The challenges of running an open house

Something Artur and I have been discussing a lot these past few weeks and months is how we can sustainably keep Datscha Fröhden (yes, we have a name now) running as an open house. While we love having a lot of guests, having so many (over 20 a month) means that our expenses are dramatically much higher than if it were a house for just the two of us.

We never planned to run such a house, it gradually just happened. Our initial idea was to buy a house with two friends of ours (a couple) and while we fell in love with the house and they did not, we made the difficult decision to go ahead and buy it on our own. It was a decision made on gut feeling; we felt if we didn’t take it, we would regret it.

The idea to renovate and do up the house on our own was quite a daunting one. We thought that perhaps once we took care of the basics to make the house liveable, we would eventually take in Workawayers or Woofers – that is, having someone come and work and help us (on these platforms, they are expected to work almost full time), in exchange for food and board. We never ended up registering and getting volunteers on these platforms as from the start, we always had either friends or acquaintances or friends of friends wanting to come and help, or just come and stay.

Friends ask to bring their friends, people ask to stay during the week even when we are not there. We have always said yes, as we never intended to keep this house as a house just for us. We want to share what we have with others. What we have come to notice is that sharing has turned too much into giving. We always make sure the house is well stocked, from coffee to vegetables to sauces, to toilet paper and shampoo. We bought a washing machine and a fridge to make things more comfortable not only for us, but for our guests.

We then began to think, how can we get other people to consider the costs and organisation that is involved with running a house like this? The showers, the heating, replacing things that people break. We wrote a sign and asked for a voluntary contribution from our guests – saying anything they donate would go towards the maintenance costs of the house, things such as the electricity and water, cleaning, groceries and internet. A few weekends went by and we checked the piggy bank. Noone left a cent. I must admit, I was very surprised and disappointed. I thought, ok, I understand if close friends would think it doesn’t apply to them, but then so did apparently friends of friends, people I had never met before.

We decided to rewrite the sign. We didn’t want it to come down to this, but we would have to write a sign with clear amounts. After much discussion, we decided that 3-6 euros was a fair cost. How did we come up with that price range? We thought three euros was still accessible for someone tight on cash (especially since we were providing not only a bed – you can’t even get a dorm bed in Berlin for less than 10 euros, as well as fresh food and home cooked meals), yet six euros was still a low price for those earning well. After a few weeks with this sign, we noticed that people either paid the bare minimum of three euros, or not at all.

I was once again surprised and disappointed. Everyone that has stayed at our house tells us they have such a good time. Why are people not willing to contribute to cover the cost of their stay? Perhaps it comes down to the general mindset that today’s society has. Everything is expected to be cheap or free. Geiz ist geil. Not many people stop to think, why is this t-shirt only five euros? Why is a whole roast chicken only one euro?

We don’t know yet what pricing scheme we will have- but we know we need to have one. We know other people that run open houses or ‘pay as you feel’ payment systems and they have also had similar issues. It seems like this is an ever evolving issue, and I hope that one day we can find a solution.





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