Mokrin, located in north-east Serbia near the Romanian border, has always been a village with international ambitions. Historically an important centre of trade and transport, it once boasted a train stop on the Orient Express and was one of former Yugoslavia’s largest villages.
Now, Mokrin House, rural Serbia’s first co-living/co-working facility, wants to turn it into a global village as well.
Such spaces are still relatively new for Serbia and exist just in cities. Puzzled by what a Serbian village’s attractions would be for globetrotting programmers, social-media managers and other digital nomads, I decided to pay Mokrin a visit.
The tricky part is getting there. Despite Mokrin’s railway past, travel by car is the easiest option today (Mokrin House can arrange transport) – about two and a half hours from Belgrade, 90 minutes from Timisoara in Romania or three hours from the Hungarian capital, Budapest.
But the village’s relative isolation – its population stands at about 5,244 – is meant as part of Mokrin House’s appeal. Apart from its egg-tapping championship on Orthodox Easter and a February goose-fighting competition, there are not many distractions here. The nearest large town, Kikinda, is a 20-minute drive away.
That peace means productivity, project manager Ivan Brkljac claims (Listen to the interview with Ivan Brkljac in Serbian).
“You really focus on each other, and that brings a better and a stronger connection much, much quicker than you’d have in any other space,” he told co-working reviewer Charles Du in a YouTube interview.
Born in Novi Sad and educated in the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Spain, Brkljac decided on the concept of Mokrin House while working as a digital freelancer himself.
After hearing of spaces in Chang Mai, Thailand and Bali, Indonesia where remote workers could live, share ideas and work in comfort, the 20-something, former digital-marketing professional decided to use a cultural centre for tourists his father had set up in Mokrin to offer something similar in rural Serbia.
Inside Mokrin House’s sleek campus, designed by Belgrade-based studio AUTORI, roughly half a dozen minimalist, neutral-tone buildings frame a small, manicured lawn.
With space for up to 32 people at a time, its shared and private rooms, work spaces and large communal dining room are all equipped with a super-fast internet connection (100mb/s download, 20mb/s upload).
A month-long stay in a dorm room will set you back €993, a single room €1,835; three meals a day, workspace and events are included.
The other, somewhat paradoxical draw of Mokrin is that Serbia is neither an EU member nor part of the Schengen zone. Brkljac says that some of their guests are foreigners from non-EU countries who visit Mokrin after their permitted three-month, visa-free stay within the Schengen Area has ended. By doing so, they base themselves on the EU’s doorstep and avoid having to apply for visa extensions for the bloc, which they can re-enter after 90 days.
Yet for all the high-tech vibes and international crowd, the steady supply of homemade rakija and elderflower juice — and the howling wind from the Carpathian Mountains — leaves little doubt that you are in North Banat.
The facility itself can cater to most needs — from watching movies to washing clothes – but Mokrin House is still very much part of the village that surrounds it.
Most of its around 30 employees are local and it sources most foodstuffs and other products from within the area.
Throughout the summer, the garden functions as an open-air village cinema, and its events, which range from workshops to talks, are open to the public.
Guests, in turn, frequent Mokrin’s bars and participate in village traditions, like jumping over an open fire on Orthodox Palm Sunday or competing in a summertime tire-rolling championship. Bicycles can be taken to explore further. If rural life gets too much, there are also organised visits to Novi Sad and Belgrade.
Nevertheless, encouraging interactions between its global guests and local community is part of the compound’s calling.
As shown by the many abandoned houses which line its neat streets, Mokrin has lost almost a third of its population since the early 1950s, when it had about 8,000 residents. The lack of opportunities has meant younger residents often move to cities.
Brkljac, though, recalls one encounter between a village boy and a photographer from Iceland that led to the youngster eventually becoming a photographer himself.
“I saw it in his eyes that his world view just massively expanded . . .” Brkljac said of the boy.
This kind of dynamic is why Brkljac believes Mokrin House can revitalise its host village.
Companies already use its facilities for away-days and other corporate events. To handle larger crowds, the organisation is considering a scheme that would offer timeshare-style access to refurbished village houses.
It may be that the best days of this plucky community are still yet to come.
This post was originally published on Balkan Insight portal.