A Love Letter to Betahaus

Everything about betahaus, the coworking space where I’ve worked for the past five weeks, shifted for me a few weeks ago when I saw Christoph Fahle arrive for his day at the office.

Christoph is one of the co-founders of betahaus and on the day in question I was sitting in the ground floor café here having my morning coffee when Christoph walked in the door, stopped, took off his jacket Mr. Rogers Neighbourhood-style, and hung it on the coat rack by the door.

At this moment my conception of betahaus changed from “hotel for working” to “office away from the office.”

Which is to say, to that point I’d been conceiving of betahaus as a place that I was renting a tiny desk-sized slice of; when I watched Christoph treat betahaus’s public spaces as one would, well, one’s office, that all changed, and I began to see betahaus not through microscope of my rented desk, but as a shared social space, less “hotel” and more “temporary home.”  You’d never hang your jacket by the front door of the Hilton; but, when you’re staying over for a few days at your friend’s place in Maui, you would.

But this is a love letter, not an essay, so let me tell you what I love about betahaus:

  • All the formal stuff just works: the signing up, the paying, the getting-of-keys, the learning about what desks you can sit on, is all efficiently and expertly handled. The learning curve is gentle and 15 minutes long, and everyone helpful and kind and welcoming.
  • The formal-informal mix is just right, and is based largely on the honour system. You buy your time – a day, a week, a month – and then you just come to work. There are no key-cards, sign-in sheets, or other measures to make sure you haven’t overstayed.
  • The working desks are simple slab-on-sawhorse, but configured at the right height for typing and have enough power points, good natural and artificial light, and not-perfect but just-adjustable-enough desk chairs.
  • The vibe, which is hard to quantify or describe, is just right. Take a couple of dozen unrelated people and put them at desks in a big room and I imagine that, were conditions different, all hell could break loose as everyone slowly annoyed each other to death with their phone-ringing, guffawing, loud-typing, noise-leaking-from-headphones habits. But for some reason this doesn’t happen: the work spaces don’t have the hushed nature of a library reading room, but neither to they have the unrestricted cacophony of a café. I really doubted whether I was going to be able to work effectively in a room with other people, but it turned out to not only not be a problem, but it turns out I actually prefer it.
  • The level of intraoffice trust is good: people go down to lunch and leave their laptops and desks as they would in a regular office. So you can relax. And not have to bundle up your workstation every time you go for a pee.
  • The café. This is the killer feature of betahaus: on the ground floor there is a large, comfortable café, open from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., serving good coffee, good croissants, and excellent freshly-prepared lunches. Longtime readers of my blog will know that I often get preoccupied and forget to eat lunch, to my productivity detriment; that never, ever happens here at betahaus, as tasty relief is two floors down. The café staff are universally excellent at what they do.
  • The wifi works. All the time. Wifi generally never works like this, so someone’s doing something right.
  • There’s a super-duper slices-and-dices printing, scanning, emailing Xerox super-device on the network. 2.5 cents a copy. I’ve used it for mailing labels, trains tickets, and to scan and email myself things. And the hardware guy who gets you set up is super-nice and knows his stuff.
  • Prinzessinnengarten, a community garden cum café cum event space is right next door. When the betahaus café doesn’t have enough quiet contemplation reserve, a trip over to the garden does it.
  • Modulor is 2 minutes away. I’ve sung the praises of this “creative supply” store before, but I can never sing too much: from pretend grass for architects models to any one of two dozen varieties of rulers you can buy anything there. And it’s close enough to be tantamount to betahaus’s in-house supply shop.
  • The location is just right: the U8 subway line is right next door, which connects betahaus to everything else in Berlin; within 10 minutes walks are more restaurants, coffee shops, and parks than you could ever hope to experience in a lifetime. For me the location was even better, as our apartment on Graefestrasse was an easy 15 minute walk along the canal away.

I happened to run into Christoph on my first day here, and then again in the elevator yesterday; both times we had a nice chat about how people like me – “digital nomads from away” – are part of why betahaus was created. And it’s working.

If you find yourself in Berlin needing a place to call office for a while, I can unreservedly recommend betahaus; it’s been an important part of why this summer in Berlin has been so pleasant.

(You can hear Christoph and others talk about betahaus and about co-working in general in People in Beta, an excellent video from KS12).