There has been a lot said and written about us. Newspaper articles, stories in magazines, radio and television features have appeared, but many of these contain mistakes or inaccuracies as the result of sloppy journalism, naive misunderstandings or, in part, even malicious distortion. Therefore we'd like to present more adequate and accurate background information here.
Lots of things written about us some time ago are also outdated and obsolete because we have continued to learn and develop. Not everything we thought and said before is still valid. Our own half-truths of that time have changed into real knowledge, and this real knowledge has often turned out to be quite different from those half-truths.
And, we do not actually like to write very much. After 16 years in Poland we're not so sure any more of our command of German and often don't feel our Polish is good enough to create a more ambitious text.
So, with so much of rather doubtful value having already been told about us, here is our own story year-for-year, with just the basic facts:
was born in 1965 in Canton Zurich in Switzerland. Like most people today she attended school for a long time and also university. One beautiful summer day destiny put her in front of Thomas, whereupon began for them a very exciting conversation. Vacation-time came and we travelled in opposite directions, Claudia far north to Norway and Thomas all the way to South Africa. After returning to Switzerland we started seeing each other. After some three weeks Thomas understood the difference between "falling in love" and love, and Claudia learned to see herself as an attractive young woman, worthy of love and desire.
was born in 1966 also in Canton Zurich. There he also attended school and then university because he was interested in what it meant to be human and - he wanted to meet Claudia. He had so many strange ideas in his head that if Claudia had not suddenly appeared, he might have missed the opportunity for this particular and very interesting life he has led.
In early October we commit ourselves to each other and to go through life at each other's side, as long as life should permit it.
We're now living together. Thomas at some point leaves university and finds a job at the post office in Zurich as a postman. Financial independence, civil marriage. We move into our first housing-cooperative apartment in Zurich's 4th district. Claudia, who has now also left her studies, gives birth to our first daughter, Lisa.
We begin our own business with a market-stand selling spices, herbs, tea, dried fruits, nuts, oils and other natural, mostly organic products. At this time we also take our first small steps towards creating an experimental community.
Our decision to leave the city and "normal" modern life.
Our first, more moderate attempts to "drop out" from civilisation turn out not financially workable. A sudden inspiration gives us the idea to live in a tepee, and we take the radical decision to manufacture one, give notice on the apartment and move out. We move to the Zurich "Oberland" region and set up our first primitive, open-fireplace tepee. After registration with the municipality we continue our market business. We construct a 2nd tepee and continue to meet other people interested in founding an experimental community.
In the middle of winter, trouble with the municipal authorities who, because of our unconventional lifestyle, order us to leave. Birth of son Nicolas while still in the 2nd tepee. We give up this tepee towards the end of February and leave Switzerland, travelling by car through Italy to Southern France looking for a piece of land to buy for a self-sufficient life together with others. Nomadic life with apprenticeships in self-sufficiency at various places in France and Switzerland. We pass the winter in a new double-skin tepee with an oven and a tube chimney on an organic farm at Vermes in the Canton Jura.
At a meeting we attend of people interested in communes, the project of an "eco-village" in northeast Poland is presented. We take up this new challenge with trip to Germany to meet other people concerned, and then on to Poland to see the country and location. We take the brave (or crazy?) decision to emigrate and join the project. Return to complete formalities for leaving Switzerland and emigrating to Poland.
On June 1, 1993 our permanent settlement in Poland. We rent a piece of land in Sajzy, 20km north of Ełk. We set up our tepee and lay out a vegetable garden. The eco-village project is however cancelled while still in the organisational phase.
With the help of Elżbieta Niedziejko from SIRT and Jadwiga Łopata from ECEAT-Poland an old farm suitable for us is found in Bachanowo and acquired.
On September 5, 1993 we move into this our new home. First renovation tasks. Purchase of two piglets and a flock of hens with a rooster and, by a lucky chance, two goats and a he-goat.
November 9, a sudden attack of winter (very strong wind, temperature falls from +8 C (46 F) to -14°C (7 F) in eight hours, 1 meter (3 feet) thick layer of snow). A shockingly hard situation! But what does not kill us makes us stronger and more experienced. After 3 weeks the nightmare is over. The winter gets back to normal and first contacts with neighbors are established, to get to know more about polish behavior and traditions. Purchase of a small radio.
A hard, simple and modest way of life. In February, -25° and much snow. In March the first goat-kids are born, the
and a pig are slaughtered. The first pig is sold - our first modest earnings in Poland.
End of March: the snow is gone, we sight the first storks. Our first vegetable plot is prepared, and, with the first seedlings - wouldn't you know it - winter returns!
April: spring at last, cold frames for vegetables are built, and we prepare and sow more garden plots. With our neighbour's help also the first 2-3ha of field crops are prepared and sown. We buy a work-horse.
May: Our first goat-milk. Official settlement status in Poland is granted. Birth of our son Swendar. In June, we acquire three sheep and a ram, one more goat and a new he-goat.
The first ECEAT-vacationers arrive and the tepee is put up for the first time on our own land. Precisely during a record heat-wave of 37°C we build a new tile stove in our house.
Thomas returns one more time for two days to Switzerland to pick up a few remaining things we have there, and arrange the transfer of our car. Lisa begins Polish pre-school and learns to ride a bike. With the new tile stove the house is a lot warmer as winter nears!
A very snowy winter. We bring Lisa to school almost every day on the
The first Polish TV team appears and makes, in the middle of winter, a short feature report about these courageous (crazy?) Swiss who have risked settling in the impoverished backwaters of northeast Poland. After transmission on Polish television we become well known fast in the whole country.
The field and garden work goes now much better than in the first year, and we get in a much bigger harvest. We are recognised as a certified organic farm (by the Polish "Ekoland" organisation). We achieve our first modest goat-milk cheese production and attract our first customers. Thomas travels in September to Danzig and Kashubia to buy five more goats. Our goat herd grows to 17 milkers.
At the end of November, birth of our son Gregor.
The longest and snowiest
yet. The outside world is accessible only by horse-drawn sleigh. We experience many extreme situations in connection with the harsh winter and our simple, if not primitive
We meet Krzyśek, a brother of a neighbour, who will become something like our "guardian angel" over the years! The cheese production grows, our first attempts to make aged cheese, which however turns out to be not very tasty as yet. We build a new barn with stalls, and insulate the outside of the house. A neighbour gives us an old black-and-white TV, an excellent Polish-learning aid for us during the long wintertime!
In mid-November, we fall victim to brutal attack. All our windows are broken in, Thomas is beaten up with baseball bats, our money and possessions are robbed. Fortunately he survives this without serious injuries and we manage to get the widow-glass replaced within a few days, just before a typically hard winter sets in and ice storms break many electric power poles, treating us to a seven-day power outage as a result!
In January we buy our first cow. The
is made ready - Gniada the horse and Brunnhilde the cow can move in, out of their old dark stall of stone.
March: a first calf and first cow's milk. More milk means more cheese... but now, our aged cheese is better and very well received. More cheese means more money, and things move forward!
On the biggest hay-making day, our daughter
With the permission of three Polish ministries, our farm can finally be officially bought and ownership registered. We buy a tractor, plough and other implements. Our fields are ploughed for the first time without outside help. We are planning an enlargement to the house.
A relatively mild winter. In mid-January all of Bachanowo is connected up to a
central water system
- at last, running water in our house (but there is still no drainage system!). On this occasion (there being a power digger for water mains construction) we can arrange the
excavation of foundations
for the house addition.
In February there is no frost, the foundations can be poured, so we build a bit, Bachanowo comes on the telephone system, we sow, build a bit and make hay, build more and harvest, build further... and then winter comes too early, so our building is held up for several months.
Early January and in the middle of the night, the birth of a son Noah!
Then in spring it's out to the fields again. Several tons of ploughed-up stones have to be swept aside or collected. For the first time two calves are kept for the herd. All the sowing now done, it's back to the house extension... and busy cheese-making and selling. And since things are now really flowing and going our way, we also demolish the ruin of another pre-war domicile on our property and draw up plans for a guest-house, which for the greatest part is put up in four weeks by a building firm.
With two construction sites and 1-2 helpers (and sometimes more, since a German family helping us tremendously during their vacation!), the fields, animals, cheese-making and seven children, means 7-day weeks and 17-hour workdays. We just couldn't manage everything otherwise.
After an especially productive summer follows a really big harvest which - thanks to the steady support of various helpers - can also be successfully brought in.
After our new house-wing is nearly finished on the outside, the old main roof can be removed in phases and the new roof put on. But not completely without problems: in the autumn a thunderstorm in the night tears off the plastic sheeting covering the incomplete roof. The intense downpour penetrates our wooden ceiling and saturates the sleeping children in their beds below. Only after an hour's work on the roof and inside to clear the rainwater and change the bedding, can all get back to sleep in relative comfort.
For all that, the climate this year is merciful and we succeed in getting the whole roof on and making the house weather-tight by early December, still before the first snow. All the fields too can be ploughed up in time. Then during the long winter months the interior work and insulation can be done.
Thanks also to all the wonderful help from Krzyśek, we see daily progress. One last time we celebrate our "festival of lights" in the old part of the house where for nine persons there were only two rooms. Our "tree of light" stands in the middle of all our possessions still encumbering the small rooms. Precisely on New-Year's Eve, just before the new millennium, a new house entrance is cut through, the old one closed up and a window put in.
The old part of the house is now connected with the new part. In January the first room is ready: Claudia and Thomas finally have their own room; clothes and books stored for years in boxes can at last be taken out. The new
with a water-heater, and a new ceramic stove are also finished - the bathtub can now be tried out! Outside insulation is also finished up.
By March Lisa and Nadja can move into their own room. Nature too is now changing and waking up again. Goat kids and calves are born, the milk is flowing again and of course the field work starts up again. After sowing, it's the turn of Nicolas and Swendar to get their own room. The old part of the house has only three remaining inhabitants at night, and there's more room there now, but... Cloud's middle is promising once again a new family member!
Too bad that throughout this spring there is very little rain. By May all the meadows and pastures are terribly dried up and the result is that we bring in almost no hay. Our grain is suffering too. For many weeks we can only hope, in vain, for some rain.
After various Polish media and German television have reported on the Swiss immigrant family, for the first time a journalist from a Swiss paper arrives at our farm. Another Polish film crew arrives with the intention of making a short documentary film (PL) about us. While the finished film shows not very exactly the reality of our lives, but rather an idealised or even distorted picture of it, it wins a prize for documentary film and in consequence is shown not only in Poland but throughout the world over the "Polonia" network, after which some nice fan-letters from Poland, Australia, America and Switzerland arrive.
Through the early summer we work on the interior of our guest house. It is still only half-finished when the first guests appear - old acquaintances, friends and family relations. In mid-August, with the peak cheese demand somewhat reduced, our daughter Lorena is born.
The drought continues with the serious result of much too little feed for all our livestock! In autumn the old cow (Waldburga), the work-horse we haven't used in two years, and a steer are sold to neighbours. This "slimming down" brings us some welcome relief from chores during the winter and lets us finish the interior work now a little easier.
Only on New Year's Eve does the real winter begin. It snows for hours. The new year arrives with 40-50cm of new snow, which means long hours of snow-shovelling for us.
Finishing the inside of the two houses continues. After Brunhilde and the young cow Hulda have calved, we can get busy with cheese-making. Again it's sowing time, which means gathering field-stone too. This spring we plant many trees.
Claudia receives the gift of an automatic washing machine, so ten years of tiresome hand washing and cranking a wringer are at an end.
Also this summer again visit many friends, acquaintances and relatives. Lisa, Nadja and Nicolas go to summer camp at the "Eko-Art-Village Project" organised by some close acquaintances. Again, too little rain. The extent of the drought is not so bad as the year before, but still our harvests are below average.
By August the building work is practically finished, and Krzyzek ends his tour of duty at our place, for he has found a steady job and gets married. With now only a few strong hands available, all the remaining tasks are a bit harder and take longer. With September begins the school year, and four of our kids are now in school. Lisa has already finished the primary grades and will go to a middle school in Jeleniewo (about 15km away).
With winter-wheat sown, the last fields and potatoes harvested, the fields ploughed for the winter, the garden cleared for the coming year, field-stone collected and other tasks begun in preparation for the winter, then - as has often happened - the winter comes too soon and some final jobs have to be broken off and left undone. But in the stalls and inside, work is always waiting.
With the birth of Beata in January, our family is enlarged once again. Aside from that everything goes on in the usual rhythm of the seasons. Only, this year is again terribly dry. But the sun shines most of the time and it's very warm. A rather crazy but happy summertime takes its course. Lisa, Nadja and Nicolas go again to
The drought causes smaller harvests and less work, but for that more swimming in the pond, seeing people and sitting around taking it easy.
As we look ahead gladly to what the coming year may bring in the way of new impressions and experience, the year's-end routine of seasonal tasks and duties moves to its conclusion.
An extremely cold winter - three times -20°C degree phases. Once, the temperature falls in the night to even -36°C and during the next day, does not rise above -26°C. The following night it is a friendlier -28°C warm. Besides the cold, we remember 2003 as a "cow-year": we sell our two cows for slaughter but buy three new animals, the most we have had. All now wear the yellow EU ear-tags which a year ago became mandatory for all steer livestock.
A very work-intensive year with record cheese production. Poland joins the EU. We too can apply for direct payments, and now non-Polish farmers can join KRUS (farmers' social security). Lisa ends middle school in Jeleniewo and begins attending the "Liceum (secondary school) Dönhoff" in Mikolajki. Nicolas begins the 6th grade in Jeleniewo. A light, but for our region very unusual earthquake is felt on September 21. Shortly after that, on October 2, we take a big step into the future with the purchase of a computer.
In November, after a miscarriage with the consequence of a serious sepsis, Claudia is laid up for several days on the intensive care station at the Suwalki hospital. For two days even her survival seems uncertain. But she apparently decides to live and six weeks later is fully recovered. Through this extreme experience, and in connection with medical treatments and their consequences, health worries seem to get the upper hand for some months. We feel trapped in some kind of "interactive game", in which we are faced with the dangers of illness, hypochondria, doctors and the weaknesses of the Polish health-care system.
The hard winter months, because of this interaction game, become a worrisome time. After 10 years' independent organic farming of our land, we become again a certified organic farm, from which we have - aside from a lot of paper-work and bureaucracy - some considerable financial advantages however.
Again we are plagued with periods of drought. We make some modest changes to the chicken house, enlarging and modernising it.
Polish Television continues shooting the film about us started in 2000. Swendar breaks his arm playing football at school. Throughout the whole summer half-year there is a lively coming and going of guests and persons eager to try out life in our community. Nadja now also starts school in Mikolajki at the Marion Dönhoff Liceum.
The authentic wintertime begins only on January 19 and already after only two months has passed. We apply for Polish nationality. Our faithful blue Toyota bus has to be "sent into retirement". We buy a "new" old car. And again during the summer months there is a constant stream of visitors and volunteers. A wild pack of dogs bites five of our goats to death on September 5. Lisa gets her secondary school diploma and begins, after vacation, German Studies at the University of Olsztyn. A liquid manure tank is installed and the goat enclosure is enlarged and improved. We get three weeks of winter in November, followed by an autumnal December!
Once again the real winter weather begins only after New Year's, with the temperature falling to -16°C and very strong winds. In the stall the troughs freeze over and the animals have to be watered out of buckets carried from the house. Gregor breaks his arm in a fall from his bicycle on the icy road to school and has to be treated with an irksome plaster cast which causes us a lot of driving to the doctor.
Melting snow runoff and strong rains, but only a superficial thaw of the deeply frozen earth, leads to a serious potting of our access road. Despite these precarious conditions the usual visits of friends and acquaintances continue unhindered.
In February and March we finally bring to an end all the interior improvements we began eight years ago and had to leave lying for some reason so many times. As there is so much bureaucracy to wade through today, we decide to computerise the entire "farm administration". Doing this takes the whole year. After initial extra costs, the many advantages of this innovation become rapidly apparent.
On a spontaneous impulse we manage to organise for a long May weekend a springtime get-together. For the first time in 10 years we even put up again one of our old tipees.
Photos from the May Weekend 2008
In the early growing months the drought plagues us again, then later during harvest-time, the persistent wet. Some of our harvest is spoilt or turns mouldy. All summer long many visitors and still a few helpers drop in. On a small scale we also hold a one-week camp for people interested in the idea of "eco-villages".
Photos from the 2008 summer camp
After summer vacation our seven "remaining" children go to Jeleniewo to school. All of them like finally being in a proper school with lots of other pupils. The school in Bachanowo is to be closed and then with the help of EU funds made into a community centre with computers and numerous other free-time activities.
To be continued...