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 first to introduce this new concept of working in that area. In our interview, the cheerful urban dwelling entrepreneur from Rhineland Westphalia talks about how her initial concern about living in the countryside has turned into the most exceptional experience of her life and why shy thinks workation (work&vacation) is the future way of living.

As told to 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 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 a event organizer in Stuttgart, travelling 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 more than 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 image of an English neo-gothic manor, complete with little turrets, was burned down during the chaotic times at the end of World War Two.

But much of the original charm is kept in the other buildings on the estate, most obvious  a rather impressive house, which back then was home of the estate agent. Felicitas parents renovated the ruin  when they purchased the estate in 2006, to bring it back into the family’s possession. They also saved the old and nearly ruined distillery, a huge barn, a storage building  and a horse stable, as well as the old schoolhouse which is connected to a new-built extension.  The new extension holds the café as well as 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 tot he 14th Century.  Felicitas has used the old oak tree as her logo. In her work to bring it into the modern age, she has one major advantage that many other rural areas lack: a high-speed internet connection. That super-fast connection to the wider world brought her to the idea to open up the first Coworking space in this quiet, rural area of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

My friends

always call Damerow

„the happy place“.

I now live
the life of a hermit
with Lars,
but it is more 
adventurous 
than ever

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 on Mallorca instead? I personally had absolutely no connection to Damerow. All I could remember was the house of the former estate agent in its bad condition back then: overgrown, broken down, wild dogs had lived in it, so you can probably imagine what it looked like. It was so disgusting! My grandparent had died long before I could develop any interest in the place – so I had no positive memories to bring back to life. However, my job in Stuttgart was insanely stressful – working days and nights.

And because I am able to deal with difficult personalities I was often sent to work with the most demanding clients. I was burnt out and needed a break from it. At the same time, my parents asked me and my two sisters if one of us could imagine helping take care of the estate. Since my parents live in Krefeld, near Cologne and my sisters have their families and lives in London and Krefeld, I felt it was kind of obvious who would have to step forward.  As the single and most flexible sibling, the task would fall to me. When I came here, I felt very out of place – the darkness at night in the countryside is amazing and frightening at the same time and it can be quite lonesome 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.

Damerow - House of the estate manager

How did you spend your days in the beginning?

I had planned to realise one major project, which was to turn the former laundry house into a holiday home. It is a cute building and I thought, it would be perfect for a nice timeout. Opposite to it is the huge barn, which once served as, I think, a stable for cows. At the time, my entire family, meaning ALL of my relatives, were storing their furniture in there. I could hardly step into it, as it was absolutely cluttered. So I removed every piece of furniture and slowly sorted through them: the ones, which were completely out of date or broken went into the garbage, the other ones I used to decorate the holiday home.  Two days, after I had put the holiday 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 holiday house went on while I was back at my old workplace.  I was lucky to have a cleaner for it, who would take care of the place and look after the guests for me. But when she quit, I knew I had to make a decision: either quit Damerow or 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 the choice fell on Damerow. 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. 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 now partner, Lars, has moved here too, so I am in good company.

How do things work out so far?

Pretty okay, I think. I reopened the little café, which my parents opened in 2008. It is connected to a small museum, which tells the history of our family and the area. I never planned to bake cakes and be a host, but since no one else will do it, it’s up to me. But every time I meet a new guest, who tells me a story about their time here on the estate, it makes it worthwhile. It‘s like finding a new piece of a huge puzzle each week. I also tried out pop-up-dinner events, together with a local chef, people loved it and it was great fun!

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 Germanys poorest regions?

You know, I have come to appreciate the stillness of this place. I would not have expected it, though. I like very much, when people are crammed together in a room and there is lots of laughter. But I also know how much peace and quiet you need when you want to get an important project done and I think places like Damerow offer that with a quiet surrounding and hardly any distraction. 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 oatmilk, too, if you want. In the near future people will work in jobs, which need nothing more than high-speed Internet. We might be even more effective if we focus 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 have friends here for a chat. I get more and more inquiries from companies in the city, who want to send their employees on a creative time out and the pandemic has shown that we are quite capable to adopt this approach permanently.

How do you reflect over your own transion?

You know this place touches me like I never expected it would, I never felt so connected like I do with Damerow and Mecklenburg-Vorpomern. My friends always call Damerow „the happy place“, because you can easily slow down here. The more I dive into it, the more I am convinced that this is the right thing to do. I am curious about what the future will hold. The countryside will matter more in the future, people want more nature in their life and I can totally relate to that. This place transformed me tremendously, I am everything I never intend to be: I am not a host by nature, I am certainly no village girl. I used to party a lot. Now I live the life of a hermit with Lars – very quiet, but 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 who I can share this madness with – and that person is Lars. But the more I get to know all those other pioneers in the neighbouring villages, who do creative stuff just like me, the more I am confident, that somehow, we are in this together.