Friday June 23
4-6 pm
(Central European Time)
In the eco-circle we read and study ‘Trees are Breath’, an inspiring text from Andreas Weber which you can find below.
Dr. Andreas Weber is a German scientist with degrees in marine biology and cultural studies. As a writer he explores a new understanding of life as  ‘biopoetics’ in science and in art. He is the author of eight books.
Some questions may guide us in our study:
What speaks to you most in the text?
When, where and how have you ever experienced the kind of reciprocity mentioned in Andreas Weber’s text?
What do you think is needed for this reciprocity?
There are many areas in our society where the process of reciprocity is interrupted and completely missing – how and where do you experience this in your everyday life?

This is the zoom link:
Meeting-ID: 871 4526 5318
Code: 193114

The Eco-Study-Group is scheduled once a month online – joining is possible at any time.
No need to register before hand.
We ask for an appropriate donation.
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On April 30 we went back to the no longer existing village of Lützerath, where we had our ecoretreat just last year, meeting, making friends and celebrating.
Some photos of that day you can see here (in a 3 minutes clip):



Trees are Breath

In the last days, with the air finally above the freezing point, and the grey silhouettes of the barren
twigs dripping with fine silvery moisture against the faint morning light, I have been drawn into the
forest. Every morning, I unlocked the chain securing my bike to a low metal arc between the
parking cars, brushed away the water from the saddle and the handlebars, and rode two blocks into
the Grunewald forest, often in an early spring drizzle.

The Grunewald is a huge woodland in the southwest of the German capital. It stretches 4 miles from
east to west and 6 miles from where I live to the south. Deep inside of it, you don’t hear any traffic
noises, only the chirp of the black tit or the tune of a song thrush, the silent thunder of a leaf slowly
falling to the ground. There are protected species like the rare and huge hermit beetle. There are
joggers, mountain bikers, mothers with small kids and dogs—and some fantastic swim spots with
their northern European policy of bare skin and extremely wide tolerance. In the early mornings and
evenings, especially now in spring, you almost surely bump into a couple of wild boar. That’s the
typical Berlin mixture of these times: considerable wildlife, but more weird people doing weird

The Grunewald is about tenfold the size of New York’s Central Park, and nearly equally accessible.
The woods are open as a porous skin from many access points of the city. Behind one bend, the
trees. When I go there, I first have to get past the roar of the six-lane Heerstraße main traffic artery,
and next take the bridge over five curved railroad tracks bluntly sparkling in the mist. Then I cross
into the trees. First underbrush, littered with trash, then pine, birch, black cherry, oak. Leaves carpet
the floor, punctuated by heath, moss, and withering stumps.

In these last mornings, I have been longing for touch, for the earthly touch of transformation. I was

longing for the mutuality which now seemed so overdue after three months of unusually severe
winter cold, isolating me mostly inside. When I entered the forest on my usual narrow trail it felt
like moving through a wall. Although it was still cold, the forest atmosphere immersed me in the
scent of wet leafy soil, of cold bark covered with algae, of moulds and plant parts half transformed
into phosphorous, nitrogen, and air.

I rode slowly, the wheels leaving deep tracks in the thawing floor, and breathed in the air. There it

was already, I thought, the earthly touch for which I had longed. I did not even need to bend down. I
inhaled the air, and exhaling gave back something of myself. My breath flowed as steam through
the branches. Oxygen and carbon and water vapour condensed into tiny droplets of silvery
transparency. Breath is touch as well: a mutuality, bound together on the thin surface of each of my
lung’s alveoli, where the world enters into my body like an acorn dips into the surface of a puddle. I
pedaled slowly beneath the stems and branches on which the cold gleaming drops hung,
occasionally bursting into a sudden rain shower on my coat when I brushed along them.

I thought that the surface with which we respire is not that much different to a water droplet. The

innermost layer of the lung consists of delicate bubbles of the most subtle tissue layer which in the
end are watery bubbles themselves. They are membranes through which the thin spheres of vapour,
transpired by the plants, crystallized as hoarfrost, condensed as dew, enter my own body, merging
with its translucent blisters like an iridescent soap bubble merging with another, reflecting the world
on its shimmering surface until it bursts.

I was on the way to “my” oak. When something important is under way, I always check in with that

particular tree to see what to make of it. Being there helps me access the fact that I also am only
enabled to thrive by means of the light from above, and that whatever is weighing me down will
ultimately be taken back by the earth, without a trace of labour. Trees breath. They are
manifestations of the sky inhaling the earth and the earth being washed over by the sky. When the
soil inhales sun and air, trees grow. If you looked at a forest through a time-shift lens, you could see
its different patches rhythmically swell and decay, like an ocean, the respiration of its waves
changing the shores. Trees are breath, on a very large scale.

Last summer, I invited the lady, who is now my wife, to my oak. It was high summer, the air balmy,

the undergrowth rustling with life. Some of the 500 species, mostly insects, who are obliged to live
on oaks as their only habitat, were buzzing around our heads, while we leaned against the bark with
its deep clefts, holding hands, not being able to embrace the whole stem, not by far. Oaks are the
trees with the highest number of life-giving relationships in the northern hemisphere. Even if we did
not speak it out explicitly, our embrace around the oak’s stem was a promise. It was the pledge to
remain tuned into the other’s breath. To remain breathable, edible, vulnerable. To remain earth,
fertile, fragrant.

Being edible is the basic condition which we share with all other life. It is the door through which

our communion comes, the pleasure to eat, and the consolation of being transformed into the bodies
and the blossoms of other beings. Understanding that we need to accept being edible leads to
understanding that only as vulnerable beings we are able to be real, and to connect with others.
Doing this is a profoundly embodied, sensual process.

I estimate that my oak is about 400 years old. It was already a thriving tree before Descartes

decreed that all nonhuman bodies are just machines, and only the human godlike rationality real
after all. Another Berlin oak, named “Dicke Marie”, “fat Mary” by Alexander Humboldt and his
brother Wilhelm (because the two played at its feet in the Tegel forest near to their manor, and
because the kitchen chef of their home was a somewhat strict and pretty obese lady), is estimated to
be 800 years old, bringing us straight back into the middle ages.

Breath means to give something back when you receive something. It means giving back something

of yourself when you inhale something which belongs to other. I have often been thinking that if we
would organise more of our human ways as breath, many problems would settle all by themselves.
Imagine teaching schoolchildren conceived as breath. Becoming with-other as mutual breathing in
and out. Agriculture as breath. Breath is linked to eating. It is the other half of the respiration cycle
in which food becomes body and body air. Breath is a fundamental reaching out to the other, and a
substantial welcoming of the other as a necessary condition to be a self. Trees, the stem pushing
upwards, the branches reaching for the void air, are a form of how breath becomes body.

Trees grope for the other. They reveal space as a relationship. They reveal relationship as breath.

Breath, in which I constantly give away something from myself and constantly receive something
from another being, incorporating it into my own existence. We have heard so much of the world’s
forests being “green lungs” and therefore needing protection. This plea, however, has not been that
successful. Maybe it would help to feel that forests are not only lungs in a technical sense. They are
breath. Their way of being, and of relating to us, is an ever so slow rhythmical tide of breathing out
myself, breathing in the other, of total, completely entangled reciprocity.

Breath means community, means sharing, means letting yourself be imagined by others: by humans,

by non-human others, by non-animate others, as stone, and sand, and air.
When I entered the woods in these very early spring mornings of 2018, it was all about touch and
reciprocity, all about sensing my skin adjacent to others, of being permeated, embraced, entangled.
This touch was pretty faint, a fine mist, a delicate inhalation. My encounter was already touch
before I even felt it as such, just by being breathable, by being the space from which I renewed
myself. I experienced the world yearning for spring as profoundly mutual. Its fertility relied on the
confidence that mutuality would remain possible, would remain the soil from which we all grow.
That’s not always the most obvious thought in a metropolis like Berlin, full of humans, trying to
function the best they can, trying to make their lives ever so special, coping with expectations and
constraints, all this in the short, busy time they are given.

Berlin is by far not a megacity, but still a place where mutuality often falls short. There is, for

instance, a more than 50-percent-chance that your marriage will fall apart, far higher than in most
rural settings of my home country. Breathing is not always easy in Berlin. From this angle, it makes
things a little simpler that there are far more trees than humans populating the German capital.
Berlin streets are lined with over 400,000 oaks, lindens, birches, cherries, sycamores, and other
towering fellow beings. Fellow beings like us, who have a youth, born from the tiny shell of an
acorn, groping for light, groping for contact, yearning to be, blossoming and bearing fruit, which, as
my wife from time to time reminds me, means to understand that becoming mature means to
become edible.

As the Berlin trees are on German soil, they are all precisely taken account of. If you look closely,

you can discover a little green tag with a number on it nailed to the bark of every stem. In Berlin, if
you feel lonely as a human (many do, as surveys reveal), you can at least go out of your house and
directly hug a tree. (Beware of dog droppings, though). You can hug it and think of the invisible
bubbles it transpires from its leaf surface and the concealed bubbles deep inside your body merging
into one another in one tidal wave of breath.

Last November, my wife gave me an oak for my birthday. It was quite a decisive birthday, my

fiftieth, so receiving an oak felt somewhat consoling. The oak was a pretty juvenile tree, a slender
stem, not much higher than 50 inches, with a couple of short barren branches, to which two or three
brown leaves clung, in a pot filled with earth. The oak was in deep hibernation, waiting for spring.
It had arrived in a huge box packed with straw. When the temperatures climbed above freezing
point in these last days, I suddenly thought of the baby oak and its fate.

My wife had carried the tiny oak for my birthday all the way from the post office. Having it stand

there on my special day was a pretty surprise. She had carried the baby oak in its straw cardboard
casing all the way into our flat on the third floor while I was traveling. The tree was small, but given
the pot, packaging and all, it was an exhausting job for her to drag the tree up to our flat. I did not
even know that you could do this: having trees shipped to a condominium in the heart of the
German capital.

There it sat, beside the table with the more practical-seeming gifts, in the heated air of our
apartment in late autumn, waiting for the earth to take care of it again. She gave me an oak to renew
her vow—as we had done for the first time, under that other oak. Now, I thought, looking at that
fragile young tree sitting in a tiny pot with some earth, surrounded by the wrapping paper that had
hidden it, it is up to me to give something back to the oak. To give it life actually.

As it was too hot in the room, we put the baby oak out on the balcony, still half in its wrapping.

There it sat in a corner, between all the summer stuff half-heartedly left there, folded chairs, boxes,
empty flower pots. The soil over its roots became dry. We nearly forgot about the plant, until storm
Xavier hit the capital in early December. I remember finding a shared car to rescue my wife from
her workplace, as all public transport was shut down. The streets were awash with objects drifting
around: tree branches, boards from hamburger stands, fragments of billboards, bicycles, plastic
debris, driving leaves, in fact, whole trees across lanes and no one around to put them away.
We hurried to check on the devastation that had befallen our balcony. The straw mats that had been
fixed to the railing hung in the branches of the surrounding oaks and sycamores. The oak sapling
lay upside down under a deck-chair, the earth strewn around. I did not feel very well seeing that. I
felt as though I had violated an important obligation. But what to do with it? We did not have a
garden. We were impatiently waiting to be allotted a piece of land in an urban gardening area close
to the forest but were very low on a long waiting list, and still are.

When the winter cold kicked in, I felt this uneasiness even more considerably. At least when I

allowed myself to feel it. When I thought of the baby oak, a slightly startled feeling came up. Was
the tree baby ok? Would the earth in its pot freeze through, killing it? Would the frost eat its tiny
buds, already protruding from the empty twigs? This went on for some weeks. I visited the balcony,
literally held my breath, then closed the door and tried to stop thinking of the tree.

I started moving when I saw the devastation the storm had done to the Grunewald. The forest

administration estimates that 40,000 trees were lost here in December 2017, in only an hour’s time,
when the worst of the storm hit. Since then, it has been difficult to access the forest by my usual
tracks. Fallen trees blocked every path, one after the other. But it was not the devastation that finally
made me think of the little oak again. It was the way the forest administration dealt with it. They
sent in private contractors to clear cut every affected tree—including the ones badly beaten, but still

One cold and grey morning, on a walk with my dog, I visited my old oak friend (which had

weathered the storm unaffected) and cycled back, the poodle in her grey parka against the cold
racing from one side of the track to the other. I stopped at another old oak which had been battered
but had remained about two thirds intact. I had seen it in the days before since I had been coming
back after the storm. If you look at old paintings of oaks you realize that there is nothing that stops
them thriving. Here however, I stopped in my track, as the battered oak had been felled and cut to
pieces. Cleared away, it was a painful sight. What these guys were doing here was not just cleaning up
the wrong way. It was literally breathtaking. They used thestorm as an occasion to step out
of the relatedness that thrives on mutuality. The five hundred or so

species that rely on oaks as food or dwelling space (like the hermit beetle) do so because the oak is
alive even if half crushed, half rotten, already half transformed into other beings.

The oak’s substance is visibly made of other beings. It is itself—in a majestic and towering way—
precisely by being other. By this it is, more visibly than other species, breath, open to be breathed
in, ready to take up my exhalation, and even more so the breath of the hermit beetle, of the black tit,
of the woodpecker, the ants and hornets dwelling in its holes and crevices. Cutting and carrying
away a half-dead oak seemed like disallowing relatedness to happen. It was the deliberate act of
creating a life in isolation, lonesome and locked in. It is the standard forest policy, not only in the
capital but in 99.8 percent of German woodland.

We wrapped our baby oak in long stretches of packing paper and carried it to the 136 bus, and then
to the X49 bus. Nobody looked at us and our heavy load. Wildlife and weird people, and we
apparently belonged to both. I even carried a spade, rusty from leaning against a damp basement
wall. It was a grey, quite chilly day, the forest floor just above freezing solid. When we left the bus
and walked the few steps to the forest entrance, we fell silent. A ceremonial feeling came upon me.
And then it was also so weird.

What we were doing seemed very much like carrying owls to Athens, or rather, oaks. Planting an
oak in an oak forest. Throwing water into the ocean. Besides, this was surely illegal. In a city where
there is an individual identification number for each tree, it is hard to imagine that it would be
acceptable for citizens to set their own plant specimens to roam free in the woods. At least, we told
ourselves, the oak was not an alien species. We were offering the forest what the forest was
continuously offering to itself.

Dusk began to fall already. We had selected the place carefully beforehand, a clearing, close to the
tree that had been cut. The air was chilly. Our breath formed white clouds of tiny droplets, mine
mixing with that of my wife, and then perfusing into the shrubs and among the stems. When I
pushed in the spade, the earth under the loose grass gave away easily. It was a thing of few minutes.
I dug a hole, and we moved out the remaining sediment with our fingers, touching the cool, soft,
velvety sediment, touching our hands with one another, caressing the earth, being caressed back by
its sheer touch, caressing one another. Then I carefully placed the oak in the hole, arranged the
compact form of roots and earth that had come out of the pot so it sat straight, and we moved back
the forest earth with our fingers.

It felt like something we both had long needed to do. It felt like a homecoming, like a renewed vow,
like having the whole forest as a witness, and at the same time, being witnesses for it. Life,
vouching for life. Reciprocity, celebrated by sheer and simple touch. Just being there, connected.
Becoming earth again. What we were doing there was a very simple thing, a kind of natural play,
and it was also, by being that simple, a kind of deep understanding. It made us see, in a way, that a
vow to stay in reciprocity is respiration. It is a pledge to be earthly: vulnerable, accessible, fertile,
nourishing. Also love, after all, is breath.

Planting that slender, lonesome oak in the soil where so many of his brethren already vouched for
aliveness (by sharing the own self with others) did not seem different from that moment before
falling asleep together when your breath somehow becomes the breath of your beloved, of your
partner, your child. Planting the oak in the cold and grey eve of the Berlin forest felt like
exchanging a long and tender kiss: the encounter of two sensitive surfaces in a way that forever
changes both.

Andreas Weber