Six and a half years at the Regenbogenfabrik Haus

Christine invited me (along with many others) to write for the Regenbogenfabrik blog and share my memories as part of the 40 year celebration. Her request and advice was to just write down what comes into your head: so here goes.

For all my adult life I’ve been interested in living in collectives: from early high school I was influenced by books and writers such as: “Small is Beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered” by German-born British economist E. F. Schumacher, and “Where the Wasteland Ends” by Theodore Roszak.

I joined a rural commune even before I finished high school: About ten of us bought three houses on a 9 acre (4 hectare) plot of land in Majors Creek: a very small rural town. It was great living close to nature, but jobs were scarce. I had work for a while in an old forest planting young pine trees. Our commune lasted for about 3 years and then changed into a women’s collective weekend retreat centre. I took-off to India.

Interestingly, at the same time but long before we met, my wife Heather was part of a rural commune also, not too far from mine. This photo was taken recently about halfway between our former rural communes: happy to be home with the crazy Australian bird life.

Heather and I have always had ‘itchy feet’, but more than just traveling, we love to explore new places. Before we were married like most young people, we moved around a lot. While our children were young, we lived in five different places. When we moved into our last home in Canberra, I made Heather promise that we would stay in one place for at least five years – we stayed for fifteen, and obviously the urge to try somewhere new could no longer be repressed. And even before I had submitted my application to work the Oeko institute we had said to each other ‚if we go to Berlin that we would like to live in an urban commune‘ – and so we did!

When I arrived to work the Oeko Institute in Berlin, Martin offered that we might stay a few weeks. Two weeks turned into six and a half years. The Regenbogenfabrik Haus was our foundation – we may not have stayed for so long without the nourishment of the community. This picture is looking down into the Hinterhof in front of our house. Notice the cover to the underground rainwater tank. We had to get down in there and clean out the mud.

Our extended community: Kinder-, Kultur- und Nachbarschaftszentrum

There were so many wonderful aspects of living in the Regenbogenfabrik community:

Regenbogencafé (ah those were the days) and the Kino right next door. I have fond memories of helping at the Frühlingsmesse and Winterbasar: the mulled wine was always too good. To close this story I will finish on a topic that combines my love of bicycles and one of the essential services of the Nachbarschaftszentrum: the bicycle workshop.

On arrival I purchased a secondhand bicycle – an old thing, no gears, with perhaps some Dutch heritage and half a skirt guard. It gave good service for the daily 3km commute and weekend outings. I had a few incidents like a flat tire when I was across town at the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners authority) and ice hidden under autumn leaves.

On one occasion the chain came off on my way into the office. It was no problem to return home via U Bahn with the bike. One of the chain links needed replacing, so on a Saturday morning I tried my luck next-door at our Regenbogenfabrik self-help bike workshop My luck was in the form of Anna, an excellent and long-term mechanic there (the workshop is not usually open on Samstag). We also fixed the wiring to the headlight with a little bit of Schrumpfschlauch (heat shrink insulation).

2019 was our last year in Europe. In October that year we packed-up our lives in Berlin and caught the first of a series of trains that took us all the way to Singapore (16 700km) and flew from there to Sydney (only 6 300km). We made the final 300km to Canberra by train. A fabulous trip – but that’s another story.

We arrived back in Australia just in time for a summer of forest fires followed by the 2020 vision that no one saw coming. Even though our lives in Australia rapidly embraced us again my time in Europe, in Berlin, in Kreuzberg, in Lausitzer Straße, in the Regenbogenfabrik Community and especially in the Regenbogenfabrik Haus will remain one of the most wonderful times of my life.