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Germany

Modern Experiment in Communal Living Gives Hope to Residents

In a country where living alone is commonplace, a new communal living project in Bonn has sparked curiosity. There may always be someone there to lend a helping hand, but will the dozens of residents actually get along?

Amaryllis in Bonn

66 people live in the three-part Amaryllis complex in Bonn

The walls in the stairwell haven't been plastered yet, the elevator squeaks and the yard is full of tools. The two-year building project is drawing to a close but there's still a lot to do. This isn't an ordinary house, but three large complexes.

Sixty-six people have already moved in -- families, couples, mothers, singles, widows and pensioner who no longer want to live alone.

The residents of the multiple-generation living project "Amaryllis" in Bonn are interested to see how it will all turn out.

A network of helping hands

Amaryllis in Bonn Helga Ahrenhoevel

Resident Helga Ahrenhoevel said she'd like to teach the kids in the community to crochet

"I'm definitely not a fairy tale grandma," said 74-year-old Helga Ahrenhoevel, "but I think it would be good if I could teach the children how to knit or crochet." The "children" are not her grandchildren but her housemates.

It's practically unheard of in Germany these days to have grandparents living in the same house as their children and grandchildren. Only two out of every 100 households are made up of multiple generations.

But as larger families disappear, so do the practical everyday benefits that come with them. Who takes care of the children when their parents have to work? Who'll help the elderly woman with her shopping bags? And who'll lend their car to someone who doesn't have one?

The residents of the Bonn living project take a pragmatic view. Each one can choose where to live within the complex -- in a more private apartment, in a house, or with roommates.

Most importantly, there is always an opportunity to come together, "whether it's a game evening with the kids or a deep conversation with my neighbor," said 44-year-old Jochen Lampe, who uses a wheelchair.

For Lampe, the only alternative to his new community would be a nursing home.

"There I would miss the social component that I have here," he said. "There are so many helping hands here."

Single households on the rise

Jochen Lampe

If it weren't for the community, Lampe would have to go to a nursing home

The notion of people of different ages, and who are not relatives, living under one roof is unusual in Europe. The trend toward one- or two-person households is increasing, and not only in Germany. In Scandinavian countries, there are already more single than multiple-person households.

Only in Spain, Ireland and Portugal, the average household includes three people. But even in these countries, it's become uncommon for more than two generations to live together.

For the residents in Bonn, it's often the little things that they look forward to in their new environment: the sound of children playing, sharing a meal, chatting with a neighbor. But expectations are also kept within bounds.

"You just can't be equally good friends with everyone here," said Anneke Burger, who lives in the community with her husband and three children. "That's not possible with 66 residents."

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