Workation at Manor Damerow
Spice up your Home office Routine
...in the Setting of a Rural Coworking Space
In Summer 2019, Felicitas Gobbers opened a Coworking Space in a village in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. She was the pioneer in introducing this novel way of working in that area. In our interview, the cheerful urban-dwelling entrepreneur from Rhineland-Westphalia discusses how her initial concern about living in the countryside has turned into the most exceptional experience of her life and why she believes workation (work + vacation) is the future way of living.
Interview by Annika Kiehn, March 2021
When Felicitas Gobbers first moved to Damerow in spring 2017, she had mixed feelings. “Until that day, my life was mainly spent in cities or on my beloved Mallorca. And suddenly, I found myself in a very rural part of Germany, stuck on an abandoned manor estate,” she recalls. Her plan was to take a sabbatical from her stressful job as an event organizer in Stuttgart, which required her to travel all over Germany to create major events. This isolated, small village seemed just the right choice to slow down and unwind. Before 1945, her ancestors, the aristocratic von Winterfeld family, had run the estate for over 400 years until they were forced to leave by the Soviet Army. Local lore has it that the manor, which was rebuilt in 1838 in the style of an English neo-gothic manor complete with small turrets, was burned down during the chaotic times at the end of World War Two.
I found myself stuck on an abandoned manor estate
And suddenly, I found myself in a very rural part of Germany, stuck on an abandoned manor estate. However, much of the original charm has been preserved in the other buildings on the estate, most obviously a rather impressive house that was the estate agent’s home back then. When Felicitas’s parents purchased the estate in 2006, they renovated the ruin to bring it back into the family’s possession. They also saved the old and nearly ruined distillery, a huge barn, a storage building, a horse stable, and the old schoolhouse that is connected to the newly built extension. The new extension houses the café and the Coworking space. Other bits of history include an old, gnarled oak tree in a nearby park and a fragment of a church built from large boulders estimated to date back to the 14th century. Felicitas has used the old oak tree as her logo. In her efforts to modernize it, she has one major advantage that many other rural areas lack: a high-speed internet connection. That super-fast connection to the wider world inspired her to open up the first Coworking space in this quiet, rural area of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Felicitas, do you remember your first encounter with the unknown life in the countryside?
When my parents bought the ruins of the estate, my first thought was, “Why not buy a finca in Mallorca instead?” Personally, I had no connection to Damerow. All I could remember was the former estate agent’s house in bad condition back then: overgrown, broken down, and home to wild dogs. So, you can probably imagine what it looked like. It was so disgusting! Besides, my grandparent had died long before I could develop an interest in the place, so I had no positive memories to bring back to life. However, my job in Stuttgart was insanely stressful—I worked days and nights.
So, as a result of my ability to deal with difficult personalities, I was frequently assigned to work with the most demanding clients. I was burned out and in desperate need of a break. At the same time, my parents asked my two sisters and me if we could imagine one of us helping take care of the estate. Given that my parents live in Krefeld, near Cologne, and my sisters have their own families and live in London and Krefeld, I felt it was fairly obvious who would have to step forward. As the single and most flexible sibling, the task would fall to me. When I first arrived, I felt completely out of place—the darkness of the countryside at night is amazing and frightening at the same time, and it can be quite lonely in such a big house. Luckily, I lived in the company of an older couple, who rented our flat upstairs and took care of the museum.
How did you spend your days in the beginning?
I had planned to realize one major project, which was to convert the former laundry house into a vacation home. It is a cute building, and I thought it would be perfect for a nice timeout. Opposite it is the huge barn that I believe was once used as a stable for cows. At the time, my entire family, ALL of my relatives, used to store their furniture there. I could barely get into it because it was so cluttered. So, I removed every piece of furniture and slowly sorted through them; the ones that were completely out of date or broken went into the garbage, while I used the other ones to decorate the vacation home. Two days after putting the vacation home on Airbnb, I received the first bookings. That gave me hope that things could work out here.
Did it convince you to stay at Damerow?
Not in the first place, though. I went back to Stuttgart, but then the same procedure began—long working hours, hardly any quality time for myself. The renting of the vacation house went on while I was back at my old workplace. I was lucky to have a cleaner who would care for the place and look after my guests. However, when she resigned, I realized I had to choose between Damerow and Stuttgart. Since, in the meantime, I had fallen in love with a handsome guy from Leipzig named Lars, my life had more or less shifted into the northern part of Germany. I realized that I could only be fully present in one place, and Damerow was the obvious choice. I felt a deep urge to take on the challenge of developing the home of my ancestors, no matter how shitty things were at times. However, I knew it would mean more to me in the end than a big career. So, I packed my stuff and moved to Damerow for good. Meanwhile, my new partner, Lars, has moved here too, so I am not alone.
It‘s like finding a new piece of a huge puzzle each week
How have things worked out so far?
Pretty okay, I think. I reopened the little café that my parents opened in 2008. It is connected to a small museum, which tells our family’s history and the area. I never planned to bake cakes and be a host, but it’s up to me since no one else will do it. However, each time I meet a new guest who tells me a story about their time here on the estate, it makes it all worthwhile. It‘s like finding a new piece of a huge puzzle each week. I also tried out pop-up dinner events in collaboration with a local chef; the response was overwhelmingly positive and great fun!
So, if you want to revive an abandoned manor estate with no manor, buildings falling down, and hardly any money, you have to be inventive. We sold the distillery and the storage building to an investor who has a similar view and wants to convert at least one of the buildings into a hotel. It is actually quite essential to have a place for people to stay overnight if you want to make a Coworking space work in the countryside.
You have to be inventive, if you want to revive an abandoned manor estate with no manor and buildings falling down and hardly any money. We sold the distillery and the storage building to an investor, who has a similar view as us, and who wants to turn at least one of buidlings into a Hotel. It is actually quite essential to have a place for people to stay overnight, if you want to make a Coworking space work in the countryside.
What is it like to run a Coworking space in one of Germany’s poorest regions?
I have come to appreciate the stillness of this place. I would not have expected it, though. I like it very much when people are crammed together in a room, and there is lots of laughter. However, I am aware of how much peace is required to complete a significant project, and I believe that places like Damerow provide this with their quiet surroundings and are devoid of distractions. I adopted the concept of Coworking from Stuttgart, and to me, it makes total sense to have such spaces in the countryside as well. I can make you an excellent caffé latte with oat milk, too, if you want. Moreover, in the near future, people will work in jobs that need nothing more than high-speed Internet. We might be even more effective if we focused more on a good work-life balance. Although I am busier than I ever was, I noticed that I like the working routine, which offers a nice break here and there, like picking up an eBay treasure or simply having friends here for a chat. Now, I am getting more and more inquiries from companies in the city interested in sending their employees on creative time outs, and the pandemic has demonstrated that we are quite capable of adopting this approach permanently.
My friends always call Damerow “the happy place”
How do you reflect on your own transition?
This place touches me in ways I never anticipated; I have never felt so connected as I do with Damerow and Mecklenburg-Vorpomern. My friends always call Damerow “the happy place” because one can easily slow down here. Besides, the more I delve into it, the more I am convinced that this is the right thing to do. However, I am curious about what the future will hold. The countryside will matter more in the future; people want more nature in their lives, which I completely understand. This place transformed me tremendously, and I am everything I never intended to be: I am not a host by nature and no village girl. I used to party a lot. Now, I am living the life of a hermit with Lars—very quiet; however, it is more adventurous than ever. No day equals the next, and all those old buildings have found a place in my heart. In the end, I need one person with whom I can share this madness—Lars. However, the more I get to know other pioneers in neighboring villages, who do creative stuff just like me, the more I am confident that somehow, we are all in this together.
Rittergut Damerow is a Co-Working-Café & a holiday home
Rittergut Damerow offers various possibilities for a perfect timeout:
The café opens Saturdays and Sundays from 2-5 p.m.
Rent a charming little cabin for 4 Persons: Airbnb
If you wish to volunteer and be part of the 400-year old history of the place, we kindly ask that you send us an email to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
A modern photo studio to rent, where you can work on your own creative project.
Photocredit of all pictures in this blogpost: Lars Schönherr
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