Village People: the digital nomads leaving Berlin for the countryside

Forget urbanisation. Does the future of work lie out in the sticks? Philipp Hentschel thinks so. For the past four years, he’s been luring his fellow digital nomads to the wilds of his native Brandenburg with the promise of fresh air, creative inspiration, new forms of cooperation – and lightning-fast wifi.


Rachel Glassberg


Will Jivcoff

The first thing you see are the zebus. Resembling miniature cows but with angular humps on their backs, they’re a curious lot, following your movements from behind the farmhouse fence as you walk towards the open gates of Hof Prädikow.

Inside, the sprawling estate appears straight out of a dystopian fairytale. Apple, walnut, and chestnut trees grow wild against crumbling red-brick buildings: the remains of barns, living quarters, a blacksmith’s, a bakery, and an industrial alcohol distillery. The trees enclose a lush, central courtyard dominated by a house-sized geodesic dome.

This, if the 35-year-old digital project manager Philipp is to be believed, is the future of Brandenburg.

'We’ll be up to 100 people who will find a lot of synergies and it’s going to be a very inspiring place where we all work together.'

Berliners love the rural region surrounding the German capital for its abundant lakes, leafy hiking trails and quaint villages. But as a place to live, Brandenburg’s reputation has long been dismal, marred by bleak winters, zero nightlife, and an ageing population with a right-leaning voting record.

That’s beginning to change. Fed up with the high rents and cramped quarters of the capital, forward-thinking Berliners are heading to the countryside, laptops in tow, and opening co-working spaces, studios, and workshops. And where you find these projects, you’ll usually find Philipp. A Brandenburg native himself (he grew up in the northeastern municipality of Eggersdorf), Philipp has the casual bearing and utopian vocabulary of a typical start-upper, but with a serious pragmatic streak. In his late teens, after an internship with a failed dot-com company, he decided he’d never be anyone’s employee again – and he never has. In 2010, when Philipp realised he was sick of going it alone, he founded a hybrid co-working space and freelancers’ collective. Eight years later, Welance has a multidisciplinary team and a prime location near Kotbusser Tor in Kreuzberg.

A few years ago, Philipp began to wonder: ‘What if there was something like Welance, but in my hometown?’ That was around the same time that he met Julianne Becker, an American communications consultant. She and her partner Janosch Dietrich had just come up with the idea for Coconat, a ‘workation retreat’ that would combine all the perks of a start-up office with the pleasures of the countryside, and were on the hunt for like-minded collaborators.

Not long afterwards, their four-person team began to scour Brandenburg for inspiration – and realised they were far from alone. Nestled in between sleepy villages and farms, they found workshops, studios, and experimental communes. One of the oldest, Gut Stolzenhagen, was founded by former East Berlin squatters in the late 1990s and now houses the arts centre Ponderosa. ‘We thought we were doing something new, but then we started to see all these other projects – and then we understood that Brandenburg was always full of creative people.’

In fact, Brandenburg has been an escape for Berlin’s artists, musicians and authors since ‘at least the 18th century,’ Philipp says. But it was only with the 2015 founding of Coconat – an amalgam of ‘community and concentrated work in nature’ – that the start-up crowd began to consider escaping to Brandenburg as a real possibility.

Bolstered by over 100 volunteers, the team fixed up an old estate near the historic spa town of Bad Belzig, fitting it out with desks, state-of-the-art conference rooms, a café, and a sauna. It’s now available for corporate retreats, overnight stays and month-long ‘co-living’ stints. ‘We don’t rent rooms to people who’re just cycling around, really on vacation,’ Philipp says. ‘People go there to work without the distraction of the city – and have some vacation on the side.’ The entire site, including the newly built permaculture garden, has wifi reception. ‘Funny side note: wifi in the country is the same speed as in the city, but since you don’t have to share the bandwidth with as many people, it’s super fast.’

Philipp’s vision for the countryside goes far beyond brief getaways at Coconat. Currently based in Friedrichshain, he’s planning a permanent move to Brandenburg with his girlfriend Susan Schulze and their young son Mateo – and they’re taking a whole cadre of Berliners with them.

That’s where the zebus come in. They’re owned by Ben Schaarwächter, an erstwhile Berliner who moved to the northeastern village of Prädikow five years ago. It was Schaarwächter and his partner Julia Paas who first thought of revitalising the 9.5-hectare Hof Prädikow, a 19th-century farm and manufacturing business that was once central to village life but, like so much else in Brandenburg, was abandoned following reunification.

'In the city, you no longer have the space to try something new. In Brandenburg it’s cheaper to fail.'

Enter Philipp, as well as the Berlin housing association Selbstbau and the non-profit Trias foundation, and Hof Prädikow is now a long-term, multi-million-euro project set to permanently change the village and, most likely, Brandenburg itself. In its finished form Hof Prädikow will encompass cooperative housing, offices, studios, a café, and a guesthouse, at minimum. Organic farming, 3D printing, and metallurgy are just a few of the other possibilities Philipp has in mind.

Through word of mouth and early PR, the team have found about 45 people who are willing to buy into the housing co-op, help with renovations, and contribute ideas. Joining the project takes money and trust. Selbstbau is still inspecting the buildings, and it could be years before anyone moves in. The group is, by Philipp’s admission, ‘quite homogenous: mostly German, between 35–45 years old. I do wish we were more diverse, but in a way it makes it easier to start because we all want the same thing. In the future we will integrate places for disabled and retired people.’

For Philipp, the communal aspect is a way to combat that most dreaded aspect of rural living: isolation. ‘My “romantic” vision of the countryside has never been me alone on a farm. It’s more like we’ll be up to 100 people and we’ll find a lot of synergies and it’s going to be a very inspiring place where we all work together,’ he says with a smile. ‘All the things we want to do require a lot of people, from running a guesthouse to building a shop. My idea is also that 40% of the buildings will be public. Different groups will come in and out, so I won’t always be surrounded by the same people – that’d be horrible!’

This desire for community led Philipp to found Stadt Land Work, a Meetup group designed to connect Berliners with existing countryside projects or start their own, as well as Kreativorte Brandenburg, a digital guide to Berlin’s new rural co-working scene. To research the latter, Philipp, Schulze, and their son recently piled into a camper bus for a four-week summer road trip around Brandenburg, documenting the results on their website and (naturally) Instagram.

The results are as varied as they are photogenic. There’s Verstehbahnhof, a 3D-printing workshop built into the Fürstenberg train station and run by former Wikileaks hacktivist Daniel Domscheit-Berg. There’s the Stechlin Institut, a bucolic resort near the crystal-clear Lake Stechlin that welcomes artists and non-profit initiatives for intensive brainstorming sessions. There’s Havelprater, a co-working space in an old church by the Havel river that offers accommodation and its own brand of coffee. And that’s not the end of it; there are 22 entries on the site so far, with a new one added every fortnight.

Philipp calls these Kreativorte (creative spaces), but most bear a marked difference to the hippy communes and artist residencies of yore. ‘With this current wave, the people are more pragmatic,’ says Philipp. ‘The city is getting more and more dense and expensive, so more and more people are considering moving to the countryside – and with the possibilities of remote work and digitalisation, it’s getting way easier to start something there.’

The draw, Philipp points out, is not only the fresh air. ‘It’s the space,’ he reflects. ‘In the city, you no longer have the space to try something new. [In Brandenburg,] it’s cheaper to fail. You don’t have to have a proper business model from day one.’

In his travels, Philipp has met many Brandenburg converts who supplement their digital work with endeavours that they would never have dared to try in Berlin: coffee roasting, organic gardening, arts and crafts. At Hof Prädikow, Philipp hopes to become one of them. ‘My personal dream would be cheesemaking, but I could also imagine being a part-time barista, meeting all kinds of people and sharing stories. I’ve never been good at woodworking, but maybe that’s going to happen – I’m excited to have these possibilities.’

'The city is getting more dense and expensive, so more people are considering moving to the countryside.'

As his cohorts continue to pour into Brandenburg, an obvious question arises: what about the people already living there?

‘It takes a lot of time to build trust,’ says Philipp. ‘The people in Brandenburg have seen so many people from Berlin who go there and, after one or two years, say, “Ah, it’s too dark in winter, I’m moving back to the city.” They’re sceptical for sure. But if you prove yourself, if you’re there for a couple years and you’re still supportive, then they welcome you with open arms.’

He admits that some people – namely, white Germans – might be welcomed more readily than others. ‘But the only thing we can do is go there, invite our friends, and show the people living there that the world is colourful and foreigners aren’t as bad as they thought.’

At Coconat, the team have always taken care to engage with the surrounding village of Klein Glien and the town of Bad Belzig. ‘Juliane [Becker] and her husband moved into the village a while ago,’ Philipp says. A handful of Bad Belzig residents now come to work at Coconat, as do residents from the nearby communes.

In spring 2018, Coconat’s presence helped Bad Belzig’s designation as a ‘smart village’ by the state of Brandenburg, and the town received an award to develop new technology meant for rural areas. (In a Tagesspiegel article, Becker’s husband Janosch Dietrich mentioned an e-health portal for elderly residents and digital optimisation of Bad Belzig’s irregular bus schedule). That’s all well and good, but can a move-in by the likes of Google be far behind?

‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure this will happen,’ sighs Philipp. ‘It happened with co-working – it started with a grassroots scene, and then we got all the big spaces. Now we have a grassroots scene in Brandenburg, and I wouldn’t be surprised if soon we get the bigger players.’

Gentrification may not pose the same threat to Brandenburg’s villages, where most residents own their homes, as it does to vulnerable renters in Berlin. But it’s still on Philipp’s mind. ‘In some cases, it’s actually good for the people living there: if they want to sell their property, they’ll get a good price because there’s a hotspot next to it. It’s different for the suburbs connected with the S-Bahn, where the prices are already rising like crazy. In the future, we might join with a research institute to have a look at this phenomenon. But right now, our focus is on building the community.’

Just one room at Hof Prädikow hints at what the estate will eventually become. The back of the old Schweizerhaus (farmers’ quarters) has been fitted with desks, printers and, as of recently, an internet connection. Rays of light filter in from the courtyard, falling on index cards tacked to bare walls – it’s the kind of look that co-working spaces in Berlin shell out thousands for. Paas is there now, working on Pampa, a ride-sharing app for the region that will, among other things, help cover the 10km distance between Prädikow and the nearest S-Bahn station.

Later in the day there’ll be a Dorffest, where villagers will mingle with future residents over coffee and cake, and then drinks. Because the barn that will someday house their apartment is currently occupied by hay bales and dust bunnies, Philipp and his family will sleep at Schulze’s parents’ house a few villages over – which isn’t far from Eggersdorf, Philipp’s hometown. When considering the dizzying range of options opened up by digital nomadism, it’s comforting to think that this, too, can be the future: settling down near your relatives and friends, raising a child with the help of a village, maybe learning how to make cheese.

‘If there was a project like this in every village – that’d be cool, wouldn’t it? I think that would be a good goal,’ Philipp smiles. From the way he says it, it’s clear that it’s not a matter of if, but when.

Find out more information about Hof Prädikow at

村庄人: 数码游牧者为了乡村离开柏林

忘了都市化,未来工作是否只需凭借记忆棒? 菲力普 ∙韩秋是这么认为的。最近四年来,他一直在说服数码同侪搬到他的家乡布兰登堡,在那保证有新鲜空气、激发创造力、崭新的合作方式,还有闪电般的WIFI速度。


Rachel Glassberg


Will Jivcoff

当你走到Hof Prädikow敞开的大门时,最先看见的是瘤牛。它们外形有如小型牛,背脊上长有突起来的角,它们非常好奇,打从你在农场围栏后面就开始跟前走后的。





那已开始改变了,受够了首都的高租金与狭小空间,前瞻性思维的柏林人正出走乡下,带着笔电、开设共同工作空间、工作室和工作坊。在这企划案的地方,你就会找到菲力普。本身是布兰登堡人 (在Eggersdorf东北行政区长大),菲力普随兴的态度、典型乌托邦式的开始创新者,却有着非常务实的特征。在他十几岁时,一次在某网际网络公司失败的实习经验,打从心里决定以后再也不要当人家的员工,他也如实办到了。2010年,菲力普再也受不了一人作业,他成立混合共同工作与集体自由工作者的空间。八年后,我们自由 (Welance) 在十字山区的Kottbusser Tor附近,拥有一支多学科团队。

几年前,菲力普开始纳闷: “如果在我的家乡,有像 “我们工作”(Welance) 的工作概念呢?”他刚好在那时认识了美国传播顾问朱利安∙贝克 (Julianne Becker)。她与另一半耶努∙黛德丽(Janosch Dietrich)正想出Coconat这个点子,这是一个工作度假之所,结合初创企业的所有优点与身处在乡村的乐趣,并正寻找理念相同的合作对象

不久后,他们的四人团队开始在布兰登堡找寻灵感,并意识到原来他们并非唯一。安顿在僻静的村庄和农场间,他们找到工作坊与实验公社。其中最古老的是Gut Stolzenhagen,90年代后期由前东柏林占居者所成立,现为Ponderosa艺术中心。 “我们以为做的是最新的,然后我们发展成其它的案子,我们才知道原来布兰登堡充满了许多创意人。 ”

菲力普说: 事实上,布兰登堡一直是柏林艺术人、音乐人或作家的逃离之地,“至少”从18世纪以来。 但2015年成立Coconat后,“本质上是小区和集合工作的结合。”初创企业者开始认真思考出走到布兰登堡的可能性。

团队有100多名的志愿者,在历史悠久的温泉小镇Bad Belzig附近修建了一处旧庄园,里头配有办公桌、最新科技的会议室、咖啡厅和桑拿室。现在开放给公司当休息的地方、可过夜或长达一个月的“公同生活”。 “我们不租给只是过来度假、骑自行车的旅人。”菲力普说: “人们到那里工作,免去了身处都市的分心,并享有度假感。”整个场地,包含新建的永久花园皆有WIFI。“有趣的是,在这的WIFI讯号跟都市一样强,因为你不需跟许多人同时分享频


菲利普对乡村的愿景远超过Coconat提供的短期度假企划案。目前他住在Friedrichshain,并打算与女友修苏珊(Susan Schulze) 还有他们的儿子马蒂 (Mateo)永久搬到布兰登堡,他们将带着大批柏林人一起。

这就是Zebus来的时候。由前柏林人施瓦班(Ben Schaarwächter) 五年前搬到Prädikow东北边的小村庄。施瓦班与他的同居人帕茱莉(Julia Paas) 最先想到去重振9.5公顷的 Hof Prädikow,一个曾为村落的生活中心19世纪的农场制造业,但它如同布兰登堡其它地方一样,德国统一后被遗弃。


菲力普与柏林住房协会Selbstbau和非营利组织Trias基金会,Hof Prädikow 开始了长期、价值百万欧元的企划案,旨在永久改变村落和布兰登堡本身。Hof Prädikow完成后至少将有合作住宅、办公室、工作室、咖啡厅和旅馆。菲力普也考虑如: 有机农场、3D打印技术和治金术这类可能性。

经口耳相传和早期的公关,团队发现约有45人认同住房共同企划,他们帮助翻修和贡献新点子。加入企划案需要金钱与信任感。Selbstbau 仍然在检查建筑物,也许要多年的时间才有人搬进去。菲力普认为这个团队“多数为35-45岁的德国人,相当有同构型,我希望更多样化,某种程度上更容易开始,因为我们的目标是相同的。未来,我们将整合名额提供给残疾人与退休人士。”

对飞利浦来说,共同的观点就是 对抗乡村生活中令人担忧的“孤立”。“我对乡村生活抱持‘浪漫’的态度,这不表示我独自一人在田地里喔。他笑着说,而是像至少有100多人,并产生许多协同效应,大家一同在这工作,将会是鼓舞人心的地方。 “我们想做的如,经营一间民宿到自己盖一间商店,这都需要许多人的协助。我的想法是至少40%以上的建筑必须是公家机构。不同族群会来来去去,所以我身边围绕的也不会是同样的人,感觉挺可怕的!”

为了打造小区的愿望促使菲力普认识“都市土地工作” (Stadt Land Work) 旨在连结柏林人与现有农村项目或自己创建项目的一个聚会小组。还有如 “创意之地布兰登堡”(Kreativorte Brandenburg) 虚拟介绍柏林最新的乡下共同工作场景。为了研究后者,飞利浦、苏和他们的儿子最近开始了布兰登堡为期4周夏季露营巴士公路之旅,结果纪录在他们的网页及Instagram。

结果跟照片一样多样,有Verstehbahnhof 一个盖在Domscheit-Berg 的3D打印作业坊,然后有Stechlin 机构,靠近如水晶清澈般Stechlin湖的一个田园风度假胜地,都欢迎艺术家或非营利项目前来做密集的集思广益研讨会。Havelpartner,在Havel河旁旧教堂内的共同工作空间,并提供住宿及它们自创品牌咖啡。这还不是全部,场地内已经有22个驻进机构,平均每两周会有新单位加入。

菲力普称之为创意空间,多数人与往昔的嬉皮人士或艺术家有显著的不同。 菲力普说:“当前的潮流是,人们更加务实。”“都市生活已越来越密集和昂贵,所以有更多的人们考虑搬到乡下,随着工作远程和数码化,在郊区做事变得更为容易。”

菲力普指出,不只是新鲜空气, 他说:“而是空间”。在都市里,已没有多余的空间去尝试新事物。在布兰登堡,就算失败了也不太花钱。“从第一日,你也不需有一个明确的业务模式。”

在菲利浦的旅途中,他碰到许多刚搬到布兰登堡的人,除了从事本身的数码工作外,他们还做了在柏林不敢去尝试的,如: 烘培咖啡、有机园艺、艺术和手工艺品。在Hof Prädikow,菲力普希望成为他们一员, “我个人的梦想是做奶酪,但我也能想象自己成为兼职咖啡师,可碰到各种人分享故事。我从来就不擅长木工,但也许我会开始学习,我对这些可能性感到很兴奋。”



菲力普说:“建立信任需要花点时间” ,“布兰登堡当地居民已见到许多柏林人过来待个一两年,然后说,嘿,这里的冬天太黑了,我还是搬回都市去。” “起先他们一定抱持怀疑的态度,但如果你证明自己,在那里待上好几年,并仍然支持村庄,他们绝对会打开真心欢迎你。”


Coconat团队总是与周围的村庄如Klein Gilen与Bad Belzig小镇保持联络。 菲力普说, “不久前茱莉安与她的丈夫搬到小村庄,现有少数Bad Belzig的居民与附近小区的居民都来Coconat工作。

2018年春季,因为Coconat的创立帮助Bad Belzig在布兰登堡州享有“智能村庄”的美誉,小镇也得到偏乡区域开发新科技的荣誉奖。 (每日镜报有篇文章,贝克的丈夫耶努∙黛德丽提到专为老龄人口的电子健康门户网页以及数字优化Bad Balzig不规则班次的公交车) 这些都很好,但是否会是下一个就会是有如谷哥大公司的迁入呢?



一间在Hof Prädikow的客房预告未来庄园会是甚么样子。在农夫宿舍后面安置书桌、打印机,最近还装设因特网。光线洒进了庭院,落在墙面上的指引牌。许多柏林初创公司会为了这幅画面而付大把银子。帕 (Paas)现正忙Pampa的工作,一个该地区乘车共享的应用程序,这将涵盖Prädikow 与邻近火车站之间10公里的距离。


菲力普笑着说:“假如每个村庄都有这样的案子,那真的挺酷的,不是吗? 我想那是好目标。”从他说话的语气,很显然主题不是“假如”,而是 “何时”。

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