Supported by Techspace

Why Berlin’s tech scene has the perfect balance of creativity & chaos

By Alex Wood 5 December 2017
Techspace Co-Founders David Galsworthy and Alex Rabarts

Discover cutting-edge innovation in Germany's capital.

Everyone knows someone who has moved to Berlin. Famed for its cheap prices and thriving party scene, the city has long been a haven for creative people looking for inspiration and affordable living.

It’s no surprise then, that many businesses are following suit. After 2016’s Brexit referendum, Berlin has been tipped to challenge London’s mantle as European startup capital, with claims that 100 businesses were considering moving to the German capital amid the uncertainty surrounding the future of the UK.

The message from Germany’s Free Democratic Party was clear (and, as was in fashion in 2016, written on the side of a vehicle): “Dear Startups, Keep Calm and Move to Berlin.”

In this uncertainty, Techspace, the leading co-working group for scale-up tech businesses, is seeking to bridge the gap between London and Berlin by pioneering a city-to-city partnership. It is attempting this, by launching an international branch in Kreuzberg, in the trendy east side of the city, offering over 3,000 square metres of space for over 450 tech workers.

The Techspace Kreuzberg office

To celebrate the launch of Techspace’s first international site, The Memo took a deep-dive into the scene in Berlin and asked some of the city’s key players what makes it one of the hottest places in Europe to start a business.

While the slogan may have been tongue-in-cheek, Berlin has a strong reputation as a home for startups, one which is only growing, and it’s a suggestion that many businesses may make good on in the coming years.

Alexander Baatz, co-founder of Kontist, a bank account for freelancers, says “Berlin is the whole package, it’s got the potential to be the innovation centre of Europe. It’s got it all.”

So what exactly does Berlin have to offer, and how is it cementing a reputation as a top business destination?

“Partying is business”

When discussing why Berlin is such an attractive city for new businesses, three similar themes kept emerging. Elena Poughia, managing director of Dataconomy, sums those up in a nutshell: “Cheap rent, good work life balance, and an international crowd.”

Both cost and quality of living are a factor as any business looks to settle in a new place. Of course, it depends on the area, but rent prices are affordable, with a one-bedroom flat costing around €750 p/m on average. Prices are rising, but despite this Berlin still came top of recent Savills research on best tech cities on by affordability.

Options are available for all budgets and requirements. You can start the day with a coffee and a pretzel from local bakeries for around €2.50. It’s not difficult to find a bar to while away an evening in such vibrant areas as Neukolln, Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain. In the summer, take a couple of local pilsners to enjoy in one of the numerous parks dotted around the centre, with outside drinking far more accepted in Berlin.

Berlin has a vibrant social scene, which has long been an attraction to those looking for a new home and lifestyle.

Lisa Lang, founder and CEO of fashion brand Elektrocouture, sees an overlap between the parties and the attitude to business in the city, that bridging the gap between techno and tech is essential in breaking into Berlin’s established hierarchy:

“You have to keep networking, because it can take years. You have to party. Partying is business here.”

“You’re not swimming upstream”

This community attitude is the foundation on which the startup ecosystem thrives in Berlin. The city is home to, as Poughia says, “young, talented, enthusiastic people who want to disrupt the status quo and make some noise.”

There are a wide-range of co-working spaces across the city’s different areas; including international brand WeWork, the well-equipped BetaHaus, and the community-focused Enklave (full disclosure, I’m a member here).

Meetups and networking events occur every night of the week, with people keen to share their experiences and discover new viewpoints.

In short: it’s easy to get involved.

Hans Stier, CEO of Berlin-based coffee machine company Bonaverde concurs: “You’re not swimming upstream as a startup in Berlin. You have community support and cultural support.”

Getty: Robert Herhold

“Berlin is chaos”

There are hurdles to overcome. Berlin is a vast, sprawling metropolis, and newcomers may find themselves lost on the city’s extensive public transport network.

Most areas of the city are well-connected by bus, or train (U-bahn or S-bahn), and getting around is rarely a lengthy process. But it can be circuitous, so it pays to put some thought into where to base both your business, and your home.

Bureaucracy too can be daunting, with paperwork and rigorous bookkeeping expected of any new venture. Lang has a strong piece of advice to anyone starting out in the city: “You can do anything here but seriously don’t mess with the tax system.”

The city is collaborative and social, yet will be most rewarding to those who make the effort. With so much on offer, it’s up to you what you make of it.

Lang sums up: “It’s not paved with gold, on the contrary. It’s hard work. Berlin is chaos. And it’s up to you if you see that as the problem or an opportunity.”

Berlin is steeped in historical significance; a walk along the route where the wall stood, passing Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery, is a poignant reminder that the city has seen the cost of division.

Now, Berlin has its eyes fixed firmly on the future. Whether it’s for the growing startup scene, freelance community or vibrant social life, it’s easy to see why Berlin is attracting new business, and developing its reputation on the international stage.

Interested in moving to Berlin? Find out more about Techspace Berlin and book a tour.