Thoughts on Berlin

I recently spent a few days visiting our newest Techstars program over in Berlin. Although I had heard many good things about the city, I didn’t really know what to expect on the ground. The TL;DR is that I had a great few days, met lovely people, great companies and can’t wait to go back. Huge thanks to our Berlin MD, Jens and his awesome staff for great hospitality! 

I was there to work @ Techstars, and also made a point of walking around town as much as I could. Thanks to the generosity of another Techstars staffer (danke, Maria!), I also got to ride a bike to a meeting across town – super fun and great way to get around. Very bike friendly town!  In fact, I witnessed what I can only describe as Berlin’s version of  San Francisco’s Critical Mass. I was in cab and didn’t get a good picture of the whole thing but it was quite a mass! 

A few observations, in no particular order…

Clean, but not sterile – I was impressed with the state of the infrastructure. Roads, bridges, buildings (lots of new construction) but generally everything seemed to be in good shape in the areas I visited. Even our old eastern-bloc repurposed state buildings were in good shape. I’m sure its not the case everywhere of course (we were right in city center). I found some more worn neighborhoods that showed a bit of character but never seemed in neglect. 

Construction! – Berlin is rising, quite literally. Cranes dot the skyline everywhere. As do these crazy colored tubes which I failed to take a picture of. Apparently the water table is pretty high so they have to pump water out of the buildings under construction, and they pump it back into the river.

Vibe – everywhere I went, people were friendly and surprising receptive. Most everyone spoke enough english to be able to deal with this American. The city has a lot of interesting dynamics but generally I felt welcome and people made eye contact, were helpful and pretty chill. One thing I noticed quickly is that Berlin is busy, but not crowded. I really appreciated this. Certain neighborhoods has more hustle and bustle, but I just didn’t see the congestion I expected. The city is “missing” about 1M people post-war, so the space and infrastructure of the city have plenty of capacity for growth. 

Food – I had some Bavarian food, some French food, and some Berliner food and it was all pretty good. This isn’t a food blog so I’m not going deep here but I was pleasantly surprised.  Actually, one of the best meals I had was breakfast a cool little spot called Chipps near our office. Despite popular belief, they do serve real bacon there, and the menu is creative. 

Startup culture – I had a really interesting conversation with a local who explained that the town is in a constant state of evolution. Easy statement, as you could say that about many places, but the message was that there was a transition happening and it was very much about tech, startups and an entrepreneurial culture.  In 2012 it was the creative class, the artists and bohemians who had moved into run-down neighborhoods because rent was cheap, etc. Now tech and startups are starting to really take root as well and there is a clear shift towards business and entrepreneurship. At Techstars, we look for a combination of things to be at the right stage to support an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and Berlin has got it going on. Not a coincidence we are there. 

halo Berlin class!
the Berlin class

I’m already looking forward to visiting again and checking in on the progress our 1st Berlin class has made, as well as our new Metro accelerator which launches in the fall!