// ON THE ROAD... TO THE BERGWALDPROJEKT ON AMRUM
Only when you’re close to nature, you see why it is so worth protecting it.
One paradox of our time: We all love to be outside in the woods. Breathing in fresh air. Smelling the scent of lush trees. Feeling rested, nurtured, exhilarated. Yet, we spend most of our life time removed from nature, in closed buildings and busy cities.
Becoming aware of that is the first step. The second step: go out and do!
That's why I escaped Berlin last weekend to go into the forest - and plant some trees with an amazing NGO called Bergwaldprojekt e.V. I can already say: it’s been an incredible experience. Together with a bunch of motivated change makers and the re:Blog team (who initiated this trip), I hopped on a train, boarded a ferry and arrived on a swell little island in the North Sea: Amrum.
Boy, I hadn’t been at the North Sea for years and totally forgot how beautiful it is. Especially, as we were blessed with so much sunshine and blue sky.
Okay, enough beach-day-dreaming, let’s get to the essential tree-planting bit!
// PLANTING TREES… AND SO MUCH MORE!
Grateful for another sunny day ahead, me and 15 happy tree-planting apprentices met up in front of the brick stone cottage of the Bergwaldprojekt team. Each of us grabbed a bike (yay!) and off we went into the forest. Cycling on a sandy trail, soaking in the sounds and smells of nature, winding our way into the woods…
Cycling in the sun
Preparing the seedlings
Matthäus pre-cutting the trees
Arrived in the middle of an enormous forest (on an island!), our mission for the day unfolded: building up the forest on Amrum by planting as many maple and beech trees as possible. And action! We teamed up in pairs, grabbed the spades and a bag full of seedlings and started digging, shoveling and planting as much as we could.
My first attempts to use a spade were hilarious. I was such a greenhorn. But after Peter showed me a few tricks, I was unstoppable!
In about 3 hours we all planted 200 trees! Isn’t that amazing? I guess I did around ten of them - together with my digging team partner Lena (who runs a really nice blog on vegan food and is even part of a vegan cooking school in Hamburg - how cool is that?).
By the way, there is an unreal selection of vegan food on Amrum. Who would have thought that? Especially our diner at the restaurant De Strunluuker is something I’ll dream about for a while. And our vegan lunch in the forest kitchen was pretty amazing, too.
Bergwaldprojekt is not just about planting trees. It’s about much more: Human connection. Getting out of your comfort zone. And doing it together with people from all kinds of backgrounds.
Forester Peter told me that they have everything, from burned out managers, to punks, to 88-year old pensioners (who come every year!). It perfectly reflects their credo: Everyone can do something!
// WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE BERGWALDPROJEKT
I learned so much more than just to take a spade and dig a hole (which is already pretty useful). During our explorations in the woods, we stopped many times and listened to forester Peter’s exciting stories.
Did you ever think that there are 300,000 living species in one tree?
What was important to see as well: our tiny little trees were already two years old. And they were only about 50 cm high. I imagined how long it will take until my trees are fully grown. Bringing a forest back to life is an incredible job.
The feeling to have left something behind was amazing. I now can go back to this forest in a few years and marvel at beautiful strong trees that I planted.
Since 1991, the Bergwaldprojekt has been active as an NGO, involving volunteers in ecological projects throughout Germany and parts of Europe. Together, they have achieved an impressive quota of two million new trees, engaging more than 50,000 people. For this great achievement, they got awarded as official UN decade project for "bio-diversity".
THEIR BIGGEST MISSIONS
- To stabilize our ecosystems
- To make participants aware of the real meaning - and the hazards - revolving around our natural living space
- To educate (and include) people from all social backgrounds to treat our natural resources with respect and care
From my perspective: Check. Check. Check.
What’s most important: it is a POSITIVE project! And it has always been. Sure, the team wants us to make us aware of the true state of our nature (which is not very healthy). At the same time, they know that preaching is not the right way. It’s about getting active, digging, laughing, having a great time together. I’m so aligned with that - way to go!
To dig a little bit deeper (literally speaking), I asked Stephen Wehner what drives them most.
// 4 QUESTIONS TO BERGWALDPROJEKT CHIEF STEPHEN WEHNER
Stephen is burning for the project. An environmentalist at heart, he has a pretty exciting background:
Studied business mathematics, worked as a financial consultant for years... Until he had enough and traveled through Africa in a camper van for an entire year. That of course left its marks.
Today, he is the proud director of the Bergwaldprojekt and committed himself to build a better future for all of us.
Stephen, what makes you feel most passionate about doing what you do?
For most people who join us, the work and living conditions in our camps are very unusual - and definitely a physical challenge. But end of the week, having accomplished all those strains from working in the woods, weather and simple lodging, most people leave us beaming with joy like children. That is the moment where my team and I get the deep feeling of doing the right thing.
What is something about your work that most people don't know, but should?
In the last 30 years, we have planted more than 2 million trees in German forests. That has a huge impact on biodiversity, drinking water, soil protection, protection of rockfall and avalanches in the high mountains, on climate and many other ecosystem functions.
However, planting trees alone cannot compensate the mass emissions, especially caused by flying. Once you planted a tree, it takes almost 60 years of growing until it will start a netto reduction of CO2 from our atmosphere. That’s why we really need to reduce emissions drastically within the next 15 years - or else, we will definitely harm ourselves.
If you could change something in the world in 24 hours, what would it be?
Waking up every person around our unique beautiful planet to make them understand that we are all connected with every single earthworm and that we will never find sustainable happiness until we take care for him.
You have one message to pass on to the GreenMe Berlin community - what do you want to tell them?
It’s never too late, start doing the right things NOW.
// HOW TO GET INVOLVED IN THE BERGWALDPROJEKT?
Reading about projects like Bergwaldprojekt is one thing, but actually going out there and doing… being part of… knowing that your actions really matter… that’s a whole other level.
BERGWALDPROJEKT WEEKS 2017
To join a Bergwaldprojekt program, all volunteers from 18 years are welcome. Joining the project is FREE. You just need to organize your travels and they take care of accommodation, food and all equipment.
If you want to join the Amrum project like I did, you can do that again from November 5-12. But worry not - the Bergwaldprojekt runs projects throughout Germany from spring to the end of autumn.
Here are some within easy reach from Berlin (much easier than Amrum):
- Rostock: Vorpommern, Baltic Sea Coast / May 7-13 and May 14-20, 2017
- Berlin: Eastern Outskirts, Köpenick / September 10-16 and September 17-23, 2017
- Peenemünde: Usedom Island, Baltic Sea / September 24-October 30, 2017
- Nationalpark Jasmund: Rügen Island, Baltic Sea / October 1-7 and October 8-14, 2017
Apart from that, there are heaps of other options during summer: You can join projects in the stunning mountains of Bavaria, the deep forests of Schwarzwald or the limestone nature parks around Saxony. Switzerland, Spain and Ukraine are on the list, too.
OTHER WAYS OF SUPPORT
If you think that one week working in nature is too hard for you, then
This article has been supported by OTTO’s sustainability initiative re:Blog. OTTO is passionately committing itself to protect our environment and has been partners with the Bergwaldprojekt for 4 years. With their campaign “One Sale. One Tree. One Forest”, OTTO supports the sustainable forest conversion on Amrum. And Bergwaldprojekt e.V. is planting one new tree for each piece of furniture sold from OTTO’s FSC range. All experiences and thoughts expressed here are 100% my own.
DO YOU FEEL INSPIRED & READY TO DIG FOR NATURE?
Did you always want to volunteer for a good cause? Or is there something that holds you back?
I would love to hear from you! Just share in the comments at the bottom of this page.
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