In his previous life, Michel vom Berch was a police officer, then an administrative official and later a business owner with over 100 employees.
Today, the 65-year-old is a Druid.
"I think of myself as a herbalist and mushroom expert," says the German man with long white hair and beard. "I'm not a pharmacist nor an alternative practitioner," he says, though vom Berch does know how to mix together some 30 tinctures, elixirs and drinkable potions.
He doesn't sell these wares, which might consist of chopped walnuts, mistletoe, mugwort and St John's wort, for example, and take weeks to prepare in glass demijohns. Family members, friends and participants in the Druid's forest explorations can, however, get a taste of them.
For the time being, vom Berch usually roams the Vogler hills in central Germany by himself, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic. The mixed beech forest begins just a few metres from his wooden house, in which he lives with his wife and eldest granddaughter.
Vom Berch always carries a set of horns to dig up roots; a botanical box to hold the buds, cones and fruit he collects; and a small sickle – though "it's not golden like Miraculix's", according to the Druid, referring to the medicine man character from the Asterix comics.
Vom Berch sees himself as a modern Druid. "I don't have a white steed, but instead an SUV," he says. His library holds more than 900 reference books, with everything from antiquarian encyclopaedias to his own notes. He researches the effects of certain plants online.
"For centuries, coltsfoot was recommended for coughs because it loosens phlegm. These days we also know that it attacks the liver; that's why I prefer to use ivy," explains the Druid.
Vom Berch is also active on Facebook and Instagram, and has several cooking videos up on YouTube. He's currently preparing to collect wild garlic and goutweed to make pesto, and fir tips for a jelly.
And in addition to his online activities, vom Berch also offers wedding ceremonies in the Celtic fashion, known as handfasting.
A Druid was a priest, magician or soothsayer in the Celtic religion.
But those using his services aren't necessarily fans of the Middle Ages, fantasy or the Celts. "There are a lot of people who want a ceremony but have nothing to do with the church," explains the Druid.
Like the Celts, he doesn't believe in a thunder or sun god, though he does believe in the power of the earth.
Neo-Druidism is especially widespread in Britain, where it's been recognised as a religion since 2010. In Germany, there are several associations, for example the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, which sees itself as a school for mysteries and nature spirituality.
The organisers of the association's courses, which so far have been completed by more than 3,500 people in German-speaking countries, explain that the idea is to build a strong relationship to nature.
Druids are freedom-givers and wisdom-seekers, they say, but any form of radicalism has no place in their order.
"Neo-Druidism tries to build on pre-Christian religious traditions," says Matthias Poehlmann, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the southern German state of Bavaria. According to Poehlmann, followers see this spirituality as a way of living close to nature.
"The rejection of a dogmatic religion and alienation from Christianity also plays a role in this," he says.
The neo-Druids belong to the neopaganism scene, which also includes Germanic Asatru groups and Wicca circles, explains Poehlmann.
"Michel vom Berch" is a self-chosen order name, but the Druid doesn't seek out others to meet up with and discuss his beliefs. He doesn't like spending time in clubs that think they're more important than they are, nor hierarchical structures. He's also really not interested in setting up a tent at some Renaissance festival.
The decision to radically change his life came after the accidental death of his youngest son, who was 21 years old at the time.
"It's the worst thing that can happen to a parent. You question the meaning of everything," he says. A heart attack also slowed down vom Berch.
He parted ways with his businesses, including a property management company, a commercial cleaning business and a mobile dog salon.
"I live much more intensely," says vom Berch. "It's not an art form, but rather it's the way that I would like to live," he explains.
Even as a child in the Harz mountains, at five years old, he felt drawn to the forest, he says. Vom Berch used to prefer exploring the woods with his uncle than playing football.
But now he's accompanying his granddaughter in a different world.
Zoe-Pricilla, a budding car saleswoman, was a contestant on an American Idol-type show recently. "You can ask him anything," says the 19-year-old of her grandfather. "And he has a really big heart." – dpa