This week I spent one night and two days at Coconat, a workation place in Bad Belzig, 1h30 away from Berlin. I’ve heard of the place a few months earlier when I was researching coworking and places for retreats in Brandenburg as I was brainstorming ideas of what to do with the farm my partner bought earlier this year in Herzberg (Elster).
About my stay
Finally, I was offered a short stay there for my birthday by my dear entrepreneur friend Irene – who was looking to try it as a place to do focus work and off we drove on a sunny autumn Wednesday morning. We arrived around lunch when the communal meal was being set up, did our covid self-tests, devoured our plates of gorgonzola-spinach pasta, and got a nice tour of the property by Adriano.
During my stay various area of Coconat were booked for corporate/institute workshops: the university of Dortmund, Global Diplomacy Lab, just to name a few. Through the connection of one of the American co-founders of the place, many American companies book the space for retreats.
We met Dr Kerstin Schulenburg during our communal lunch who told us about the community she is building close by, how they are using sociocracy and that she recruits interested parties through her website cohousing.de.
Later at dinner, we made a friend from Hamburg who was staying for “only 9 days” as she proceeded to explain that her roommate had been at Coconat since April. She introduced us to her interest in circular economy and recommended us to take the guided tour of the “Alpenhaus” of Beelitz Heilstaetten, an abandoned sanatorium now taken over by nature.
About the place
The place used to be a hotel for weddings(1), it has 4 buildings: the main building with several rooms for coworking (the library, the laboratory, the salon, the garden room, the cafe) and the sleeping rooms. Another closeby fully renovated building hosts the communal kitchen which closes on Saturday to be used as a pizzeria (they have an outdoor oven), a yoga space, and other local businesses like a massage room or a video editor studio. With an intention to integrate the local community with the visitors of the space, Coconat calls for local initiatives to add services to the place. Coconat also has a small sauna and a pond to swim in during the summer months, and a very large garden. Currently, the place can host about 60 people in 19 rooms (18 “private” family rooms – including four beds) and one dorm room). People can also camp outside (in summer) or come with a camper.
Two other buildings are a work-in-progress: one will host an additional dedicated co-working space and Fab Lab and the barn will be turned into a workshop for local handcraft (particularly woodwork apparently).
There is also an old S-Bahn wagon that will soon be turned into additional coworking space.
Spending time here allowed me to take a step back and connect the dots between several ideas that started floating in my mind recently:
- our farm project
- been introduce to the emerge podcast (which happened to have a conference in Berlin this month)
- reading “The Future We Choose” by Christina Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac
- the Klimatstreit / Fridays For Future in Berlin on Oct. 22
While I came here looking to experience the place as a cool-new thing to try, I’ll leave after a short 24h-experience feeling like Coconat is just the visible tip of the iceberg of a much bigger movement. This movement already going strong in Germany is well-represented by the Zukunftsorte network, but the trend is also picking up since COVID in many Western societies (thanks to the wider adoption of remote-work): living megalopolis cities and dynamizing the countryside.
I already loved Berlin because it feels so different from other capital cities like Paris, London, New York, Beijing… When I first step foot in Berlin I asked my friend if it was a holiday weekend because there was nobody in the street on a Saturday afternoon (and no it was not a holiday). Berlin is a city that feels breathable, community-oriented and very artsy. I believe a big contribution to this model is the german urban policy(2). Germany has several layers of polycentric urbanization: as a federation, each Lande (state) has their own capital, there are often not one large city in each state but a group of similar-size cities (Rhine-Ruhr cited as the best example hosting Cologne, Dusseldorf and Dortmund), and the city itself usually have several vibrant city centers (in Berlin we commonly say that people from a certain Kiez (area) never leave the Kiez).
Pushing this model of decentralization further why not see some of these large cities create several mini-hubs in the countryside? It would fit the description of ” The World We Must Create” (chapter 3 of The Future We Choose) and is an inspiring next step.
Other references about German urban policy (non-curated)