There is a group of engaged researchers, builders and restorers in Crimmitschau, Sachsen, Germany who are planning the project “German Czech Lehmstrasse” . Lehm means claysoil – good for building- and Lehmstrasse refers to a selection of houses built with Lehm along a (for now) virtual route.
In preparation for this project (while waiting for funding) the group has conducted a few excursions for the education of members and to build connection with each other.
Here are some notes from the most recent drive on which we visited a number of places inside and on the edge of the future Lehmstrasse region.
The focus for this excursion was largely on the history of local farmsteads and their structures. Our volunteer- expert tour guide, Andreas Klöppel, shared plenty of facts and information in a very accessible way. His knowledge of the area’s sites was extensive, including anecdotes around village life.
A typical farm here was built around a courtyard and was composed of 2-4 buildings: a residence, a stable and a barn. Materials were typically stone for basements and sometimes ground-level, then oak timber frame (Fachwerk) for the upper story and roof. The frame- infill was historically done with straw-clay. Roofs are often slate (black) or clay-tile (red). Inside are large beams supporting wide, sometimes decorated, ceiling boards. What you can’t see is the clay layer above these boards on top of which the next floor is laid.
The buildings we visited date as far back as the 15th century. Old stone inscriptions give the year of construction and sometimes name of the builder. Elsewhere, inscriptions are carved into the timber above the door.
With the abundance of old buildings in the villages, I wonder, how can people use them today? One of the big problems these villages face is the fact that farming has changed and young people are moving to the cities. We see many empty houses and lifeless farmsteads. What are new and feasible strategies to inhabit these large ensembles? To me the large groupings of buildings call for communal living schemes: co-housing, ecovillage, multi generational living.
During our tour we saw the example of the Kunst und Kräuterhof Posterstein , where pottery , basket-weaving and herbal medicine courses take place. Group facilities have been built into the former barn, the main floor of the house holds a storefront for arts and crafts, and guests are invited to meander through the herb garden.
As a builder I see the challenge to carefully restore the old frames, finding graceful ways to fit modern needs for more light (larger windows), better insulation, and open rooms into the existing footprints of buildings. Below you will see some examples including the beautiful mass heater by Eckhard Beuchel with its warm bench and backrest.
I hope that as the Lehmstrasse project continues to evolve, people will be inspired by examples of modern life in old settings, and that there will be life again in those old courtyards that stand waiting.