Connecting (With The) Outdoors
2016 has seen a considerable rise in organic foods, vegan lifestyles, raw materials and urban farming. What we seem to be longing for as a society is a movement “back to basics.” Our lives are so dictated by technology and consumerism that we suffer from a paradox of choice, an information overload. With all of the choices that are being made available to us – from the 20 taxi-booking apps on our phones to the 300 shops on Oxford Street – come countless decisions that need to be made on a daily basis. And quite frankly, it can be a little overwhelming. We’re spending way too much time making these choices and decisions and too little time doing what is actually important.
Studies prove that this abundance of choice can actually affect our well-being – leading to depression and feelings of loneliness. This is where Coconat comes in.
In the south of Potsdam, an hour train ride away from the city centre of Berlin, lies a small village on a mountain called Hagelberg. Tucked away at the foot of the hill is the historic manor house Klein Glien. A renovated country hotel, it is now being transformed into Coconat, a rustic workation retreat for digital nomads across Europe.
A few years ago, Julianne Becker and her partner had an idea. Inspired by their desire to get work done in the countryside, the team embarked on a mission to engage the creative community of Berlin with the more rural areas of Germany.
Driven by the revitalising qualities of nature and the proven effects it has on productivity, the duo set out to find the perfect location to install a workation retreat. Their aim was to provide workers with the right facilities to escape the city, engage with the stunning outdoors of rural Germany and harness the benefits within their individual projects.
Coconut was born. After their pilot project in Götzerberge, the two discovered Klein Glien and the puzzle was complete. Now, the team is working hard to prepare for their upcoming retreat in April – welcoming remote workers from all across Europe into their brand new coworking and coliving spaces.
Meet Julianne Becker
Filmmaker, event manager and Coconat’s founding mother.
Julianne spoke to the team at NOMAD about connecting with nature, how Coconat is helping workers increase their productivity, homemade jam and happy cows!
I think as much as I’m still interested in film and consider myself a filmmaker, I love doing many different things. I love that creative process of creating something new. We came up with the idea for Coconat a few years ago. When we first started thinking about it, nothing like it really existed. And now it’s popping up all over the place and we feel like we’ve hit something that’s resonating with a lot of people. When you meet new people from other places they’re like “Oh, it’s happening here too!” and it’s so cool to know that we are becoming a part of this rising trend.
The Guests of Coconat
Right now we’re focusing mostly on people who work in the creative industries and our main market focus is in Berlin. Through developing the project we got to know the whole digital nomad community and have really started engaging with them. By creative industries I mean anyone from startups to people working in agencies. On the more corporate side, we want people working in innovation teams or more creative, marketing departments. We’re also targeting academics and anyone doing research and writing. We can imagine those sort of people coming out here, they’re our main focus.
In terms of nationalities, I think it’s going to be 50-50 split of international people and Germans, depending on the season!
An All-Year-Round Affair
During winter no one really considers Europe as a place to go. The ‘traditional’ types of international nomads are always seeking the sun and warmer parts of the world.
But we plan to be open all the time. We did some market research and depending on the target group, there are people who would be looking for this sort of thing even in the winter time, which is great! From April onwards, we will have nice things ready for winter – a sauna and a gorgeous fireplace, to make it cozy inside. Plus the landscape is so beautiful that you can go for a nice walk no matter the weather and then come back and warm up by the fire!
Taking in the Outdoors
In the summer time in Berlin, everybody really wants to be out in nature. They want to go to the lakes, they want to go swimming. We saw it in ourselves, in the four of us, that when we got away, into a new atmosphere, we just had different inspirations. Suddenly, you’re speaking and you’re thinking in a different way. You have a meeting outside instead of in a meeting room and it just brings something new to the way that you think. You get inspiration from new experiences. When you’re stuck in the same sphere, it’s hard to think in an innovative way because you have nothing new coming to you. Whereas in nature, you go for a walk and you see a farmer going about his business and somehow it inspires you to add a new button to your app that you hadn’t thought about!
While it was mostly from our own feeling, there’s also research out there about walking in nature and green spaces and fresh air. It actually does have a positive effect on people in their brain, their brain chemistry and their general feelings of wellbeing. There is definite proof that being in nature does revitalise you.
Cultivating a Deeper Relationship with Nature
I used to work for one of the largest conservation organisations in the world. I am quite passionate about climate change and the effects of diet on everything. But we’re not being dogmatic at all about what we think. It’s just that when I create large scale events, for example, my decisions reflect my views on what people can do to protect the planet. That’s quite important to me, so it’s something we do at the retreat as well.
We are trying to shift the norm – we start with vegetarian meals and if you feel like you need to have the meat, you can have it. But, it will be from local, organically raised, happy cows. We actually have a farm nearby that we source from and people at the retreat will have access to it, so eating meat is possible!
Engaging the Local Community
Like most places in Europe, the rural areas are being drained of their population, especially of young people, so we’re trying to engage with the local community. We don’t want to be this alien entity where people from the city arrive but don’t ever see or meet the people of the area they’re coming into, which is very important to us!
We also want to be available as a coworking space for the people who live in the rural areas. In the far future we’re planning to have things like artist studios and a fab lab to engage everyone around. We want to become a sort of community centre.
Innovation and Experimentation
One of the projects we really hope we can make happen is experimenting using moss on the walls as a material for creating art. We will probably have COCONAT in huge letters on the wall, in moss. It’s a really cool process and I think it will have a really special feel when you walk in. It should feel like you entered into something that’s different than anything you’ve seen before.
Crowdsourcing Ideas for the Community, from the Community
Our co-cooking kitchen is actually something that the community has asked for! It’s basically a kitchen which is certified by the health department that can be used by anybody to make food items – for example jam that they can sell at the market! Whenever you’re doing any food preparation to sell in Germany, it has to be made in a certified kitchen. That’s why we’re making one available for anyone welcome to use. There are so many wild berries and elderflowers around and we go and collect things according to the season, so we can make syrups, jams and marmalades with the things we find! We also have an orchard with 18 fruit trees, so we’re planning events around that. We already have a group that’s very interested in making cider with the apples we have. I think we’re going to have a lot of interesting and different types of activities going on!
What I see from other places calling themselves workation retreats or promoting themselves as a place for digital nomads, is that they’re really exotic and usually related to the beach and the sun. But what we’re offering is something that’s actually very easy. You don’t need to buy a plane ticket, you just get on the next train and come to us. Changing your environment doesn’t have to involve travelling around the world, you can access something completely different than your norm very easily.
Don’t forget to take advantage of where you are, to leave the premises and get away from the desk. That’s something we’re very aware of in our programming and how we present the place. We don’t want people to have spent a week there without ever having walked outside the property. Also, get to know the people you’re there with! So far, we’ve done a few tests in other locations and there were no problems there. So we have to make sure we keep up the good work, so people meet each other and have a different type of work experience.
Even within our own team it’s very important that, when we’re focusing on Coconat-related work, we’re keeping track. We want to make sure we know how much time people are spending in front of their laptops. I know what it’s like to work too much and I want to encourage people to have a very healthy balance. Part of being productive is also making sure that you are taking care of yourself.