Have you ever stopped to think about all the lives that your home has lived? This is the question that our recent conversation with Julianne Becker, Co-Owner & CEO of Coconat Coworking Retreat, triggered.
Tucked away at the edge of a tiny village in Postdam’s Mittlemark region lies the manor house, once home to farmers, now an open space for those looking to escape the city. Coconat, which stands for community and concentrated work in nature, has had many lives since being built in 1823, including as a Russian-occupied base, a local store, a shelter for Germans returning from occupied countries, a wedding venue and a handiwork training centre. So makes sense that it’s now meeting place and community for people from all walks of life.
“We wanted to build a creative environment where anything could happen,” Julianne tells us. “We’re not from the hotel or hospitality business, just a few people who believe in the power of nature for increasing productivity and creativity."
“Both me and my partner Janosch had been involved in the Berlin startup scene and harboured entrepreneurial ambitions, so when - over dinner - a friend sighed and wished for a space in the countryside he could work from for an extended period of time, we knew this was going to be our project! And, like with most entrepreneurial projects, the journey to where we are today was full of unexpected twists and turns, for instance, that I’d move to the countryside! I’ve always considered myself a city person.”
Coconat was first conceptualised in 2011, but didn’t open its doors until the end of 2017, because - as it turns out - finding the right property, one which is bright, has space to collaborate and space to focus, and is packed with positive energy, is hard. Julianne and Janosch spent weeks driving around Brandenburg hoping to stumble upon a castle which they could transform before turning to local mayors for help. “We presented our vision to mayors, many of whom loved the concept and endeavoured to help us find the right property. One young mayor even drove us around to visit lots of crazy spaces that might fit the brief.”
After a brief stint in a ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ of a building (traditional manor meets GDR) that (as it turns out…) could have caught fire at any moment and lots of frustration, Julianne and Janosch were approached by several people at Grüne Woche who told them about their now space. A few months, two additional co-founders and a lot of paint later, and the doors to Coconat opened.
Community is central to Coconat’s vision, and this is applicable to the guests and the village which they’re embedded in. “We know how important the local community is to not only ensure the success of a project like ours, but also to add extra colour and life. We host the Dorf Fest once a year, and the local firefighters house their fire engines on site!”
“Plus being connected to the community brings so many benefits to us. One of our neighbours hosts forest workshops, including wolf tracking and bird watching - he can do numerous bird calls and the birds actually come, it’s so amazing! Another neighbour runs our onsite cafe and created a community of artisans and makers; she now sells their products in the cafe.”
Guests can choose to stay in sleeping pods in the dorm, in yurts in the garden or in private rooms. “Having a choice is important for our guests, as we have a range of people staying. Our interior designer has created minimalist rooms that are all also completely individual, with little touches that nod to the Coconat way of life. The spaces are all constantly developing and evolving.” One of our favourite spaces is the dining room, with its high ceilings and view over the garden outside. “People come together through food, and therefore all meals are included in the concept. Our guests can come together three times a day to connect and swap ideas - lots of new projects have begun in our dining room!”
In fact, it’s not just the guests who connect to work on new initiatives. Coconat also runs Smart Village, a project in collaboration with the towns of Bad Belzig and Wiesenburg, to test digital tools in rural areas. “We want to give back and create communities that the people living there want and need. We’re launching a space for craftspeople, and plan on building a tiny-house development.”
But it’s not all work at Coconat, as sometimes the most productive thing you can do is to do nothing. And we could happily spend weeks here not working. There are dozens of walks that leave from the doorstep - our favourite (and Julianne’s favourite!) is the Kunstwanderweg, a 38km circular route with 28 sculptures and works of art dotted along the way. On-site, there’s a natural swimming pool, a yoga room and a sauna, as well as an expansive garden.
“The nature in this region is simply stunning: there are secret lakes, rolling hills and dense forest. I’d advise you to absorb as much of it as you can while you’re here, it’s not often you can’t hear manmade noise.” And - to maximise your nature immersion - Julianne suggests you cycle from Potsdam, where there’s a cycle trail through the forest to Coconat’s front door.
We’re definitely sold, aren’t you? See you there later this year!
Coconat Coworking Retreat is offering members of The Staycation Collection 25% off all stays in 2021. Find out how to claim the offer here.