The Amaryllis multi-generational living scheme

Multi-generation houses: several generations under one roof
© Getty Images/eclipse_images

Deliberately opting for community living

Germany has fewer children than any other country in Europe, and demographic studies show that German households are steadily decreasing in size. Alternative living schemes give people an opportunity to live together in long-term, vibrant communities that extend beyond family ties. Silke Gross is one of the founders of the Amaryllis multi-generational living scheme: she has been living in this remarkable house for five years now.

Multi-generational living projects are currently cropping up in a number of cities and towns in Germany. They are designed for people who choose to live together in an active community with others. One such scheme is Amaryllis in Bonn. Silke Gross, one of its founders, talks about her reasons for joining Amaryllis and answers the question of whether or not this new trend is typically German. Incidentally, there is also a direct connection here with the Alumniportal Deutschland.

Multi-generational living scheme: this somewhat formidable term actually stands for a new way of living. In Germany, more and more people live alone or in very small family groups. More and more people are single parents, and fewer and fewer old people can live with their children. A number of people today are countering this trend, however, by choosing to live in communities of young and old, with families, single parents and singles, where people give and take support from others. These kinds of living schemes already exist in a number of towns and cities. Some of the schemes are owned by municipalities, while others are privately owned.


 in Bonn is one such initiative. The idea of having different generations live together arose in the mid-1990s. By 2007, the first of 30 apartments in three newly constructed buildings were ready for occupancy. Since then, 17 children under the age of 18, and 45 adults aged 26 to 85, have come to live there.

Co-initiators of the project are the married couple Silke Gross and Gerd Hönscheid-Gross. Incidentally, Gerd Hönscheid-Gross was not only co-founder of the multi-generational living scheme; he was also instrumental in developing the Alumniportal Deutschland concept: he served as project leader of this network for Germany Alumni for some years.


In the following interview, Silke Gross talks about her new home and whether this sort of scheme is likely to gain a following in other parts of the world as well.

Question: Mrs Gross, are multi-generational living schemes a typically German phenomenon?

Silke Gross: No, not at all. The trailblazer for multi-generational living was Denmark, where the first projects were already in place at the start of the 1990s. The United States then copied the Danish idea and started its own projects, known as co-housing communities.

What might be called typically German is the political awareness of people choosing to adopt this way of living, because it obviously involves a conscious decision to commit to an alternative to the tradition of living with one's family. The need for community, for committed relationships with very different kinds of people, is not typically German at all; it can be observed in a number of industrialised countries with similar demographic developments.

Question: You lived with your family in Africa for several years. Do you think this influenced your decision in favour of the Amaryllis multi-generational living scheme?

Silke Gross: Indirectly perhaps. My husband and I had already had some experience with shared living arrangements before we went to Africa. Both of our daughters were born in Zimbabwe. We saw how closely large family groups lived together there and how it was taken for granted that the different generations should support one another.

Question: Do you think that Amaryllis might also serve as a model for developing and emerging countries?

Silke Gross: In countries with such strong family structures, people probably see less reason to move together with non-family members. Multi-generational living schemes are to be found mostly in urban agglomerations, and they tend to be more of a middle-class phenomenon in any case. Still, it is entirely possible that such projects could arise in the large cities of emerging countries in the foreseeable future.

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