The idyllic village Flecken Zechlin is one of the oldest resorts in Mark Brandenburg. The name ‘Zechlin’ (Szichalin) is probably derived from the Slavic language and means “village by two lakes”. In historic times, the addition ‘Flecken’ signified that a village had certain town rights, such as the market law. Our listed Kossätenhof was built around 1890 and is harmoniously integrated into the 800-year-old village center. Today, new life has returned to the old farm.
What means ‘Kossäten’?
‘Kossäten‘, or cottars, lived in the Mark Brandenburg villages in addition to the ‘Hufners‘, free farmers who managed one or more oxgangs. While the ‘Hufners’ were a full member of the community of farmers, the ‘Kossäten’ had no rights to use the commons although they sometimes owned a little bit of own land. The ‘Kossäten’ were mostly of Slavic descent and had only small farms with little garden land, little livestock and maximum one horse. They were small farmers and also worked as agricultural laborers or as village craftsmen (blacksmith, shepherd, etc.) because their income as a farmer was not sufficient to make a living. They had to pay minimal taxes because of their low economic power, for example some money and a chicken. Today, one would probably describe them as part-time farmers.
A New Beginning
For a long time, we – that is Susanne and Marc Behm – have dreamed to move from the city to the country. Based in Cologne back then, we explored the surrounding area, but we found nothing that met our expectations. As an archaeologist, I had seen most regions in Germany. Sometime after my studies of archeology, I got a job at the department of preservation and care of field monuments in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, on the then under construction motorway A20. During the field visits, I realized that this sprawling and sparsely populated landscape with its many lakes would be the ideal region for us. Finally in August 1999 after a long search, we became the proud owners of the listed Kossätenhof consisting of a residential building, barn and three outbuildings (stables). We bought the farm from family Krüger, who lived in the house until then and who wanted to move into their newly built home. So, we eventually moved in right before Christmas 1999. It was a complete fresh start for us, also in relation to our work life. Marc began his new job in Berlin and had to commute daily. I gave up my job as an archaeologist and devoted myself now to the upbringing of our son Frederic, who was 7 months old at the time, and the restoration of the farm. We had no savings, so we started at zero.
House in August 1999
The Phases of Reconstruction
The farm has a self-contained four-sided farmyard comprising different type of buildings: house, former cow and horse stable, barn, former pigsty, pigeon house, chicken house and bakehouse. Only the house had been inhabited, with a large apartment on the ground floor and two vacation apartments on the top floor done up in GDR times. The outbuildings were more or less unused, except the chicken house. Initially, our restoration focused on the house. We moved into one of the vacation apartments on the top floor, while we renovated the ground floor apartment, which was supposed to become our future four walls. Here, we removed many layers of wallpaper, we coated the walls with clay plaster and painted them white, and we sanded and oiled the timber floor boards. By Easter 2000, we finally moved downstairs. By the beginning of the vacation season, we even managed to finish Apartment 1 on the ground floor, while we rented the apartments on the top floor in the original state. A year later, in April 2001, our second son Sven was born and the house became a lot more turbulent.
For the modernization of the apartments on the top floor and the renewal of the roof, we submitted a grant application. And we were lucky – the funding from the program “Holiday and Leisure in the Countryside” was approved. In the winter of 2002, we completely modernized apartment 2 and 3 and the house got a new, insulated roof. With the funding, we also renovated the bakehouse, built around 1900, in line with the guidelines for listed buildings. We also reconstructed the former chicken house, which now serves as our garden house where we serve breakfast and host seminars. As always the case with funding projects, time and financial resources were scarce. However, just in time for the summer season start in 2003, all three apartments were ready for rental, now rated with 4 stars. As our money and nerves were exhausted by then, we took a longer break from any renovation tasks.
Meanwhile, we started to design and compile the cottage garden. We built a 15 m long drywall made of boulders and planted old varieties of fruit and vegetables and an extensive collection of herbs. During the summer holidays, we started to offer baking courses using the restored historic bakehouse, which were always well attended. In the 2007 season, we opened our little farm shop, where we offer homemade goodies from herbs and berries grown in our cottage garden, homemade cakes and pies, as well as regional products from the immediate vicinity and a small assortment of organic products.
During our own family vacation in Schleswig-Holstein, we came up with the idea of converting the former cow stable into a so-called hay hotel, which became very busy in Germany at that time. So in 2010, we extended the Kossätenhof’s portfolio with a hay hotel, together with a sports and play barn with an integrated book café. In 2012, we modified the former pigeon house into a sauna.
The Final Building Phase
Until the season of 2015, we have used our private kitchen for supporting the operation of the farm shop and the café and also for the meal preparation as part of our fasting courses. A lot of activities took place in it: baking, cooking, kneading, mixing, washing, labeling jam jars and preserves and packing and labeling the organic vegetables boxes each week. Similarly, our private study became more and more crammed with file folders and “paperwork” – the bureaucracy took over. As the number of our guests has been growing steadily and we had four employees by then, the kitchen and study burst at the seams. Plus, our family had barely any privacy. In order to defuse this uncomfortable situation, we then decided to start building a communal kitchen, a small reception area and an office in the building next to the farm shop (in the former pigsty) in winter 2014/2015. This final construction project was completed in June 2015.