (“Culture House”) was designed by some Eastern German “star architect” in the 1950s when the area was still used as worker housings for a short-lived local uranium mine. It has been renovated in 2002 with 700,000 EUR of public money. (There’s no heritage protections to follow for this house or any on the compound though, which is good.)

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My experience living and working with a lot of people was where much infrastructure work was required along with whatever money making or creative activities we did. I see something similar here. Or let’s call it an important early design choice.

All these creative future-minded people who want to live cheap while working on the future will also need to either help care for the place or buy their way out of it. It’s a big place with a lot of buildings, some of which will get torn down but the rest have to be maintained even if they get brought up to modern standards via outside funding. So to me a lot of governance has to do with how to keep the place running well enough while avoiding a kind of cruise ship mentality with a crew and passengers.

I can see people doing their respective projects and living in dorms or whatever getting along well enough and if not there are ways to talk through problems. But if the sewage/water/energy/heating/grounds maintenance etc fall into disrepair and people there tend to think “not my responsibility” then I think deep problems arise.

I would be amazed if enough funding could be found to allow the luxury of thinking someone else should take care of things so I think entry into living/working there has to have a “sweat equity” requirement or else a way to pay to make up for it.

And there will have to be a small trusted group to make decisions, manage the infrastructure, liaise with the town and other such necessities. That begs the question of how much democracy you want as a way to govern. I imagine many if not most people who are active in designing more sustainable future wouldn’t obsess that much about the minutiae of governance if it didn’t get too much in the way of their main pursuit, but get enough people together and numerous social dynamics will come into play whether you want it or not. Like I said earlier I prefer few rules and open dialogue for conflicts, but again to me the main issue is how to set up, fix, supply and maintain the physical space.

I mean no disrespect when I say that most of the people I have met via ER are educated and sophisticated, urban, worldly, committed to a better world but not that experienced swinging a hammer and turning wrenches and I see a ton of that required with little let up. So who will do that?


There is also the issue of a process for qualifying, admitting and then sending away if needed prospective tenants.


Thank you for commenting from your experience, John. Very helpful, esp. this passage about governance. This idea of splitting the governance of the infrastructure (physical space as a whole) from the governance of projects and activities seems great to me. With less democracy in the first one, at least for the initial years, and mostly self-management for the latter.

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Another issue is what kind of burden the people there will put on the local health care providers. 100 people isn’t all that many, but if they aren’t healthy…

Current state: we have now submitted an updated concept note to the mayor:

Concept.2021-10-25.v4.pdf (147.7 KB)

complimentary automatic translation

Summary. The Bioeconomy Park Dittrichshütte specifically addresses innovative, ecologically oriented start-ups and integrates them into a publicly accessible world of experience on the subject of bioeconomy. In cooperation with universities and companies, learning opportunities and permanent exhibitions are implemented. Most of the existing buildings and facilities on the site will be revitalized. If necessary, additional buildings will be built on the existing open spaces. Clubs, school classes, groups, etc. are provided with overnight accommodation in combination with various experimentation and learning opportunities. Sustainable building technology with a focus on a bioeconomic orientation is used. Places for repair work under supervision, self-help workshops, and the possibility of renting special tools are provided.

Theme park. Part of the site is operated as an adventure park. This should offer exciting and inspiring opportunities for experimentation and fun. In the medium term also as a nationally known tourist attraction, as an excursion destination for families, youth groups and school classes. Contact point for weddings, children’s birthdays, conferences, festivals. Overnight accommodation is provided by existing buildings and camping and mobile home parking spaces.

Living ecologically and in a humanitarian way. The climate crisis shows how there is no alternative to an ecologically conscious and sustainable lifestyle for our future. A central goal here is to make ecological and humanitarian life attractive. All attractions will playfully impart ecological and humanitarian knowledge or invite you to participate. In addition, suitable companies that are not based in the Bioeconomy Park can exhibit innovative products or applications. The self-help workshops with guidance from specialist staff should be accessible to all social classes, regionally and nationally, with low thresholds and at cost price.

Work-and-life commune. A cost-efficient operation of the site is possible through the integration with a living and working community on the site. Part of the rent is paid in kind here. In this way, the grounds and buildings are maintained and, for example, visitors to the self-help workshops can be helped inexpensively.
Organization. Rooms, tools, workshops and machines that can be booked by the hour, by the day or by the week. Reservation and payment via app. Market-independent rental prices.

Business park. As a business park, the site offers innovative, ecologically oriented start-ups a good starting point thanks to the low-cost commercial space rented out and other infrastructure that can be used jointly. The main selection criterion for companies to be settled is that the company can take on a relevant function in the business park or in the implementation of the (humanitarian) bioeconomy.

Education campus. Through cooperation with educational institutions, targeted events, lectures, feasibility studies and pilot projects in the field of bioeconomy can be carried out. As a fictitious example, the MS Wissenschaft touring exhibition 2021 could continue to run here after its completion, together with the 25 associated actors.

Sewage treatment plant. It makes sense to combine the technically necessary renewal of the sewage treatment plant with the idea of ​​bioeconomy. For example, this could be used to generate climate-friendly electricity. The waste heat generated could serve as a climate-neutral (partial) alternative to the currently defective heating system.

Implementation. Non-profit orientation under strict entrepreneurial aspects and within the framework of a well-organized structure and process organization with the aim of ensuring long-term operation. Ultimately, from our point of view, one or a few must “have their hats on” and bear responsibility within the framework of joint management (supervisory board or similar). Ideally, this must be closely linked to the city of Saalfeld.

Draft of a possible division of the area

The framing was a bit complicated to get right, so not all the ideas and inspirations from above made it into this very short concept note. That does not mean they are excluded :slight_smile: We decided to go with a “bioeconomy” framing, as that is a trending political topic in Germany these days that even made it to the motto of the German “science year” this year. A commune, festivals, art, other economic simulations and alternatives can all be connected to that in practice.

Anyway, don’t get your hopes up, this is a loong shot. Waiting for an answer now.


Hey @matthias, I am sorry but I actually managed to miss this! Wow, this looks huge. What is the status now? Would you need my advice or help somehow?

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Final update: We submitted the concept note I posted above, but to this day have not received any reply. No “we’re processing it, it can take some time” or anything. Instead, they have put up the whole area again into a public bidding process starting December 2021. That was scheduled to happen already when we got to know about the area, but we had our window of opportunity to hand in a concept prior to the official bidding process. The fact that we did not get any reply just confirms my previously held views about state, government and working with them.

The asking price is now (if I remember correctly) around 900,000 EUR. Maybe they are more lucky this time, after the first such process fell through as nobody wanted to pay the 1.3 million EUR they wanted back then.

Also, I’m moving this topic to a public place now, as nothing about it is confidential anymore.

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