Where can I live in the forest

Dropouts in Germany: Into the wild

As in Thoreau's “Walden”: a student moves into the forest in order to live more freely - until the landowner discovers the self-built hut.

The "open pavilion", as Simon Baumeister calls his dwelling. Image: private

When Simon Baumeister * comes home at night, he doesn't need a key and he doesn't have to make sure that the roommates wake up. Only the slippery slopes of the earth or the ticks on the hard-to-see beaten path in the forest can be dangerous to him. But the 27-year-old climbs lightly over fallen trees: For more than two months he has been stalking up the Schlossberg every day.

There is no door to the apartment. Instead, Baumeister climbs over a fence. He built his temporary shelter in a clearing within fenced private property. It was the only flat patch of forest in front of and behind a thick wall of trees, as he says. Below is Freiburg im Breisgau.

“It is difficult to find such freedom,” says Baumeister. He looked for a month, says the environmental science student. With a sleeping mat, sleeping bag, a few books and clothes, he finally moved into Freiburg's Schlossberg.

He left his flat share, gave away his furniture and built the shelter with the support of his friends. "The cost of rent and material possessions have become a burden for me," he says. "Over time, you accumulate more and more possessions, and since I no longer have that, I feel freer."

Social disorder

When Baumeister speaks, there is rebellion and the desire to create a little social disorder, but above all the need to find oneself through greater freedom. A longing for simplicity in a world where everything is turning faster and faster?

Many are looking for a niche in everyday life that is not socially compatible, in order to break out, to take a deep breath, to escape the daily grind. Very few, however, live out this need as extreme as the student.

Baumeister's approach is also not consistent down to the last detail: his name is on a friend's mailbox. There he also charges his smartphone every three days. To take a shower, he goes to the nearby Unisport Center. It's only a ten-minute walk to the city center.

A gardening job alongside the university brings him a little money, and at the same time he can rely on the financial support of his parents. This is dropping out with a double bottom. Rebellion with insurance. But also: the freedom that he can afford.

It's not the first time that Baumeister sleeps in the forest. After a stay abroad in Ghana, he had spent a few months in Bingen am Rhein in 2012, alternately with friends and in the forest. Regarding his daily routine, he is still not a classic dropout. During the day he goes to university. He works once or twice a week and meets friends. City life during the day, the silence of the forest at night.

"For me, this is not a withdrawal from society, but a variant of a liberated life without the burden of rent and too much material possessions," he explains his decision. What drives him is also the longing for nature.

Henry David Thoreau

He quickly comes to Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" or "Life in the woods" when he explains his life - his inspiration. At the same time he wants to set an example against the throwaway society, the socially imposed financial burdens. Perhaps for him it is also about being able to enjoy small things again and about dismantling the natural way with which we accept our wealth.

With a little imagination, you can see a terrace in front of Baumeister's lair, the “open pavilion”, as he calls his dwelling. Most of the space is taken up by a bamboo lounger. He proudly shows a mosquito net attached to the roof into which he has stuffed an air mattress and a sleeping bag. Every evening he lets the ball down and listens to the nocturnal symphony of the forest.

In addition to the bamboo mat, the kitchen fills the rest of the space. The only conventional piece of furniture is a small shelf. Baumeister has placed a gas stove in it, which he bought second-hand for 20 euros.

Living like a master builder in the forest is basically not forbidden - but only as long as no tent or hut is erected. Strictly speaking, he trespasses on a fenced-in forest property. He frankly admits that he doesn't care what the law says about his home. After all, do not harm his hut in the forest. In court this could be punished with up to one year imprisonment.

Integration and foreclosure

Nothing of this can be felt in the forest: birds are chirping in the treetops, the muffled rustling of the cars penetrates the clearing. The blonde student in outdoor clothes neatly cuts aubergine, red peppers and onions into cubes and puts them in a wok.

He is not afraid that his refuge will one day be evacuated. And if it does? Baumeister shrugs his shoulder laconically. He wants to try things out, gain experience - and that in a natural way. When the forest becomes too uncomfortable for him, he moves in with friends. To let himself drift between integration and isolation, that is his wish.

Baumeister gets a large part of his groceries from containers. So he lives from what others no longer buy in the supermarket because it has expired or is slightly damaged. “I don't need a lot of money a week,” he says carefree.

In the cafeteria, too, he recently discovered the variety of leftover food on the trays and now prefers to sit behind the conveyor belt to put together a menu from the leftovers.

unique selling point

His friends admire that he pursues his own interests. “Due to the unique selling proposition of my accommodation, friends and acquaintances often come to me because they are curious. That connects in a beautiful way. ”Baumeister wants to stand out from the crowd, but he doesn't want to make himself important. It sounds very convincing when he says: Sleeping on a bamboo mat in the forest is enough for him to be satisfied.

Armed with a wok and two forks, Baumeister and his buddy set off into the vines. On a level piece between lush green vines, they shovel rice and vegetables into their mouths while the sun goes down on the horizon.

Baumeister proudly reports how he plans to hitchhike to Myanmar after completing his master's thesis in order to do an internship there for six months. It will be one of the last evenings when the student sleeps under the stars. Because the owner of the property thinks little of this romantic idea.

No end of the world

When the owner notices the hut a little later, he alerts the police. Baumeister's camera confiscates and leaves a note asking him to contact them. But the student does not do that - for fear of being reported. The police don't know his name - and it should stay that way.

Instead, he packs his things and moves into a shared apartment with a couple who are friends. "It's a shame about the camera, but not the end of the world either," he says simply. Soon he will finally be in the open again - and on his way to Myanmar.

* Name changed