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.