If the time of year and the direction of the wind and waves are right, Kristian Dittmann gets up around four in the morning to be on the beach near Eckernförde in front of the community cleaning team. So he is the only person in the whole world. “I have the most beautiful workplace you can imagine,” he thinks, as he stabs something washed up by the sea with his fork and pushes the wheelbarrow further. What for the municipalities is an annoying “garbage”, because it alters the image of the long, white dream beaches and because tourists dislike them, for Dittmann, 53, is a valuable resource: driftwood. This is everything that the sea spits out and drags to the shore: in addition to algae, fucus, feathers, reeds, particles of wood and small animals such as crabs or snails, also algae. Dittmann seeks out the latter because he makes pillows with it. His “harvest” is loaded onto a truck, a Mercedes-Benz 609 with a four-metre loading area, and taken to Kappeln an der Schlei. If it is a good year, thirty cubic meters of algae will be collected, if it is a bad year only ten cubic meters will be collected.
In Kappeln, in the so-called Schlei fjord of the Baltic Sea, Dittmann moved in 2018 to a former cow barn from which he woke up from a Sleeping Beauty dream and whose structural substance he now maintains. After eight temporary locations where he has been experimenting with his seagrass cushion production since 2013, this thousand square meter building is now the location of his “beach factory.”
There the algae are filtered, washed, dried and finally put into pillowcases made of old white linen. The Dittmann collection in different sizes is always sold out. The interest in anti-allergic, antibacterial, sleep-improving and snoring-reducing sleeping aids is too great for its two-handed factory. Dittmann’s small craft business could grow, but he makes a “licious” living off a limited number of items that, according to section 19 of the UStG, were restricted by the Treasury due to its classification as a small business. That is why the customer who wants to buy a pillow today must be consistent. Orders will be accepted again from January 1, 2024.
Delivery bottleneck? No, that’s exactly how Dittmann wants it. Rising demand doesn’t drag you down the hamster wheel. He celebrates the simple life with little money, energy, consumption, comfort and some taboos – like flying – and therefore very little. CO 2 -Footprint .
And enjoy freedom, self-determination and temporary prosperity. He doesn’t want or need digital things: »Buying instead of ordering, going to the movies instead of streaming, cooking instead of calling Lieferando, smiling instead of liking. “I need immediacy,” he says, taking an old locked mobile phone out of his pocket. “It’s enough”. But he sees this as the responsible way of life for him: he does not want to moralize or proselytize others. And this also applies to their energy-saving way of life and production:
»I produce all pillows by hand, without machines. “I’m like a pre-agricultural collector,” he says, squinting in the summer sun and calmly rolling a cigarette.
Dittmann needs his time for other things: playing with his son, petting Jette the chicken or caring for Heidi and Schnucki the sheep, restoring a historic mahogany barge, sitting by the campfire and enjoying homemade food. Seagrass is therefore not only Dittmann’s renewable raw material for pillow interiors, but the material that allows him to live the way he wants. However, when on this summer day the number of tourists sitting on beach chairs and drinking colorful drinks in the historic port of Kappeln decreases, Dittmann becomes nervous, because the seaweed season begins at the end of summer and lasts until Christmas.
When he is not searching for seaweed, he also likes to give lectures on the highly sensitive marine and coastal ecosystems, and offers weekend workshops such as “Living on Seaweed”. Dittmann has also become active on a political level. He organized a conference on algae, published a guide on how to deal with floating currents , and advocated for the protection of coastlines and dunes everywhere. In short: he himself does the best public relations work for the Baltic Sea.
Photo: Michael Kohls
»The truth is that I work always and never. Wouldn’t that be a good headline for this article about me?” thinks Dittmann. After spending his childhood in Laboe, in the Kiel Fjord, he studied sociology and marine biology and worked as a maritime journalist for travel reports. Dittmann continues to write today, continually working on his book Simply Living (2023, in the 10th edition): with numerous good ideas, Do It Yourself -Building instructions and many buried facts over the years about algae and its use as filler and insulating wool, but also as fertilizer. In this way, Dittmann recovers from the depths of oblivion ancient knowledge and a forgotten cultural technique. »I recently read in the newspaper that Schalke is fertilizing the grass in their stadium with Treibsel. It is no longer possible! ”He states, visibly happy with the new race in natural fertilizers.
To explain his production of seaweed pillows, Dittmann now changes his clothes. He drapes a butcher’s apron over his white linen shirt, then puts on bright blue elbow-length insemination gloves and knows damn well, because he laughs widely, that he looks like he stepped out of a splatter movie. But then, with due seriousness, he shows the huge wash tubs made from truck tarps for cleaning algae and the huge wooden structure covered with silage cloth for drying, a construction made of roofing sheets and pallets. At the end of the production line, Dittmann puts on the pillow stuffing extravaganza: loosen the fabric, put it in the pillowcase, shake, fill, shake, fill… until it’s full. »Everyone thinks it stinks, but it doesn’t. He whispers very well. “It’s the seaweed that stinks, not the seaweed,” says Dittmann, muffling out the crunch of the seaweed.
“I am often more of a health educator and advisor than a seaweed pillow producer,” says Dittmann. Groups of elderly people and rural women would come and each would have their own “pillow story”: they would like to talk about sleep, about sweaty sheets, their partner’s snoring or neck pain. But Dittmann has also carried out projects with school-aged children: she founded a beach group, collected rubbish on the Schlei, built a raised bed of driftwood with the children in the school garden or sewed dolls together with refugee women and asked the children who filled them with seaweed.
The barn is not only his factory, but also his place of residence. The recently renovated forty square meter old calf barn belongs only to him and his loved ones. This private space remains closed to Seagrass clients and journalists. But Dittmann tells us how he placed a wood stove there and connected the room to a solar panel. Rainwater is collected and then used, among other things, to flush toilets. In the end everyone has their own idea of the good life. And that’s a good thing.