photos: Roger Sabaté.
Back in March, right before the lockdown, I had the opportunity to try out a new retreat concept that brought me to the countryside of Brandenburg to the charming Neuhausen castle.
I haven’t done any retreats so far, so I was curious about this invitation and happy to confirm. One of the key aspects was the digital detox element which meant that for the entire stay all guests had to give up on all of their electronic devices including smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, computers. Considering how attached I usually am to all of these and how I often feel almost enslaved by the connectivity they offer, I felt it was about time for me to try out something like this. It was a test on how strong my addiction to being connected and constantly checking my phone I actually am.
Be Retreats is a project by daughter-mother duo Laura and Kathrin from Berlin who found there to be a great need for stressed-out Berliners to get out of the city and get away from the habit of being glued to their phones. Apparently, we grab the phone on average 200 times and spent 7 hours consuming various types of media per day. That sounds like a lot, but it also sounds pretty realistic.
On their quest to find an escape from this digital addiction, they found a wonderful country house in Prignitz, Brandenburg, that became their location for the retreats. The retreats happen several times per year, the next available ones being in September, October, and November 2020. The backdrop of the charming Schloss Neuhausen offers an ideal scenario to pull your heads out of the digital world.
Doing this retreat back in March, right before the lockdown, turned out to be an unexpected blessing, because at that moment, we had no idea what the pandemic had in store for us, and later we were glad we had this to look back on during months of isolation. We also decided not to talk about Corona during the weekend, so we could catch our breath from all the drama that had already built up then.
The location was only a 2h train ride and a short shuttle trip away from Berlin. We arrived in the evening when it was already dark, so the place and surroundings remained a bit of a mystery until the next day. The accommodation was a transformed farmhouse on the premise of the castle. Everyone had their own spacious room with a bit of country house flair. It immediately felt cozy and peaceful, a place of perfect tranquility.
Right after our arrival, we had to give up our phones, which honestly felt a bit scary at first, but was quickly forgotten later. After a first introduction session, we enjoyed a home-cooked meal prepared by Kathrin and later discussed our expectations from the retreat and why we decided to sign up for it. Pretty quickly it became obvious how we all shared a common ground about the digital addictions we had, how we felt guilty for using our devices too much, and how we missed the times before smartphones inserted themselves into every real-life situation. The desire to regulate the use of digital devices was there for everyone, but in everyday life situations, it simply gets pushed into the subconscious.
Hours passed after we had handed over our phones, and we didn’t even realize how late it already was. Going to bed without checking our phones one last time or even scrolling mindlessly through all the feeds before falling asleep felt unusual, but ultimately good because for the first time in a long time I fell asleep immediately.
On the next day, we finally got to discover the premise and found our house to be surrounded by a cute pond, the castle, and a lovely park. After breakfast, we got a tour of the castle by the current owner and were able to hang out in the sun a bit. We took a walk in the park, taking portraits of each other, relaxed a bit by the pond, explored the little library of books in the house. There was also a special time-out room where you could retreat if you wanted to be alone. In a jar, there were little pieces of paper with little questions and notes to give you something to think about which I thought was a charming little detail.
The day went by smoothly, without anyone actually missing their phones or the information they would normally provide. It felt like a form of therapy to consciously free your mind and take a breath from your normal life.
As our evening meal, we got a real treat, something that I personally love: pancakes for dinner. It was such a call back to our childhood where we would get breakfast for dinner for special occasions. Afterward, we played a bunch of games, which I expected to be awkward because I’m not really into games, but it turned out to be quite entertaining and fun. Without being able to rely on your phone to fill empty moments your mind is challenged to always stay focused and engaged with the group – but not in an exhausting or challenging way, you just naturally do it. It was nice to realize that we are actually quite capable of filling an entire weekend with great conversations without ever having these empty moments that you want to fill by checking your phones.
On the next day, we did a little excursion to a nearby organic farm run by a kind young woman who was so caring and open-minded that it really gave you a new perspective on organic food and farming in general. We learned a lot there about keeping chicken, pigs, and cows that definitely had an impact on all of us in terms of how we shop for food.
Back at our retreat the moment came to receive our phones back and return to Berlin. Before we left we talked again in the group how it felt for us to spend these days without our devices and we all agreed it actually felt easy and natural to be without them. No one was in a hurry to finally check their messages again, it was in fact a bit of a downer to log back into the digital world.
During the following weeks, I really took some of the things to heart that I learned during our group talks, for instance not bringing the phone into the bedroom at night, turning off some notifications, not bringing the phone to dinner dates with friends, and loved ones. I thought of the retreat a lot during the lockdown, how it was a relief not to be bombarded with alarming information and feeling powerless about it. I thought a lot of people would benefit from some digital detox then, but even more, now that we already fell back into old patterns.
If you think you, alone or with your partner, group of friends, family or colleagues would need a break from the digital life, you should definitely consider Be Retreats. I was especially happy to find out that they also added yoga sessions to the program which makes a lot of sense if you want to find some more inner peace.
We want to thank Laura and Kathrin for inviting us to this retreat and for being such caring and kind hosts for the entire weekend. We felt like we were in such good hands, and I believe so will you.