Traditional archery isn’t exactly a trendy sport. At the same time, it’s a fun, outdoor activity that trains your senses and ability to focus. On top of that, it’s easy to get started with archery – especially with the support of the friendly team at ARTchers Lake.
Our visit begins at the car park at the old depot – in the most northerly part of the Berstein Lake area. A sign and a red traffic cone with an archery symbol point the way from there. Following a short walk, the trees give way to a meadow on the edge of a lake: we’ve arrived. A few wooden huts, a barbecue area, a shooting range with various targets and a jetty are the most visible indications of human activities in this idyllic setting. This is where the course for experienced and aspiring archers begins.
Archery with finesse
First of all, beginners get their equipment here: a bow with a suitable draw weight (from a comparably light 15 pounds to 35 lbs for experienced sportspeople), quivers, arrows and a protective glove. This is followed by the instructions. Besides safety rules and the general rules for the premises (dogs must be kept on a lead at all times!), archery itself naturally takes centre stage. How do you hold the handmade wooden equipment? How do you pull the arrow back, how do you aim for the target, when do you let go? In principle, the process is simple, but the devil is in the details. It’s not about brute strength here, but rather precision and finesse. And it’s about the ability to focus completely on the target without getting overambitious.
Hitting the bullseye by chance
Dirk Rößner, the founder of ARTchers Lake, discovered archery by chance. He heard a radio report about the then largely unknown sport in 1989, when he was a student of art education und art therapy. The combination of sporting activity and meditation appealed to him immediately. Rößner may have soon forgotten his initial euphoria had he not passed by a shop with traditional short and longbows a few days later in Ottersberg near Bremen, where he was living at the time. He soon became a keen archer, but had little interest in modern compound bows. ‘Why combine something so ancient as archery with something high-tech?,’ asks the 54-year-old from northern Germany. ‘If it’s all about efficiency, then you should just get a gun. But what interests me is that it is lightweight, sensual, simple.’
Archery to build character
The educator held his first archery and bow-making courses at Hankensbüttel Otter Centre. As part of a three-year project to help teenage immigrants become integrated into German life, he not only taught the youngsters how to shoot arrows towards a target, but also how you can experience the immediate success of concentration, put failures behind you, relax and gain more self-confidence. Special highlights for the teenagers included the wilderness camp and making their own bow. ‘The immigrants mixed with other teenagers in the groups. This let them come into contact with each other and reduced tension,’ says Rößner, and notes: ‘By the way, the ratio of girls to boys was around 50/50. Archery doesn’t actually have anything to do with physical strength.’
People like to listen to Rößner as he talks in his quiet, yet enthusiastic, manner about archery, the meditative elements, the short-term harmony. According to Rößner, traditional archery is a recognised form of therapy in the USA, where it is applied for ADHD, addiction, a lack of self-confidence and depression.
An ideal site at the edge of Bernstein Lake
Rößner ran his own course at a former munitions depot within a restricted military area for many years. This came to an end in 2014, when a hunter wanted to create his own private hunting ground there. The archery enthusiast didn’t have to look for a new site for long. Bernsteinsee Grundbesitz GmbH heard about his ambitions through the press and leased him a ten-hectare site, which was identified as ideal for outdoor sports in the development plan. Today, two courses await archers here, offering different levels of difficulty and various abstract targets and fake animals fashioned carefully from special foam.
‘Some people find it violent to shoot at foam shapes that look like animals,’ says Rößner. ‘I’d like to ask these critics whether they eat meat,’ says the vegetarian with a grin. Alongside native game, the targets also include unusual creatures such as a werewolf and a giant spider. Appropriately enough, many live role-players and medieval reenactors also frequent ARTchers Lake. However, most of the customers are families and couples.
‘The adults often think that they are doing the children a favour,’ says Rößner. ‘And then they have the most fun themselves.’
Up to 100 visitors visit the course on good days. Many become regulars, as there is always something new to discover: how do I shoot when it’s windy? Will I hit the foam beaver better this time than I did last time? What is it like shooting with a higher draw weight? Are there even more fat carps in the pond now? Are there any new figures on the course? And what does my companion think about archery?
Rößner’s team consists of three permanent members of staff and a broader workforce of 25 people who are involved in a variety of ways. Some of them supervise children’s birthday parties, corporate events or stag parties, others help out by serving as landscape gardeners or webmasters, creating the target figures or simply looking after the till on the weekend. For the team, it isn’t primarily about earning money. Even Rößner earns a larger proportion of his income not at the two sites at ARTchers Lake and ARTchers Park, but instead as an educational employee at a youth hostel. What counts here is having fun and creating something together. And it’s a sentiment that is soon carried over to the visitors, too.