It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of Berlin for a long time. (That didn’t happen until after I moved here, but that’s a different story.) So far, that was mostly for personal reasons: I moved here to study, I have friends here, the city is interesting and quality of life is fantastic – that is, if you like the run-down, alternative charm and everything-goes attitude of Berlin.
Besides, Berlin is a city of layer upon layer – of history, of social issues, of politics, of subcultures. Economically Berlin has been a wrack for ages – largely because of the separation and its effects that you can still feel today even though the Wall has been gone for 20 years: This is, after all, a city where “real” (read: brick and mortar) industries hardly had a chance. So even today, the biggest sectors besides tourism are politics and media.
More recently, though, another layer has been been added, and another sector is emerging, and strongly. Tech startups. While it has become a bit of a running joke that if a web service exists, there is a German copy cat of it, Berlin has become a place where young entrepreneurs (both German and international) come to build their new companies. The reasons are manifold, but there is a common pattern: Relatively cheap rent, high quality of life, good nightlife and a laid-back atmosphere take a lot of the hassles away that you have to deal with in other places.
That’s worth something. Maybe even enough to put up with the iconic German bureaucracy.
As many of my friends work in this new startup environment I’ve been watching this space closely, and there’s fantastic energy there. Now the press is catching up, and so are VCs: Hardly a week without some article about Berlin as a new European startup hub, or news that this VC or that plan to open an office here. There are closed-door, intimate lunches and open networking meetups galore, parties, everything.
There are two sides to that coin, obviously. Yes, there is tremendous stuff going on right now, which is fantastic. But it also shows (painfully, I’m tempted to add) all the things that hadn’t been happening before. That said, the trend points to a good, healthy future as this ecosystem is emerging.
So when I read this announcement about an anti-copycat alliance of Berlin-based startups it made me smile. I had heard the conversations before, but it’s good to see this made explicit, and to see so many friends directly involved. This shows that there’s a common denominator, a common spirit that ties this scene together more strongly. They – we – are getting bolder here.
Can’t wait to see where we can take this.
Update: Derk Marseille, a Dutch journalist who has been working from our office on and off for a little while, has kicked off a neat new podcast to capture that spirit: Radio [email protected] – not to be confused with our after work drinkup #FatSIX.