Rundling Association - Aims and Objectives
The Rundling Association was awarded a Grand Prix in the 2015 Europa Nostra Awards for 46 years of commitment and strategic vision by its unpaid volunteers, seeking to protect the last remaining Rundling villages of Central Europe. Three generations of mainly local volunteers have worked tirelessly to research and publish articles on these medieval villages, to sensitise the public and their politicians to their vulnerability, to bring the past alive through its open air museum and to help prepare the way for acceptance by UNESCO as a cultural landscape worthy of World Heritage Status.
The Rundling Association was created in 1969 by concerned citizens and has never had any paid staff. Its only income is a modest annual subscription from its 200 members. The original impulse came from external architects, planners and a few local people who engaged their politicians, and together with them founded the Association. They realised that these villages were unique, but only sparsely researched, so their initial effort went into encouraging the universities to undertake a proper historical analysis of the phenomenon. In doing so, the bias in the then politics of building preservation, which favored the cities and the towns, was uncovered. In 1969 few were interested in preserving rural communities. In the following decades many rural buildings came under the protection of the state, for which organisations such as the Rundling Association can take some credit. Some 2000 traditional half timbered farmhouses in rural Wendland are now protected by the state. Increasingly the value to the general city-dwelling public of rural oases is being recognised.
The Association has organised events, exhibitions, competitions, publications and media coverage in every one of its 46 years. It has encouraged individual villages to work with politicians to protect its essential shape, and has helped countless individual homeowners make informed decisions about necessary alterations and renovations. Recently it has surveyed all 204 villages that were mapped as Rundlinge in the early 19th century. Sadly it had to report in 2012 that only 96 are still recognisable as Rundlinge 200 years later. It aims of course to protect all 96 villages, but has put its recent effort into supporting the bid to UNESCO by the local authority for a protected landscape, containing an unbroken sequence of 19 of the least unspoilt villages. Even the concept of a protected cultural landscape still has to be fought for.
So what are Rundling villages and what gives them their outstanding universal value?
They are planned villages from medieval times, created under German law but each catering for a small group of Slavic farming families, whose first tasks were to clear the land for cultivation. Rundlinge and similar looking tiny round villages were only to be found in a narrow strip of Central Europe from the Baltic Sea to the Czech mountains, and all can be dated to the period 1150 to 1250, after which they fell out of fashion. There must once have been over a thousand such settlements. There is little evidence of bloodshed, so the consensus today is of a more or less peaceful German expansion eastwards into lands hitherto occupied by the westernmost Slavs.
Where land had not been cultivated, such as in Wendland, Rundling villages were planned and built all to the same model. They were cul-de-sacs, away from main through-roads, and had originally only one entrance, which was from the higher drier side, where the arable land was to be found. In the first phase the villages were semi-circular, usually with 5 or 7 farmsteads of equal size, shaped like slices of half a cake, and backing on to the wetter lower land. The farmsteads were arranged around a village green, which was not built upon, and were large enough to feed an entire family. In the following centuries two developments led to the creation of the circular shape we see today. Firstly landless farmers, called „kossater“ were granted plots for their houses, which partially closed the circle round the green. Secondly at a time of population pressure in the 15th century, the originally generous plots of land were halved, by the simple expedient of dividing each slice of cake into two thinner slices of cake, now to cater for two families not one. This doubled the number of houses in the village, but also emphasised the circular nature of the settlement.
The vast majority of these Rundling villages in Wendland have remained tiny and self-contained, each village often no more than half a kilometer from its neighbour. Virtually every single Rundling village elsewhere in Germany has been built over and subsumed into larger villages or towns.
Not only that. The Wendland villages have remained stubbornly agricultural. They are made up entirely of farmsteads, with no churches, schools or pubs. Self-sufficiency meant no need for shops or tradespeople. Christianisation came late to Wendland. Each village was always too small to have its own church, so even today none of the 96 existing Rundlinge has a church within the circle, and the 30 or so churches that were built later to service over 200 villages are all outside. The same was true of schools, and later of taverns, which took over the limited role of local suppliers to the farmers.
We do not know what the original houses in the 12th century looked like, or indeed how they developed over the following centuries. The earliest houses that we know of are the Lower German hallhouses in their 17th century appearance. The majority of the 96 Rundlinge of today have Lower German hallhouses in their mid-19th century appearance, and it is these larger houses which are illustrated here. They were built, like their earlier counterparts, on the principle of „all under one roof“ - animals, harvest, waggons and tools at the front, farmer and family at the back. During the 19th century, with increasing prosperity from the cultivation of flax for home weaving, pigsties and additional barns were built behind these large main houses.
As agriculture becomes more industrial in scale, new uses have to be found for these generously sized farmsteads. Increasingly these villages and their houses have protected status, so some control can be exercised on inappropriate development. The Rundlingsverein believes that it is possible to protect the villages and their 19th century hallhouses, by encouraging alternative ecological and small scale uses. It is not possible or desirable to preserve the past in aspic. These villages remain to be lived in by future generations of residents, and must change with the changing needs of those residents, without losing their essential uniqueness.
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