On the border of Herent and Leuven, hidden behind thick forestry, Bereklauw founder and owner Gosse offers his piece of land as a refuge for all those who seek communal living. The village or commune is based in Belgium but welcomes people of all races and creed to share alongside each other, in a social experiment of cohabitation. Mainly known for their wild parties, Bereklauw offers more than loud music and isolation to the observant eye: backstage, an attempt at subverting daily life is in the motions, brewing in the minds of the inhabitants and brought out into material reality. Its humble exteriour might fool a few, but there’s more to be found under these shallow waters.
Visuals Bereklauw (c)
You’re there once you’ve stepped in mud. At the beginning of the dirt road, you’ll find a panda bear standing on the side, one paw up. The wordplay is supposed to let you know you’re at your destination. A bear’s claw; een bereklauw. If your feet take you along the road, it’ll take you through a forest path, wide and covered by trees on both sides – yet something stands out. Large pagan statues, handcrafted into the trees, tower over you all the way until the entrance. Eagles and frogs, dog heads and other mystical symbolism make for a magical runway towards the village’s entrance. The border between forest and commune is drawn by the sudden end of statues. If the dirt path says, “Here ends modernity”, the entrance to Bereklauw commune excitedly claims, “and this is what comes after!”
Instantly, one notices the alien yet ecologically conscious architecture. Quite unique – in fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a replica anywhere else. It’s in standing with the commune’s collective spirit: homes are built from society’s refuse by those who refused society. Metal sheets, junk and wooden pillars make up the general aesthetic. Its charm is in the chaotic adaptation of needs. There’s no plumbing service, only neighbours who are handy with a wrench. The only carpenter around is Mother Nature herself, as she provides the commune with all the wood they need.
The inhabitants are wild, unkempt and constantly in flux. In the three decades since the conception of the village-cum-commune, travellers from around the world came to make Bereklauw their home. To try and get a demographic overview of its population would be a frivolous attempt at defining the commune and whomever chooses to live there. In fact, the only descriptor that all the inhabitants share is that they all stem from a similar crisis of ideological displacement and an escape from modern comforts. Much like the homes present, Bereklauw’s society itself is built from the bits and pieces of oft-ignored and flat out refused materials that one would find scattered around. Hippies, punks, mystics and magicians, all together; eating, building, living and surviving the cold Belgian winters together on the edge of the modernity.
Cobblestones make up the runway through the village. As you walk through, the smell of nature – also known as shit – assails the uninitiated. Small cages with poultry line the walls to the right and self-made homes to the left. Watch your step or you’ll probably kill something: if they’re not in cages, chickens run around, clucking happily. The cats, eyeing the chicken with lustful grins, sit on the side-lines judging quietly.
Homes are built from society’s refuse by those who refused society.
Further up the pathway lies the bar; a large structure dedicated to Dionysus, the Greek deity of wine-making, fertility and ritual ecstasy. The bar itself has the same architecture as the rest of the commune, but judging from its size and well-maintained visage, one could surmise that it’s actually one of the more respected places in the commune. The windows have a stained design, reminiscent of church glass. This admixture of elements is in my opinion exactly what defines the over-arching theme of the commune: a chimera of modernity and its opposites.
At the very end of the commune, where the pathway bends back, there’s a small playground equipped with small mushroom houses and swing sets. Families also live in Bereklauw after all, and in accordance with their aesthetics, all forms of contemporary leisure are fashioned out of wood and mud, re-enacted out of bio-degradable materials. What could have been a metallic and synthetically created playground is now a by-product of tree fibers and hand-fashioned wood: little playhouses made from resources the commune collectively gathered, for everyone to further enjoy.
I took a long cigarette break from the top of the commune as the children play below, soaking up a view of the entire village. Farms that were hidden by the houses on my way up were laid bare in front of me, with all their vegetables and fruits ready for harvest. Across from the first farm I spotted the communal kitchen, where the inhabitants get together to cook, clean and wash. There’s a distinct lack of necessary police presence to enforce social decrees – only nature’s laws apply. Yet society in Bereklauw seems to function as it would anywhere else, which I brought up with my tour guide. In response, he was proud to share his wisdom with me, explaining that the commune functions on a foundational alchemical truth, as above, so below: in other words, bridging together the macro with the micro.
That is where I found Bereklauw to make the most sense. The commune was by no means an attempt to reject or even deconstruct society as we know it and how it functions – instead, it revels in self-fashioned laws taken from modern life. While it would be easy to reduce anyone who chooses to live there as a nutter, their way of life follows an approach not dissimilar to our own. They keep their doors closed when they’re in the bathroom, and they charge their phones at night. The police are unnecessary, courts of law have no reason to exist – Bereklauw’s rules are inherent in its people. What sets Bereklauw apart is that there is an unrelenting dedication to providing themselves the comforts that the modern world offered.
Bereklauw revels in self-fashioned laws taken from modern life.
When you build your world, you also have to find ways to maintain it. Bereklauw makes no grand claims on how that should be done. Instead they focus on what they would like their own world to be. The people that make up the commune have nothing in common and have wild differences, ranging from nationality and ethnicity to education and class, yet have all found each other based on the fact that they rejected the world they first came into. Many leave everything behind and head to Bereklauw in the hopes of a new life. Nothing binds them together besides their dismissal of the worlds they were thrown into, and the new world they built hand in hand.
Leaving Bereklauw is an experience in its own right: taking the same forest path, back onto the mud road at the outskirts of Leuven felt like I myself was entering into another world. A truly intuitive experience: it felt right on all sides. The safety of modern civilization is ever-present in Bereklauw. Residents have iPhones, but charge them with solar panels. They wear Nike shoes; they’re just worn out. I had no fear of anyone chopping off my limbs to eat, nor the inclination to run away as fast as I could. With that Bereklauw reflected a sense of optimism that could lead by example. A belief that we can indeed get along, with each other and with the world around us – it just requires team effort.
The world is in a harsh state. Cities are loud and full of cars that stab at the environment with every rev of the engine, and often, the way we as humans organise ourselves is destructive and foolish. It’s common courtesy to insult the state of things now. Bereklauw instead rebels against all of the miseries of modern living, but revels in the progress it brings with it. They rely on an understanding of a more authentic human life, using the systems provided by modernity as a way to subvert its message of alienation and mechanicity.