Goats and herbs: Germans get back to basics in deserted Bulgarian village

Wed Aug 12, 2015 10:38am EDT
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By Matthias Williams and Tsvetelia Tsolova

ODRINTSI, Bulgaria (Reuters) - A self-described shaman who discovered the healing powers of herbs while seeing visions on his sickbed; a former consultant for IBM who ditched PowerPoint presentations to drive across Africa and an artist from Luxembourg who is a qualified plumber.

They are among a group of 22 people newly settled in the crumbling village of Odrintsi in southeastern Bulgaria where they live without electricity, but with 230 goats.

They traveled in May to one of scores of villages in the Balkan country left empty as many Bulgarians migrate to richer parts of Europe. Before their arrival Odrintsi, in the Rhodope mountains near the Greek border, had a population of five.

The quiet appeals to Stefan Gumbrich, the pony-tailed consultant who quit his job in 2013 and left a girlfriend behind. He is "trying to slow down my brain that was always racing", he said, while goats were milked in a nearby pen.

The group originated in Germany when Juergen Hummes, a 57-year-old carpenter-turned-shaman from Moenchengladbach, gained a following for healing through spiritual counseling, meditation and administering herbs and mineral stones.

Having sold their possessions and pooled their money, he and some followers settled first in a former youth hostel in the Black Forest but found life in Germany too stifling. They moved to Togo in 2007 and built a hospital, taught orphans and offered healing and natural medicines to the locals.

But having given all they could to Africa, and with many of them laid low by tropical diseases, the group was ready to move on. Hummes decided on Odrintsi while meditating over a map bought via the Internet.

The group has acquired half a dozen ramshackle houses in the village, where years of rain and neglect have chewed away at the clay walls.   Continued...

Members of the group of 22 people, newly settled in the village of Odrintsi, Bulgaria, pose for a picture, August 10, 2015. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov