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Saving the planet in Dyssekilde

Last Tuesday, all of the 91 bloggers taking part in the TH!NK initiative headed to Dyssekilde, a Danish eco-village north of Copenhagen. It was such a great day – really fascinating, with great people and [let me say it] excellent food!

Dyssekilde is an eco-experiment in the form of a small village north of Copenhagen that has existed for about 25 years. It started with a bunch of people who wanted to be self-sustaining and lead a simple lifestyle. It’s now expanded into a fully functioning and – for the most part – self-sustaining village.

We got a fabulous reception on our arrival. We were ushered into the town hall [a renovated barn with exposed beams and high ceilings] where the welcoming committee had laid out a great spread for us made up of organic fruit and veggies, coffee and various types of tea. [Still dreaming about that delicious corn on the cob.] This is what it looked like:

Refreshments. All organic of course.

We then got about an hour of presentations about how Dyssekilde works – the basic facts and figures, as well as really enlightening information about such diverse topics as democratic processes and toilet purification issues. Everything you ever wanted to know about living in an eco-village but were afraid to ask, essentially.

Following that, we got a guided tour. The village land is communal and village residents can go anywhere at will without being afraid of trespassing on their neighbours’ property. There are no fences in Dyssekilde. Many people have built their own homes there and there are no rules about design or building materials or anything – basically people are just free to experiment. Example:

The first houses in the village, built 25 years ago

In the afternoon we were split into groups of three or four and each group got sent off to a house to chat with the residents. So cool of the people to just open up their homes like that. Our guy, Jochem, was extremely laid-back thirtysomething guy with big holes in his earlobes. He’d built his own house from scratch. We talked a bit about insulation; Jochen used flax on the inside of the walls because it breathes better than regular insulation. [Who knew?] Here’s the house on the outside:

The house we visited

And a picture of Jochem’s bedroom with the flax in the walls:

Jochen's room. Insulated with flax.

Pretty nice, no?

As for waste water [read: toilets etc.] the community has set up a system of water cleansing that is the largest of its kind in the world. Essentially it works like this: someone flushes their loo and the contents go into a tank where the, ahem, more solid matter sinks to the bottom. That has to be cleaned out like a septic tank [they said they were disappointed not to be able to do it in a more sustainable manner, but this seems to be the only solution at the moment], whereas the liquid passes through a pipeline to a field, where they have planted willow trees. The willows actually absorb and all the toxins and stuff and purify the waste water. In the process they make for a nice leisure area, where – as our tour guide Leif put it – “we can party in our own shit”. [Sounds kinda like Reykjavík nightlife at 4 am.]
He wasn’t joking, either. They’ve even set up a makeshift bar:

Bar in a field

My guess is that the resident Australian was in charge of the decorations.
On the way back from the bar I found this lying in the grass. Good to keep in mind:

On display

The village has its own wind turbine, which provides power for all 100 households in the village – and then some. Its capacity is actually enough to supply 250 households with electricity. It is located at the edge of the willow field, and it makes a bit of noise, which from what I understand is what people most often complain about. Some people also consider them a blemish on the countryside – I find them really imposing and impressive. Awe-inspiring, in fact.

The turbine that provides the village with electricity

Dyssekilde also also has its own agricultural field, where they grow potatoes and other veggies. The deal there is that everyone who wants to eat from the field has to commit to 40-60 hours of work per year, and pay a nominal fee – enough to cover the cost of the seeds. If you’ve done that, you can eat as much from the field as you want.

Also very impressive was the community house that they built together, where anyone can hold a party or function, where they can barbecue together or just do whatever, and where there is special accommodation that people can reserve for their visitors. Here’s a pic:

Communal house

There is a whole lot more to the village than I can do justice to here, but I think what made the strongest impression on me was the sense of the community and the laid-back, easygoing friendliness of the people. Everyone we met were so open and genuine. They have a democratic system for making decisions – they get together and vote on stuff, and if the issue is particularly sensitive they’ll hold a debate in advance, so people can blow off steam before the actual voting. There are all sorts of initiatives, anything from getting together to build a house, to holding movie evenings and yoga classes. All sorts of groups operate for various things [such as receiving groups like ours] yet nobody in the village is forced to participate. They just do so if they want [and if they do, they apparently get a lot of positive reinforcement from the rest of the community]. The village also owns its own communal cars, one for each five households, and people just reserve the cars for when they need them.

I have no illusions that life in Dyssekilde is one big chain of love – obviously people have differing views and don’t always get along. But surely there is something to be said about people sharing a common philosophy and outlook – I can say for myself, for example, that I think it would be infinitely easier if the people in my building all spoke a common language and shared a common set of values. Must make it a lot easier to resolve conflicts.

In any case, from what I could see, the Dyssekilde experiment is a success. And if everyone did even a fraction of what they do to save the planet on a daily basis, we’d be light years ahead of where we are now.

[ps – you can read more about how people live together in Dyssekilde here, and buildings and energy here. A full set of photos [from my Flickr photo stream] is here.

Fall has definitely arrived here in Iceland. I go away for four days and what happens? All the leaves change colour. It’s rainy and damp today, temps of 9°C [48F]. Sunrise was at 7.15, sunset at 7.22.

[This post is also published here.]



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • James September 24, 2009, 3:15 pm

    Life there sounds so nice. I wish London could be more like that… 🙂

  • Alexander E. September 24, 2009, 4:12 pm

    In any case, from what I could see, the Dyssekilde experiment is a success. And if everyone did even a fraction of what they do to save the planet on a daily basis, we’d be light years ahead of where we are now.

    Sorry that I doubt it but I really do.
    The fact that a small group of people that share same “ideas” were able to survive in Denmark is not a proof.

    Did they make a wind turbine from garbage or any other eco-friendly stuff? No, it was produced during hell pollutive processes involving thousands of not-so-eco-friendly people.
    Oh, noise and look! Both drives me crazy every time I’m around this monsters. They look like unfriendly robots catching something in the air.

    What about other food? Did they produce BY HAND everything they need? Me personally don’t like to go back in time to grow potatoes by hand (I did it for a couple decades back then – so thank you very many).
    Did they bring coffee by sailboat (eco-wind powered)? I doubt it.

    No-rules construction? Very nice … till the fire starts. These rules are not “stupid” – they are result of many lost lives btw (as well as road rules)

    There are no fences in Dyssekilde

    How is this more eco-friendly and sustainable than my private garden? I really didn’t get it, sorry

    They have a democratic system for making decisions – they get together and vote on stuff

    Oh really? 😉
    But what if Danish authorities decide to shut them down for…let’s say fire safety reasons? The authorities would claim that they do it on behalf and for the safety of other citizens… 😉
    Will this democratic mechinism work for them then?

    So I have nothing against the right of citizens of Dyssekilde to live as they like. Not at all. And I’m glad they are glad with what they are doing.
    But as a sample – it doesn’t work for me. At least I prefer to buy potatoes at nearby store and have a nice ocean view with Esja (without scary turbines).

  • tom joseph aka tj3 September 24, 2009, 5:11 pm

    It is nice to see that people are doing something sustainable and in their own hands. Dyssekilde is intentional. So much of our modern life all over, is accidental and out of our control.

    Thanks for going there and having nice corn and showing us about it.

  • Ljósmynd DE September 24, 2009, 6:53 pm

    With the singular wind turbine and the funny little houses this appears like a scenery in teletubbyland. 🙂

    It’s different, if you can’t see the horizon, because the wind turbines, are virtually everywhere around you, like in some areas in northern Germany. But anyway, this is definitely better than having a nuclear power plant in the neighborhood, like I do.

    I imagine, being surrounded by people, who share similiar values, can really make life easier, somehow. But like in all closely knit communities, I wonder, at which point group pressure is going to become a nuisance.

  • Pat Donnelly September 26, 2009, 5:45 am

    Great idea. We have some in Australia too, but they seem to be very discreet. Even if they are not 100% self sufficient the idea is always worth exploring. The ideas and systems that survive for a time can be adapted elsewhere. This does not always suit some but they are free to move on to their ideas? What I most like is the lack of bankers and war machines!?

  • Guðmundur Bjarni Sigurðsson September 26, 2009, 10:38 am

    It´s just a wonderful place, we have some friends that live there and can not imagine living anywhere else. We even seriously considered moving there when we lived in Denmark.

    Plus the architecture there is amazing.

    A pearl of north Sjælland to say the least, although they have a handful of those over there. It´s a wonderful place.