Preserving the precious memories of friends across the Camphill Movement who knew Karl König and experienced the beginnings of Camphill is a project of the Karl König Institute, internationally and in North America.
With many of these friends now in their nineties, the Living History project is actively conducting video interviews of these early Camphillers. About 30 people will be interviewed across the United Kingdom, Europe and North America. Those being interviewed are coworkers who experienced Camphill’s founding times, coworker children who grew up in those times, and students who knew Karl König in the Camphill Schools.
Wonderful stories of unique experiences of Karl König will be preserved! Insights will be gained about the foundations that König laid into Camphill upon which one of the world‘s most successful and long-lasting intentional communities was built. It will be a resource for the education of coworkers and available for research. What is produced will provide a rich resource for public relations, social media and fundraising efforts across Camphill.
Video editing will be done professionally to produce the individual stories and various shorter excerpts. A 60-minute documentary that will weave these stories into a whole is planned for the last stage of the Living History project. Finished videos will be accessible through the website of the Karl König Institute.
Remarkable Stories from our video interview with Helen Zipperlin
Helen Zipperlin found her way to Botton Village six months after it began in 1955. For the last 50 years Helen has lived in Camphill Village Kimberton Hills in Pennsylvania.
Helen‘s journey in Camphill began as she was about to drive back to Scotland after a meeting of the Soil Association in England,with her little caravan in tow. Helen was asked by Carl Alexander Mier to give him a lift to his new home in Botton Village. Until then, Camphill wasn’t known to Helen. Helen and Carl spent a long day driving up and down over the moors, until they arrived at Botton.
Helen’s first experience of meeting Camphill
“So we got there just before supper. And I am introduced to this very diverse gang of people, but I am sooo tired after that day! And after supper it’s dark and it’s cold, but me being a polite English person, I asked, ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’
And the Reverend Peter Roth who had been sent to start this new venture replied, ‘Oh, YES! The most important thing,’ says the Reverend Peter Roth, ‘is that the books shall be in order!’
And I thought to myself, you guys have got just about everything to do here, you’ve just arrived, there is everything to do! And this guy says, the most important thing is to get the books in order…?
All right then. He showed me the place where the books are going to be – here are the bookshelves and there are the books piled in the middle of the room – and then there’s this piece of wall between the bookshelves and the ceiling that’s got to be painted first, before we can have the books.
I said ‘Aha, I’ll be glad to do it, have you got the paint?’
‘Yes, yes,’ he replied, ‘we’ve got the paint.’
I said, ‘Do you have a ladder?’
‘No,’ he replied, ‘but we have a table!’
So we pushed the table to the corner and I’m standing on the table painting away on my bit of wall and I’m quite peaceful and happy, though I’m so tired. Anyway, I’m painting happily and the door opens and two young men come in. One of them is tall and rangy and has a long nose like a heron and the other one is a little fat tan one with a sweet smile, the most wonderful smile you’ll see in a day’s march. This was Michael and Roger. And Roger and Michael, they sit on the edge of my table and they start yakking away.
And I am painting, painting and I said, ‘Look, excuse me, but you’ll get dripped on sitting there’. They took not the slightest notice, they didn’t mind being dripped with pink paint. They went on yakking – and what they were yakking about… I soon began to take notice.
Because they were telling me about this village they were going to make, here in this place. They had just come in a bus, 14 of them, from the Camphill Special Schools in Scotland, where they had graduated, they were the graduating class of Camphill Special Schools. So they’d come here and they were going to do this new thing, together with Peter. They were going to make this wonderful new place. Yakety-yak.
Well… it kind of went in there… it went straight into my stomach and has stayed there ever since, more or less undiluted. That was the beginning of my arrival to Camphill.
“Of course, I’m still on my way back to Scotland with a trailer behind me, you understand. The next morning, I’m getting settled up, ready to go and there’s a knock on the door.
‘Yeah?’ I asked.
‘Well, good morning.’ It was one of the people who’d been at supper last night. ‘Can you stay another night?’
I said, ‘No no no no, I’m practically gone and I’m going, I have to go, I’m so sorry.’
‘But you have to stay another night!’
‘Why do I have to stay another night?’
‘Well you see, it’s the communion cup.’
‘We’re going to have our first Service for Michaelmas and the communion cup, you see, it’s busted. And Peter has to go to York, 50 miles that way, to get it mended.’
I’m going the other way. I said, ‘Look, why can’t Peter go in his own car to get it mended?’
‘Well you see, we’ve only got one car in this village and it’s busted too!’
Helen was laughing as she told this and she remarked, “I just want to tell you that my life is a series of accidents that seem to have nothing to do with intent.“
“Okay, now I am barreling over the moors in the wrong direction with the Reverend Peter Roth, who wants his books kept in order and he’s sitting beside me with the communion cup in a cardboard box on his lap as we’re going bump bump bump over the north York moors. At a certain point you can look down into the dale and see the whole landscape of Botton Village laid out – it’s very beautiful. So I made some inane remark about what a nice view or whatever.
And Peter said, ‘Yes, yes, you should come here for a year and work with us.’ So I politely explained to him that this was totally impossible – and why it was impossible.
He looked at me and said, ‘Yes, and you’ll tell me the same thing in about 50 years if you don’t do something about your life now.’
I’m thinking… ‘I just met you last night… what?’ Okay, that was quite an interesting drive. And that was kind of the beginning of it.
And I did go home and say I was going to this strange Botton place for a year, which I did.“
Helen’s impressions of Karl König
“I first experienced Dr. König on his vision visits to Botton, when he came to see what this new experiment was about. My impression about the Camphill villages was what I had got from Roger and Michael and the table and the pink paint. The intention of the Camphill villages, filled in by others, was that Camphill, having been Camphill Scotland and the schools, was now reaching out and grabbing in a lot of other anthroposophically related activities, like the Biodynamic Association and the Christian Community and whatever… And they were all going to come together and together make a new thing, which was called villages.
“But I had a slightly ambiguous relationship with Camphill Scotland, up north, where all the important people from Botton would go to just when there was lots of work to do here in the village! And this was the place from where strange people were sent to us, they come from up north – and they would talk about our community life when they’d hardly been here for five minutes! And I thought, ’Yeah….’ So Dr. König was not coming to a really adoring audience when he met me, it was for me an unsolved corner there.
But when I met Dr. König – there was no further nonsense of any kind – none whatever….
“He was a little person in stature… An enormous person in reality. Unforgettable face. When he didn’t think you were looking at him, a face that carried all the sorrows of the world in its wrinkles, sooo sorrowful…
But in the moment he was among people, there was always laughter. If you were in a meal where there were tables, you could always tell Dr. König’s table because it was the one where everybody was laughing their heads off!
Wonderful kindness, big eyes, full of kindness… And full of sorrow at the same time. Wonderful person!”
“A conversation I remember with Dr. König is after I had left Botton and then decided to come back, a couple of years later.”
Helen related how she was then starting to build a little house on the slope above Botton, using ‘great-grandfather’s money that had nothing to do with me’ and wanting to build according to the anthroposophical architecture that had inspired her on a visit to Dornach. Her plan was to build a little home and live her life in Botton and plant trees on the slopes to keep the rain from running down and into the kitchens.
But then when Dr. König visited, Helen went to talk with him because she had this idea of going to Camphill in Germany for three months because she was so impressed with the German coworkers who came to Scotland – not speaking the language yet, living the life and doing the work – and she thought it was only fair that she should try the same thing.
Dr. König listened warmly before responding to Helen, saying, ‘Well, my dear, the German village is on hold at the moment – but we do need coworkers in America.’
“And I said, ‘But Dr. König, one doesn’t go to America for a visit… And I am building a house here… Botton is where I stay!”
Dr. König smiled and looked at me with his warm eyes and said, ‘Oh yes, yes, my dear, I shall write to Carlo and I shall tell him it is only for a visit.’
But then he said, “You think about it, you come back and see me before I go – that will be… this is Saturday, you come back and see me on Monday and we will talk about it.’
“So of course, I walked out of there knowing my goose was cooked… I am going to America”!
“Now you must remember that in those days, one did not just pop onto a plane and fly over to America. People came on the Queen Mary and it took 11 days. It was a big deal, coming to America!
“All right… I’m telling you about me, because that was how I experienced it. But that was typical of Dr. König. There are lots of other stories about how he could do that to all kinds of people…. He could see beyond the physical nitwit who was sitting there talking to him… he could see what was really happening.
Hearing Dr. König tell some of his biography
In 1963, after being in America for some years, Helen saw Karl König again.
“So I went to this retreat with Dr. König in Glencraig in Ireland – there would have been about a dozen people there from all over Camphill. And why I’m telling you this is because part of the exercise of the retreat is that people would tell their biographies. And Dr. König told his. There are three stories out of his biography which I love especially.
“One was early childhood. His mom and dad had a shoe shop in Vienna and he was an only child and they were young and they used to go out in the evening doing the Vienna thing and would leave him. And the good thing for him, being alone then, was that he was allowed to sleep in their bed until they came home. He told how he would be in this great big bed and he had his ritual. He arranged the bed clothes in a very nice way so that he was in a little nest right in the exact middle of the bed. And he would say to himself, ‘I am in the middle of the bed… And the bed is in the middle of the house… And the house is right in the middle of Vienna… And Vienna is right in the middle of Austria’… and so on and so on… until when he got far enough out, he finally was asleep. I liked that story!
“When he was a little bit older, he would walk to school, and every day walking to school, he passed a church. A little Jewish boy… He passed this church which had a carved stone face of Christ. And when he walked every day to school, he stood and looked at that face of Christ. End of story. Never told anyone.
“Later as a young man, he read a book by Rudolf Steiner. And he said, ‘This is a clever man, he knows almost as much as I do.’ And then he read another book by Rudolf Steiner and he said, ‘This man knows more than I do. So I took off my hat, and I took off my head, and I became his pupil.’
“I have to tell you a story about Dr. König’s hat, a porkpie hat, that goes way back before the beginning of Botton, so zip back to before Botton came about. They were thinking of ideas about ‘What are we going to do with all these graduates from the schools?’ Here they all were and they weren’t going to go out to become Prime Minister and certainly they were not school children anymore.
“So Dr. König had a meeting in London, with all sorts of relevant people and parents and such and he spun the idea of the village. And he said, ‘But we would need to experiment with this, and we would need some land to do it.’ And somebody said, ‘My brother, cousin, whatever, has some land which he’s trying to sell and the cost is so many thousand pounds and the down payment is a 1000 pounds.’ And Dr. König picked up his hat from the table and he sent it around the room. And it came back with a 1000 pounds in it! So he paid the deposit. And on that, we moved into Botton. Neither he nor anyone else had the remotest idea where the rest of the money was coming from!!! That’s the beginning of villages!”
“Do it together!”
Another story Helen recounts has to do with building Village communities.
“In the beginning of Botton, Dr. König met with us and said, ‘I cannot tell you how to do it. But one thing I can tell you – and that is – Do it together!
Don’t say these people have mental retardation and they can’t understand money. If you have a meeting about money, you have a meeting and we are all there, it’s our money and we are all there. It’s absolutely fundamental to village – do it together!’
In the first year it was like that. Later, of course, doing everything together became simply numerically impossible. But that’s the principal, the underlying principle of village. There is no question of it being a care facility of one kind of people for another, or something like that. That is absolutely out. It’s a question of do it together. Instructions by Dr. König.”
Living into the experience of the threefold social order
“I’ve got one more thing about Dr. König – another of his things, like ‘Do it together’. People, including me, were greatly puzzled by this thing called the threefold social order. And when Dr. König visited once, somebody asked him, ‘Dr. König, we’re having a hard time to understand this threefold social order.’ And he looked with his wonderful smile and he said, ‘You concentrate really hard on understanding the threefold human being. And if you really understand the threefold human being and work with it – then the threefold social order will arise magically around you.’
Somebody asked me in recent years whether he really used the word magically, and I swear to that, it’s true. ‘The threefold social order will arise magically around you.’“
What Helen would want to ask Karl König if she could sit down with him today
“It’s very simple. I would like to ask Dr. König, from his perspective now, what does his Christmas story look like? Forming the Ring and Kaspar Hauser… There are a lot more of these guys… there must be hundreds of people… must be a big, big house!
So I would like to ask him – How is it now? For we are not finished with the Ring!”
On behalf of Karl König Institute, we want to thank Helen very much for being willing to share her fabulous stories. This sharing is a true gift for Camphill – now and into the future!
And we hope you have read Helen’s stories (there will be more in the video) and have enjoyed them!
For the Living History project to be funded, the Karl König Institute needs support.
And if you can offer support, donations can be made on the Karl König Institute website, which has links for donations in Europe and in North America.
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Thank you all for your interest and support on many levels!!!
Deborah Grace, office administrator
Richard Steel, CEO, Karl König Institute