Saturday, 20 May 2017

Ab aufs Land: Coconat Workation Retreat

Last weekend, my writing group and I went on our first retreat - to the hamlet of Klein Glien, near Bad Belzig, one hour outside Berlin.
Shamefully, despite being in Berlin for nearly three years, this was the first time that I had explored Brandenburg (the state that surrounds the city). More specifically, we stayed at Coconat Workation Retreat, which had its official opening at the end of April.

It's set within a building that has changed hands many times over the years, but was most recently a hotel and restaurant. The grounds also have barns and are surrounded by fields and woods. The complex is one of just a few buildings around, with a few small neighbouring houses before the road trails off into the countryside.

Coconat was founded with the knowledge that in order to be productive - a loaded word these days - you need to be human. When you're in a creative sector, especially one where days are overwhelmingly spent in solitude, community is important. For that reason, everyone here is left to their own devices but still has the opportunity to get to know fellow guests a bit. The owners are also really friendly and hospitable, curious to know everyone's story. As well as the work rooms, there is a "pub" where you can have a drink, a "library" with a fireplace and some little nooks to sit in outside.

As for our group of five, there was no real agenda; we were all in general agreement that we needed this time out from Berlin and its distractions so we could get on with our writing projects, both private and professional. I really appreciated the peace and quiet. I felt more focused than ever.
I was able to confront my main problem with productivity: the fact that I have a zillion writing projects going on. There's my novel, then there are numerous personal essays, then there are reports I would like to write that are more time-sensitive... it's a lot. Then if you want these to go up anywhere, you need to pitch, which is an art in itself. It can be really hard not to internalise the idea that getting anything published is a miracle. It's easy to fall into that spiral - to think that your achievements to date were just a fluke.

In summary, I used the time to confront my demons (drafts), edit my novel (I recently finally settled on protagonist development that I feel good sticking with), research music magazines and going for walks.

Sometimes it felt charmingly like a school trip, with our group's shared bedroom - though no bunk beds! - and bathroom. There were set mealtimes, with breakfast from 8:30-10am, lunch at 1pm and dinner at 7pm. The hosts make exclusively vegetarian meals, using meat only upon special request. Saturday night dinner was a Syrian special from local volunteers: a chicken and rice dish for the meat-eaters and for me, a spicy rice salad with lots of hummus and bread. (Being one of the only two vegans staying there, I got hummus priority!)

To get there, we took the regional train to Bad Belzig, then a bus was arranged to pick us up from the station. On the way back, we accidentally took the wrong bus, but it was fine and we caught our train back to Berlin.

All in all, 24 hours weren't enough to really get stuck into one project, but then none of us had done something like this before so it was good to see what it was like first. I'd definitely like to come back over a bank holiday weekend! I tend to pick up inspiration for my writing in the city, but then I need the type of peace you get in the countryside to implement my ideas to the full.
That's not to mention time to see places of interest around Coconat which I didn't get around to this time. Hagelberg is the disputed highest elevation in the state of Brandenburg (erm, at 201m) and there is also the abandoned village of GroƟ Glien.

NB: I wasn't sponsored to write this; I just wanted to talk about my lovely weekend!