Last month I was lucky enough to check out the creative and digital scenes in Berlin as part of the Grand Tour. As a city with a gay mayor, in a country with a female chancellor and a polarising past, I knew I’d like it. I started researching before I landed and was soon surprised, not to mention rather excited, with the sheer volume of stuff happening. Unlike San Francisco, which tends to be a bit tech-community myopic – I found the beauty of Berlin lay in its diversity. You’ll find more artists, vintage store owners, local-movement foodies, late-20’s students and pop-up venue instigators than tech entrepreneurs. It almost reminded me of Melbourne but about five times less expensive. That’s right, you can find rooms as cheap as €200 per month so it’s definitely an attractive place to startup. Plus, you can always squat for free – it’s the Berlin way. ;) However, salaries are adjusted to the affordable cost of living. One of the sticking points of Berlin is the comparatively low remuneration – if you’re thinking about staying long-term, be prepared to be greeted with a salary of what’s often less than a graduate in Australia.
Something important to note is that German web workers are moving toward doing most business in English, so don’t be afraid if your speaking skills are non-existent. There were people I met who’d lived there for three or four years, and still couldn’t pull out more than a danke schön. Berliners are also really passionate about their craft and it won’t take you long to figure out if a product was founded in the city.
Now for some background reading…
First up, don’t think Germany is all Samwer-esque US clones – there’s a lot of progressive stuff happening and the German community is keen to embrace an “anti-copycat revolution”. One of the must-read posts, which is now a few months old, is Founders STAND UP! The anti-copycat revolution starts now.
It also features a neat visualisation of original startups and their HQs:
- This NYT piece Berlin Hopes Growing Tech Community Will Lift City’s Economy by Nikolas Kulish provides solid context and overview
- Mike Butcher from TechCrunch wrote a vibe-building piece with his The European Startup Summer Of Love – London, Berlin And Beyond post
- Then The Next Web posted about Why Berlin is home to a new generation of beautiful apps
There are also two local content offerings doing a stellar job of covering the community:
- Silicon Allee, which was started by a couple of expats has a frequently-updated blog and runs monthly meetups
- TechBerlin does a great job of curating news and Skype video interviews with founders
I ended up getting to my fair share of events. Hello Etsy was a special summit on small business and sustainability, and featured the best name tags ever. CoHackDay at coworking space co.up was a fun cross-discipline hack weekend. Hack and Tell was a nice insight into what’s being created, with monthly demo evenings. The social business innovation conference, CoThinkTank was a more-corporate style event and I particularly enjoyed hearing from frog design. Fatsix by Third Wave Berlin was a chilled weekly Friday drinks event and finally, Open Coffee Club was a #socialmelb-style coffee meetup but with more males and tech entrepreneurs! I also couldn’t help myself, I ended up coorganising something while there via kicking off Berlin Travel Massive.
- For a what’s on in tech perspective, the well-curated Startup Digest is worth viewing. You can check out archived emails online here
- For another point of call, Tobias Jordans just created a fantastic Google Plus update with comprehensive event listings
- We’re also looking to launch The Fetch Berlin later to represent the city’s breadth, so stay tuned
Where to cowork
When you hear the word ‘cowork’, think Berlin. Due to the low rents, less-stringent building regulations and mid-rise properties in abundance – there are countless places to work out of. The city is also home to the best online coworking publication going, Deskmag where the editors work out of the co.up space. They also created the useful Deskwanted, which is a marketplace for desk hunters and coworking spaces. Worth the view if you looking for something in one spot.
- For a well-rounded introduction, check out this post: Berlin – Europe’s coworking capital
- Don’t bother much with the coworking wiki as the info is outdated. For instance, there isn’t a Hub in Berlin
- St Oberholz, put simply, is the Red Rock Café of Europe! This double-storey, beautiful and relaxed venue is jam-packed full of power points, MacBooks and relatively-stable free WiFi. This month, they’re also expanding into a more formal coworking space on the upstairs levels and have a hilarious blog worth a look. If the net is playing up or you want somewhere quieter, I suggest heading over to Café Hilde.
- One of my favourite options was the multi-storey Betahaus. This place is coworking on steroids and features numerous spaces (like Jay’s Open Design City), events, upcomers and a cool cafe down the bottom. Just buy some mint tea and a bean burrito to enjoy the large light-filled venue and complimentary guest WiFi.
Where to stay
Like coworking, you won’t have a problem finding accommodation in Berlin. A quick Airbnb search will list many extremely affordable and hip options. I ended up staying at the super kind and friendly Ferdinand‘s place, which is only a few U-Bahn stops from Alexanderplatz (central).
You can also check out Airbnb-clone Wimdu for more listings.
In Berlin, gentrification is an ugly word so there are locations to stay in and there are locations to stay in. I’m trying to keep up with what’s what but let me just say, Berliners are pretty evangelical toward their suburb and prefer not to travel across town. If I have it right, Prenzlauer Berg was the place before it became baby town. So now it’s Kreuzberg, which is likely to be replaced by Neukölln. But alas, it’s mostly fun and games – I can tell you most places will be cheaper, cooler and closer than you have at home.
Startups to meet, people to remember
While there are always so many people to see and startups to talk about, I’m going to keep this quite brief!
- SoundCloud are obviously killing it and must be seen as the success story of late from the Berlin community. Unfortunately Alex and I could never cross paths so I didn’t get to discover as much behind the scenes
- 6Wunderkinder has quickly established itself as a serious and precise player in the productivity market with Wunderlist (over two million downloads), and there’s more the come with the Wunderkit. Thanks to Jess and Javier for a great chat, and to Christian for having me along
- I’m really excited about Gidsy. While travelling, Mat and I constantly kept saying there should be a site for peer-to-peer local travel experiences. While Gidsy is broader in nature, be it an “authentic experience marketplace”, it’ll naturally cover travel and exploration. While it’s yet to launch, the way I think of it is as a Skillshare for everything (not just learning) and a less event-focused Meetup. I’m keen to see what Edial and the team do once launched
- The Ashton-backed Amen has also got tongue’s wagging both in it’s private beta and now post-launch. Describing it via a blog post doesn’t really do it justice but it’s basically a platform for voicing strong opinions – including “the best and worst of everything”. Interestingly, Twitter’s first engineer is one of the founders. Aussie web guru Tim Lucas is also on the team as a lead developer after recently making the switch from Sydney. We really enjoyed hanging out with him and the lovely Carla during our stay! Thanks guys
- OK, so you all know how much I love and bang on about Instagram. The only problem is it’s just available on the iPhone. Enter EyeEm – a photo capturing app that’s also Android base. Furthermore, Florian and the team have added a beautiful interface and additional social tools
- For the social entrepreneurs among us, I also met Daniel from Doonited. This site encourages its users to do one small good deed a day. It seems there’s a new site every minute aiming to change the world through social but these guys are executing well
- Another startup worth a look is social-reading platform Readmill. I gave my iPad to my mum so won’t be able to use the app for now, but from what I’ve seen so far – the experience is amazing
- A big mention to Dominik and Simon Wind of Palomar5 and Until We See New Land fame. These guys were so welcoming, kind, aware, intelligent and more – it was great to spend time with you! Be sure to say hello
- Another mention to the lovely, smiling and social Svenja from Yelp Berlin – the person to know for eat/drink recommendations
- And to Duana from ThoughtWorks for hosting us and watching me relive teenage years by playing too much Zelda
Away from it all
Now finally, if you want to get out of the city and switch off – here are three non-web activities:
- Tempelhof: this airport closed in 2008 and has since managed to turn itself into a massive community urban garden with more planned. If you want to get the feeling of pure open space only minutes from the city centre, this is it. You can even hire a Segway to ride around the tarmac or gasp as the sheer size of the Nazi-era terminal.
- Teufelsberg: this is one of the best non-tourist tourist things I’ve ever done. The abandoned post-Cold War US listening post features breathtaking view of the city, sweet-ass graffiti and scary shadows. We woke up at 5am on Mat’s birthday to catch the sunrise – I’d definitely recommend a visit although I’m not sure it’s technically permitted :)
- Potsdam: OK, so this recommendation is more mainstream but worth it nevertheless. Especially for someone who appreciates history and palatial architecture. Hire a bike and ride around for the day, admiring the stunning lakes and ostentatious properties along the way.
So, that’s about it for Berlin. Oh, I nearly forgot the most important thing – don’t forget to eat lots of scrumptious German bread!
Apologies in advance if there’s anything or anyone I’ve missed. This post is a bit of a WIP and will likely be updated.
Would love you feedback on the usefulness of this as an introductory guide to Berlin too. Email me or leave a comment.