Made in Mannheim – for manufacturing
What once might have felt like a niche trend, has become a serious movement: All over Germany a new class of creatives is rediscovering craftsmanship, creating high-quality handmade products, in urban manufacturing shops. Honeycamp will become both a workspace and community for these crafty modern folk. Founders Joachim Walter and Claus Fischer call the principle „cocrafting”. We met for a talk on the incarnation of their idea – and how it is intended to help creative workers.
We’ve all heard about coworking. You guys are all about cocrafting. Tell us about that.
Joachim: We noticed that there are a lot of creative people out there, crafting very nice things, with great passion and attention to detail. Usually though they are very isolated and forced to function alone on the playing field. We want to create a new work culture to counteract this. Honeycamp is there to bring people together, that wish to create handmade products in community with others, and who see themselves as part of a community. Such a concept and offer does not yet exist in Germany.
So let’s get this straight: who exactly is going to work in Honeycamp?
Claus: In Honeycamp you will meet a coffee roaster, a shoemaker or the manager of a bicycle building company. These people work side by side, exchange themselves, and support each other – and if things work out, they might even cooperate creatively.
An upholsterer and a seamstress, for example, are designing and producing new products, such as handmade leather bags. A woodworker and metalworker can achieve more together. Such as creating unique concepts for kitchen furniture.
It has become clear how the community shows self-initiative to cooperate. How do you support networking?
Claus: This needs a little bit of an explanation. To give a better idea I would like to describe the architectural layout we have planned: Honeycamp will consist of two wooden buildings facing each other. Inside we will offer 62 studios and workshops, on two levels, each offering 110 square meters of workspace. The community will meet in the “Magazine”, as we call the coffee lounge, which will make up the heart of Honeycamp.
Joachim: The “Magazine” is a place for people to have breakfast, or to share their breaks. On specific evenings the whole community will come together here for special events and workshops, which will be great for networking.
And you two will become community managers?
Claus: (laughs) No. Though we will need someone for that. Their mission will be bringing together the honeycampers, to breathe life into the community and to organize the above mentioned events and workshops.
What is the perfect community to you?
Claus: Perfectly content! We want the honeycampers to be happy, so they can focus on their work. And we want everyone to support each other where necessary.
Joachim: And the mix must be right. It makes sense to have a woodworker as part of the community – but not twenty of them.
Claus: We are excited to see where everything goes – nobody has built up such a cocrafting community yet. We are already meeting with potential tenants, which will begin the community. We are aiming for a “bottom-up principle”, which means people make their own decisions on who they collaborate with. The community is meant to grow from the inside out.
Joachim: What is also interesting is that we are getting enquiries from fields we had never anticipated. For example from media and textile firms, or marketing and advertising agencies. Such impulses will act complementary to the field of craftsmanship, which is the core part of Honeycamp.
Claus: What we sadly don’t have in abundance is storage space. the two-storey studios and workshops offer ceiling heights of 4,8 meters. On the top levels we have a maximum ceiling height of 3,2 meters for offices and storage spaces.
Okay, so what anyone interested in becoming part of the community should bring along is: to work on-site during the week, to have an open mind for the community, and to bring with them a willingness to contribute …
Claus: … and to understand the concept. That is crucial! One has to want to be a part of the community and to understand that cooperation helps everyone make progress. Many people might have internalized this idea somewhere in life, but they must really become aware of the significance of it again.
Joachim: A major obstacle for some might be moving with their whole business, but our infrastructure will absorb many issues after the move. So it really is worth the trouble.
You guys could make a lot more income through standard projects. So what is your motivation?
Joachim: Don’t get us wrong … we aren’t just doing this for the greater good. Furthering the development of our brand is important for us, and the whole project is also very exciting to us. The market is constantly evolving. Certain fields of manufacturing are re-entering Germany, for example, as the individualization of these products is becoming more important. Here we can add real value with Honeycamp.
You don’t solely focus on founders though, correct?
Joachim: No. They are very welcome here, and we are planning on implementing a form of scholarship program for talented people, that fit our communities profile, but we also target established businesses. Through our approach we complement the citys startup ecosystem.
Let’s stick to the issue of “eco”. What are you doing in that area?
Joachim: We aim to become forerunners in the field of electromobility. Every tenant has an own charging point – which has already convinced one of them to buy an e-van. We are also looking into solar supply options to cover the majority of our power requirements. And finally, as a very special feature, we will have our own beehives. These will be managed by an apiarist. We want to give the bees in the city more space to live.
When are things planned to get going?
Claus: Things will take off in September! That is when the opening party is planned to happen.
How did the cooperation with the city of Mannheim work out?
Claus: We met with the business development office, who – especially the MWSP, the conversion-management – were very accommodating, despite the fact, that our concept is so new and unusual.
What told you that the time of cocrafting has arrived?
Joachim: We’ve been doing projects together for a while now, and we noticed a shift in the enquiries we received. Nobody asks for “200 square meters of office space”, or “a warehouse”. Nowadays people are looking for more flexible solutions. Though as most providers don’t offer leasing contracts under a 10-year runtime, there isn’t much available in these areas. We are aiming to close this gap. We wish to offer a high level of flexibility in several areas: All tenants can individually design their workspace and benefit from short leases.
Claus: The project relies on being extremely economical. We spent one and a half years taking the concept apart and reevaluating everything over and over. In the end we were able to massively reduce building costs. At the same time the construction is environmentally friendly, made of wood and has a very special flair!
A wooden construction is so affordable?
Claus: Sadly quite the opposite! It is a very expensive material for construction. Alternative materials would have cost us less. But the smell and the atmosphere are great, and the transformability is awesome: Hit a nail in the wall, take it back out, no big deal. There is nothing better when it comes to things like this.
What are your other plans for the future?
Claus: We want to scale the Honeycamp concept and bring it to other cities, as we are already getting requests. People have realize, that something is being created in Mannheim, that any classic investor wouldn’t back, as these people are all about creditworthiness and profitability.
Joachim: We’re on the lookout for cities like Mannheim, that have a vivid startup scene and a technical university. These places are ideal for a Honeycamp.
What is it about the Honeycamp concept, that fascinates you guys so much?
Joachim: What makes it so special is the fact, that we were shortly discussing feasibility, and are now offering 110 square meters for 760 Euros! Also the path from an idea to a product and a brand was very cool. By now people are approaching us because they want to be part of a community and admire our product, not because they need commercial space.
So the community is the key. How does this community feel?
Claus: Hard to explain, you should experience it. It’s all about the excitement of working creatively together with other people, doing and creating things one couldn’t ever do all by oneself. Everyone develops together. It really isn’t easy to communicate the idea. Finding out the best way to do so will be our mission in the coming months.
Interview: Paul Heesch / LA.MAG
Photos: Sebastian Weindel