Phorms Campus Hamburg: Guardians of the fire

Reading tracks, making a fire, sleeping in a tepee – students from Phorms Campus Hamburg spent an exciting few days in nature during a project at the Elbe beach


Waves lap against the white sand on the Elbe beach in Hamburg. Four children hop and jump along the coast. “They’re actually reading animal tracks,” explains Boris Braun, a teacher at Phorms Campus Hamburg. Close to the beach, you can see the point of a tepee between the green treetops. This is the temporary home of 16 students from Phorms in Hamburg. Students in years five, six and seven at Phorms Campus Hamburg are camping in tepees at Elbe Camp for several days as part of a project called “Taking Care”. Their mission: to guard the fire in a tepee. “This return to nature allows the children to gain experience first-hand instead of just learning from books for a change,” says Boris Braun, passing a little clay to the group. The children now have to choose an animal track in the sand and cover it with clay. Just fifteen minutes later, 11-year-old Lili is proud to show off a dog paw print captured in the clay.

Guarding a fire is not as easy as it sounds when matches and lighters are forbidden to keep it going. “I had the first night shift, from 10 at night until 2 in the morning. To stop the fire from going out, we had to throw on more wood and blow into the flames,” says Lili. Under the supervision of a teacher, the children had to guard the fire in four-hour shifts.

In front of the tepee, a group gathers around a map. Music teacher Michael Beeghley gives a compass to Lucas, a student in year five. It’s time to go on an orient­ering hike. “I was a boy scout in the US, and I want to teach the kids how to read a map. Even though we have GPS almost everywhere nowadays, there are other ways to find out where you’re going,” explains Beeghley. The map is full of green, blue and black lines, and three locations are marked red with numbers. The children have to find these by themselves, getting their bearings in the forest using the compass and the map.

The four students examine the path with concentration written on their faces. They must be arriving at the first loca­tion any minute. And there it is: hanging on a branch behind a tree, a white Phorms sign with the number one on it. Now they have to master a small hill, climb over tree trunks and even leave the path – and after half an hour, the group has found all the clues and can use the map and compass again to locate the camp.

Around noon, the loud cry of a crow suddenly fills the air. “That’s our call to group-gather so that nobody gets lost,” explains Lucas from year five. There are two more activities in the afternoon.

“We’re dissecting a fish and painting forest spirits on a wall using materials from nature,” he says. But before that, the group sits down on wooden benches in the tepee. The students sing together to the rhythm of drums around the blazing fire. If everything goes well, it will burn bright for two more days. 

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