River Action Camp

by Big-Jump-Team EN

River Action Camp

October 19th to 23rd, 2014, Greifswald-Wieck

What happens when a group of young people from five countries meet at Greifswald-Wieck station, put the Ryck and the Baltic Sea under a magnifying glass and let their creativity run free? A really great water action! Want to know more? Okay, but one step at a time...

Day 1: Arrival with sunshine and obstacles

Just in time for the arrival of the participants, the German train drivers' union decide to strike. Patrycja, Piotr and Pawel from Poland, Julia from Lithuania, Patrik from Estonia and Albina, Anna, Regina and Dimitry from Russia make the most of it and spend a day with their two tutors Hanna and Ludmila in Berlin. But the students from France are not so lucky: they have to stay at home. Only Julie is fortunately already with her sister in Berlin and can secure a place on the only train to Greifswald on Sunday, along with her teacher Valérie, the other students, and the artist Kerstin.

From the big city to the small Hanseatic town in northeastern Germany. And from here we take the bus to the fishing village of Wieck. In bright sunshine, the group check into their rooms at Majuwi, the Wiek Maritime Youth Village, where the coffee table is already set. After a short presentation of the program, we start with an introductory exercise. Kerstin takes us back to childhood memories: where do our personal stories begin with rivers or with the element of water? In the partner exercise, the point is not about delving deeper into conversation, but listening to each other, and also talking about what this listening has triggered.

So it goes, to be attuned to a camp where the participants directly get involved and help shape it... Eventually it is time to go to the dinner table. The film "River Reconciliation" by Justus Lodemann, gives a first impression of what creative ideas for water protection, the Water Framework Directive and the Big Jump have to do with each other. After this, some feel the time difference - or the long night in Berlin!? - in their bones, while others still feel fit enough for a couple of games in the room, before falling into bed.


Day 2: Water Framework Directive, aquatic ecology, land use conflicts on water and many, many big words

The Majuwi in Wieck lies where the Ryck river drains into the Bay of Greifswald, exactly between the estuary and the Eldena beach. Since you're already there, you can't start the day in the classroom! We go out to the water at the beach. And we are also equally active: The River Action Camp revolves around water protection - what is something we can show with a human banner in an impressive manner?*

*The answer is "Wasserschutz" (Water protection). By the way, a human banner not only makes for great photo-ops for your message, but also makes for a really good vibe!

Die Gruppe gut gelaunt am Strand.


Later it gets challenging: at the workshop on the Water Framework Directive, Jenny and Sabrina from the Big Jump Challenge team juggle terms that even German students do not understand immediately. Working as a team, the youth nail down these concepts in detail: What are floodplains, and what does structural diversity mean? What does it mean when a river is ecologically permeable or passable for fish, and what do we do if it lacks this longitudinal connectivity? What is restoration, what is a semi-natural freshwater body? And what advantages does it have over a manipulated or artificially straightened river, for example, at high tide? After these questions blow over everyone's heads, everything eventually gets answered and it's all good, so it's time to tackle water protection again, this time with poster design and a good dose of creativity.

The lunch break would have almost been forgotten, as the youth met their task eagerly, but then all the posters are done. Good thing too, because the sun shines counter to all weather forecasts, and we now want to see the Ryck up close and personal. While walking on the riverbanks from Wieck towards Greifswald, there is a lot to discover. The dike that protects the land from flooding, the trenches and pipes that direct the water from the meadows into the Ryck, the fortified shores - a sign of a landscape in which people have been "locked out" from the water. And the uses of this landscape are visible: cycling, walking, fishing and sailing, but also living on the water, agriculture in the meadows and fields along the river, and commercial fishing. It is clear that there are very different interests, that are supposed to all be possible at the Ryck. At first, it doesn't look much as though nature comes up short on its needs from the Ryck: The birds, the reeds, the sun, which in some meadows even glistens on pools of water - actually that's definitely pure nature here, right?

At a weir where there is still water flow continuity for the Ryck, we meet Dr. Christiane Fenske. The biologist with a focus on freshwater ecology starts us off right, with landing net in hand. And indeed, what we fish from the Ryck looks good: dragonfly larvae are a sign of better water quality. Strolling along the dike, Ms. Fenske again explains however, exactly what is going on with the drainage. Here in the meadows behind the dike, the land is indeed extensively used for agriculture and ranching - i.e. a few cows grazing in a large area. But due to the fact that the water in the trench flows from the land, and eventually in the river, there are no more marshes. In this case, it is not only important for animals that live in the reeds and in between the marsh grasses. Marshes also have a filter function for the water. Fertilizers and pesticides reach the the river through the trenches, while in a wet meadow they would be taken out and broken down. And there is something else worth noting: if the swamps are drained, no more peat forms. And the previously existing peat in the soil decomposes. The drained wetlands compress and the landscape lowers over the years. Sometimes to such an extent that they will eventually be moist again. But then why don't we leave them wet in the first place?

In the afternoon, it's clear that it's not so easy with the restoration of wetlands, swamps and floodplains. Thomas Beil of the Succow Foundation tells us about his experience with the Greifswald Agricultural Initiative. There, farming companies who leased the land to the city, the Succow Foundation and the Church, speak together with owners about what can be done for nature in the fields and pastures. There is a significant problem: what is good for nature means more work for farmers, less income, or even usually both. Working more to earn less money at the end - that doesn't sound like something many farms will do voluntarily. And who wants to pay three times more for their salami, just because it comes from a cow or water buffalo grazing on a wet meadow? The discussion with Thomas Beil and Steffanie Pfeiffer, who is politically committed to Alliance 90/Greens, and Christian Hildebrandt, who implements restoration measures in the Lower Nature Conservation Authority, shows that we must get in touch with all interests, if we really want to change something. Politicians have to remember that citizens want these changes, in order to make appropriate decisions. We must understand that we do not get nature in good health when we buy as much as possible and as cheaply as possible. And agricultural businesses should look for ways to be socially responsible through their economic interests. Whoa, we all have quite a lot to do! That's why we must now take a break in a student bar and then back to Majuwi - playing games together is simply better than just sitting in the pub!

Day 3: Tag: Visit to the fishermen and action planning

Yesterday was the seaside's turn, today it's the pier. On the way, we climb the information and observation tower on the barrage. It is being constructed in Wieck to protect Greifswald from water in a storm surge. The barrage shows that rivers are still sometimes part of a construction site, although according to the Water Framework Directive, rivers that have actually been rehabilitated should no longer be artificially modified. But here an exception is made for equipment used for flood protection. Conservationists find that does not always have to be so, because there are alternatives: meadows, which are submerged at high water, could absorb the water before it flows into the city. In a storm surge, however, we need a lot of meadows. And then there we are back again at the same problem from last night. However, first of all now we want to check if we can see anything of Rügen from the pier. Far away in the shadows on the horizon, is where Germany's largest island has to be.

Blick von der Mole in Wieck

On the way back we pass by the fishermen's huts. Here Jan Henning is waiting for us, his livelihood is fishing. With his cutter he launches daily into the sea and sometimes up the river to fish. Usually he is alone, sometimes a buddy comes with him. Today there were two of them, but they've caught little. You can see the disappointment in both of them. Nevertheless, they show us the fish they've got: A few perch, a box roach, that at least in Germany - no one wants, and pike. It's still snapping, but will soon be taken out in the gutting shed with a stick in its heart. Jan tells us along the way, how difficult a fisherman's job is: going out every night and sleeping during the day, working the whole week through in the herring season, and dealing with a lot of bureaucracy - each fish must be documented since the EU regulates exactly how many fish can be caught. The catch limits are supposed to help secure fisheries in the long-term, but the requirements hit one-man operations such as Jan's particularly hard. The small coastal fishermen don't catch as much fish throughout the year as industrial fishing fleets fish in one night. The fish are processed right there on the very same ship, with huge nets they fish tons out of the sea. We walk with Jan with two boxes of fish to the scale, where a Wieck fishing cooperative employee weighs the fish, writes down the exact amount and takes them. The cooperative buys the fish from their fishermen and sells them to shops for customers. A restaurant as well is among them. What the cooperative doesn't directly market, goes to wholesalers. However, they pay less. Under these conditions, it is no wonder that the fishermen have difficulties attracting trainees to the profession. Even if someone tries sometimes, their motivation is usually over and done with quickly, and Jan is again out on the boat alone after a few weeks. Too bad, because without the small fishing boats and the fresh fish that is not immediately frozen at the factory ship, you would not be able to imagine Wieck as it is today.

After many discussions, field trips and exercises, it is now time to turn to a particularly important question:

What can we do? How can we continue to pursue the subject of water protection and have a say in it?

Sabrina and Kerstin have their own experiences with it: Sabrina knows as coordinator of the Big Jump Challenge, the Youth Campaign for European River Swimming Day, the effect that young people with a common campaign can have and achieve. Many ideas and tools go back to the symbolic actions of Gandhi, and current examples show that a positive vision of how the world might look like, is still a good place to start developing creative and persuasive actions. So even without much money or political power, attention can be generated, also through young people, who are otherwise not consulted in the making of environmental policy.

Kerstin is guided in her work as an artist by an expanded concept of art which makes an artistic interpretation of social issues and identifies possible solutions. Understood in this way, art is participatory, the artworks relate people to their living space and set processes of change into motion. A pioneer of this understanding of art was Joseph Beuys, who among other things, sat with the sculpture of 7000 Oak trees in the 7th Documenta in 1982, which set a year-long process of "reforestation" in motion in the city of Kassel .

But how do we proceed with all our accumulated knowledge and the impressive examples now leading the way? Maybe simply through the development of our own vision! Kerstin takes us on an imaginary journey to a river landscape in 2027. Because by then the final extension period for the Water Framework Directive will have finished. In our mind's eye we envision what our river landscapes could then be like. Some see wild alluvial landscapes, others are led through a journey in the universe. Back in the here and now it's back to work: Now it is time to develop proposals for an action. It will take place on Wednesday in the Greifswald market square, and involves bringing one's own ideas to the public, to see what effects they can have.

The discovery process is lengthy, brainstorming raises more questions than answers. And yet we end up with several proposals and a clear winner:

We will continue to seek dialogue and use our creativity to get in touch with local residents on the street in the here and now. And about what? About the Ryck and a unifying theme: swamps. For the rewetting and swampy meadows on the Ryck is indeed a controversial topic in Greifswald, but it is not only of local importance. The filter function of these wetlands is a deciding key factor to reducing toxins and fertilizers, which accumulate and produce very harmful effects for the Baltic Sea. The question of how to convince Greifswald's citizens to hold with wetland restoration, is therefore a legitimate one, even if it comes from Russia, Poland and Estonia.



In the meantime, evening has come. And although we now have an idea, no one in their right minds would actually believe that we will really work miracles tomorrow. Actually we had wanted to be much further ahead with the planning. Justus Lodemann, who has just arrived to conduct a documentation workshop, has still not inched any further ahead with his crew. And outside, a cold, hard rain falls. Luckily we're sitting warm inside the Wieck Fishing Cooperative restaurant. While enjoying the freshly caught flounder, the relationships and interconnections between everything earlier are again experienced a completely different way: This fish comes from the fishermen we visited in the morning - it comes out of the sea, where we live and on which we live, at least on this evening. And live on it we do, very well indeed: it all tastes great. At the end, the atmosphere is so good that despite the rain, the young people are still open to a cultural night hike and being whisked away into the dark streets of the Wieck fishing village and the ancient ruins of the Eldena monastery.

Day 4: And... Action!

It's still raining, and the delegation is already in raincoats at the front door of a cafe in Wieck, ready to ask for weatherproof shelter to petition for our action. But then from the group comes the command: We go into the city, come what may! Anna and Patrycja already have cameras in hand, and the group is up and running. One team fashions together a plastic bar chart from tinkering bottles and colorful paper balls: Who is for, and who is against the restoration of wetlands on the Ryck? Another team is working on the issue of how they should be organised so as to direct attention to the crucial question. To be able to clearly explain the reasons for the action, there is also a poster group. They prepare a poster painting action that should arouse the attention of passers-by. A leaflet is produced, whereby the background knowledge with respect to wetlands along the river and their functions is explained. Some take to computer terminals, others the phone, so that really all the facts are checked, current and up to date.

There also seems to be a weather group at work, because suddenly it stops raining. And it's hard to believe, but it's true: After lunch we pack up, go into town and do our action, as though we had three days and not three hours to prepare for it. See for yourself, because the film crew did a great job:


Film Und...action

Play film


It was exciting to see just how much we have learned and accomplished in such a short time. But the decision is not simply to place a message somewhere, but rather to reach out to people and seek a dialogue, in a foreign language no less - well this just shows how much the young people have internalised and evolved in their creativity and dialogue-building capacity as an approach to environmental problems. The reactions were then also very surprising: Although there were many dissenting views against rewetting, nonetheless the fact that the young people were asking residents for their views was very well received. And there was almost no one who wanted to clearly throw a green or red ball at the bottle diagram at the end, the answers were much more complex and sophisticated, a "No" was always subject to conditions.


This shows that there are still a lot more opportunities for dialogue and understanding, which should be used in the future. And we agreed at the end: Working together as a team and across national borders was a valuable experience that we want to build - why not the same for the Big Jump Challenge?

Yours, truly, Sabrina Schulz - River Action Camp organizer (English translation: Indrani Kar) from the Big Jump Challenge Team


Many thanks to

  • our participants Anna, Albina, Dimitry, Julia, Julie, Patrik, Patrycja, Piotr, Pawel and Regina and tutors Hanna Palicka, Ludmila Stiglbrunner and Valérie Marchand for a good time with great ideas and good spirits,
  • Kerstin Polzin from »zwischenbericht« for the artistic action and Justus Lodemann for the cinematic support,
  • Jenny Piegsa for the introduction to the Water Framework Directive and the support with the human banner at the discussion board and all the trappings,
  • Thomas Beil for helping to organize the discussion and the many ideas and tips, Christian Hildebrandt for his information on the official implementation of measures in the discussion and for the information and contacts to wetlands at the Ryck, and Stefanie Pfeiffer for the impressions from the political side of things,
  • Mr. Bendt for telephone information on wetland restoration at the Ryck,
  • the Goethe Institute's SOS Baltic Sea project, through which support with the arrival of participants from Russia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland was possible
  • our funders


For all you Russian speakers out there, check out this article about the River Action Camp written by our very own participant, Dimitry: http://nasha-molodezh.ru/zhitzdorovo/ecology/zashhita-prirodyi-obedinyaet-lyudey-so-vsego-mira.html



The North German Foundation for Environment and Development (NUE) supported the River Action Camp with revenue from the BINGO! -Environmental lottery.


The River Action Camp was held as part of the Big Jump Challenge. The Big Jump Challenge is an educational tool for Social Innovation and Youth Empowerment under the CRESSI project. CRESSI (Creating Economic Space for Social Innovation) is funded under the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union under the grant agreement nr. 613261. 

Go back