Stephan Wolf. Translated by D. LanghoffJulian Beekmann

A journey into a different world

Photographer Timo Heiny has created a unique world inside an old mill business in the Southern Palatinate town of Westheim: an ethnologic and a photographic collection and a factory for local products nestled in an exotic parkland.

Timo Heiny sits on his old wooden bench in the large garden—his favourite spot. He glances over the renaturalised Queich, a minor Rhine tributary that emanates from the Southern Palatinate mountains. “The idea is that one day salmons will jump up this fish ladder as they migrate to their spawning grounds,” says photographer Heiny, who started to wrest the terrain stretching several hectares behind the historical mill estate from the surrounding woods five years ago. “There was only undergrowth and damaged trees here and wild pigs roamed through the country,” he remembers. Hard to imagine given its appearance today. The estate near Westheim/Palatinate has become a contemplative oasis—even though the ten peacocks that now reside here can make quite some noise.

 

Ein einzigartiges Ensemble in der Südpfalz: das Hofgut Holzmühle

The park-like ensemble has three gardens whose creation required 1,200 tons of rock and the importation of earthworms from England to break up the soil. The gardens are devoted to the world religions. An angel is located above the entrance to the Christian monastery garden with all its herbs and plants. Moorish steles decorate the Islamic garden and its cypresses and Magnolias. Countless Buddha statues stand in the Asian garden.

 

They were brought here from a number of trips to Bali, Indonesia and Africa. “The estate is my home and the most beautiful place in the world. This is why we have opened it to the public. There are guided tours every Saturday. Our café invites our guests to relax, in our ‘Mehlmanufaktur’ factory we offer chutneys, conserves and flour, and you can stay overnight in one of the two guestrooms that we have established in our former remises.”

 

 

The driving force behind this creative impact is photography. Heiny has made photographic portraits of the native inhabitants of Africa for many years. In October 1989, 17-year-old Heiny visited Africa for the first time and he was immediately captivated. “In my childhood, I always dreamt of Africa, and I think my first word was elephant.” In the past 20 years, he has travelled along Omo River in Ethiopia, across Lake Turkana and Tsavo National Park in Kenya through to the coast of the Indian Ocean. He visited all of the local tribes some of which live very isolated; he lived with the Samburu, Turkana, Rendille, Pokot, Mursi, Daasanach, Karo, Hamar, Orma and many other peoples in the East African Rift. “I know that for them I was always an outsider, but they accepted me.” The Samburu called him ‘L Thumogi’ meaning ‘He who comes from a foreign country and became a friend’.

Heiny documented these encounters in the German-English picture book ‘My Africa,’ published by Edition Panorama, a Mannheim publisher. Many of the photographs are now exhibited as large-format prints in the collection presented in the mill estate. Native Africans are portrayed there in the most natural way—as intensely as it can only be done when the photographer was able to establish trust. “I lived with them, adapted to their community as much as I could as a Caucasian.” His most recent destination was South Sudan, a country that is only about to recover from 40 years of civil war. Authorities had warned him of the risks. Heiny went there anyway and was the first German in 40 years to photograph the local Mundari people. “They are 2 metres tall and naked and live entirely unspoilt.” In his pictures, Heiny wants to capture ancient lifestyles that soon may disappear forever. His black-and-white photographs are not of the sort that displays engineered exoticism for tourists. “I got my inspiration from wildlife artist Peter Beard’s Africa photography and from the early Africa photographs by Leni Riefenstahl. Through my photography, I want to show the dignity and pride characteristic of these East African peoples.” His pictures are a contemporary document—many of these ancient cultures will be swallowed by the whirl of our industrialized world.

Timo Heiny has lived more than 25 years with his partner Bernd Louis in the ‘Hofgut Holzmühle.’ The family estate was built in 1481 in the ‘Queichtalwald’ woods between the towns of Westheim and Bellheim. The mill has been owned by the family for over 250 years, but then production became unprofitable and Bernd Louis sold the firm. “We have kept the estate and we have developed it further every year.” Spirituality is virtually tangible in a space that was once reserved for flour grinding. An enormous Buddha statue sits enthroned at the head of the bright room. “We discovered the 7.5 ton Buddha Maitreya in Java and we were fortunate to have it shipped to Germany,” Heiny recalls the scene. Some Tibetan monks heard of the story and travelled to Westheim to bless the site. Today, yoga workshops take place here regularly. Apart from the photography, Heiny and Louis put up an ethnologic collection in the estate—an entire room is devoted to the people from Papua New Guinea. And never is the exhibition voyeuristic in any way, it merely expresses deep respect for the people leading a life that is very different from that of the people in the West.