Rainer Warzecha (at left), with fellow builders in Jähringe, Sweden, in 2008. “Gertrud, who lives there, was a super cook and host. We had fine meals. Gertrud still fires the oven and loves it. We had a holiday with our first daughter there, a year later.”

Some years ago now, I got an unexpected email from Elke Cole, a German-born architect now living in Canada, whom I had originally met at the first Natural Building Colloquium in Oregon, in the mid 90s. Elke was traveling in Germany, where she’d come across a public art project in a park in Berlin. It was full of earthen sculptures made by a German artist named Rainer Warzecha. At the time, I was collecting stories and photos to expand a little pamphlet about earthen art projects (Dig Your Hands in the Dirt). But most of what I had were small scale projects: benches, ovens, and things made with kids in schools. Rainer’s, however, was huge! Not only was it at the center of a major urban park/playground, it was the focus of an annual week of public art and mud work – a modern incarnation of traditional village-building, with Rainer as “arch tecton,” literally, the “head builder.” I sent an email asking if I could include some photos of his work in my book, and got a quick reply – in English! (I was grateful, not having any German myself.) Not only did Rainer send wonderful photos, stories, and inspiration, he also provided apt and timely advice regarding my layout and design for the book. More recently, he helped Ian Miller with feedback on the German edition of Build Your Own Earth Oven. I still haven’t met him, but Rainer continues his work in various areas, including oven-building, and has a website in both English and German. It’s about time I said a proper word of thanks.

Rainer, working in Lübeck, 2009, building with a class of a secondary school students. “They were very enthusiastic and the whole process was a lot of fun. Especially the first fire in the oven made them jump around; it’s always magic with the element of fire.”


Ready to make the first, or thermal layer. Note the roof model in foreground.

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