A conversation about new work, self-determination and the power of heterotopia
There’s absolute silence in Berlin-Mitte. Not a car, smartphone or rolling suitcase to be heard. Ansgar Oberholz sits at the Alter Garnisonfriedhof where he is all too happy to enjoy the peace that the city so seldom offers him. He’s talking about what we call work.
For a long time, the culture of coworking, freelancing, and decentralized work was reserved solely for a young, urban scene who struggled to be taken seriously, all too often becoming the subject of ridicule when a business idea didn’t have the greatest of starts. Yet more and more companies are now trying to use these methods. They’ve realized that the needs of their employees are changing in a fundamental way. The sparse, open-plan office is no longer enough to allow people to do the work that’s demanded nowadays. Ansgar Oberholz, however, knows that beautified spaces are far from the ultimate end point. As a Berlin-based resident he observed this change from the outset and has since contributed to it. He’s not only the co-founder of the Café St. Oberholz at Rosenthaler Straße 72A, also home to coworking spaces, but also co-founder of the Institut für Neue Arbeit (Institute for New Work). As a consultant and mentor, he’s been offering his entrepreneurial experience to small and large companies alike.
St. Oberholz, like so many other polarizing places of Berlin, is either entered with conviction or avoided completely. The co-working cafe not only tells the story of the caffeinated bloggers who plan their big pitch suspended from digital test balloons, but as a hub for absolute contemporary cooperation. In his cafe, which opened in 2005, companies such as SoundCloud or HelloFresh were founded between espresso machines and charger cables; and books by authors such as Joachim Bessing and Holm Friebe were written here. The first cafe in Berlin for freelancers, founders, and journalists, who brought their laptops and smartphones with them, is a concept for success that cannot be dismissed. That’s because St. Oberholz as a place doesn’t just play a role in what’s happening around new forms of the work, but shows an affirmative perspective on the vision of how we’ll work in the future.
The question of how we can get as many people as possible to enjoy their work may well be Ansgar’s driving concept. It goes back to a story from his time as a teenager when he had to start a job on the assembly line to repay a large sum of money to his father. “I was shocked the first day at how slowly time can pass,” he says. “When my father quoted the phrase by the poet Khalil Gibran ‘work is love made visible’ after my first day of work, my shock was even greater.” Since then, Ansgar has questioned the very meaning of work.