Kirchheim is no more. Well the Hessonian village is still there, but the SeePark Hotel has filed insolvency papers. After twenty-four years of hosting Rigpa winter retreats it’s finally gone bust. Part of me feels I should summon some kind of regret or nostalgia for the place, but I can’t. The best I can say for Kirchheim is that it was the one retreat where I could count on having my own bathroom—a big thing for a sociopath like myself. Noone in their right mind could possibly regret much else.
Was there anything good about Kirchheim? Well, yes, of course. The teachings Sogyal Rinpoche gave were the point, not the physical conditions. 1998 was a very good year, I felt. Sogyal Rinpoche taught on Vajrasattva extremely thoroughly, and I’m a big fan of that practice (he was teaching the visualization in the photograph below). Many other Rinpoches visited too, although my rusty mind has failed to come up with a categorical list.
But practically speaking, Seepark never really made it into the 21st century. It barely made it past the 70s. Most years I had to strip off the plastic sheet on the bed before I got in because it was so thick and sweat-inducing, and made peculiar noises when you turned over. Who can forget the inevitable Kirchheim dreaded lurgy that would change shape each year, strike down at least half the retreat participants then linger until the spring.
And then there was the restaurant. But maybe, like me, you haven’t had breakfast yet, so perhaps you don’t need details about the plastic vegetables and processed cheese and the glutenous mulch that passed for ‘local dishes’. I clearly remember Ruth Seehausen prodding such a creation with a fork, then pushing the plate away, saying, “I never eat food I can’t positively identify.” A sensible girl, our Ruth.
The first time I went there was in 1986, the first ever Kirchheim retreat, a month after Phil and I got married. We’d met Sogyal Rinpoche in London and helped him with his packing. Rinpoche then gave me the key to his suitcase to take care of (some kind of test…) which I ostentatiously placed in a zipped pocket in my red filofax before his very eyes, and those of my new husband. Once we arrived in Kirchheim, having lost Phil’s wallet with all our money in it (a difficult feat to achieve in super-honest, super-rich Germany, especially back then) the key was no longer in the zipped pocket. Rinpoche didn’t seem surprised. I was mortified… was it a sign?