Berlin is the fourth largest Meetup city in Europe and one of its fastest growing cities globally. Madhvi Ramani spent an entire day Meetup-hopping to gain a unique view into Berlin and its inhabitants.

It’s 8:30 a.m. and I’m riding the U-Bahn. It’s crowded – at least, as crowded as it gets in Berlin. Everyone is able to hang on to a few inches of personal space as well as their dignity. Still, their rush hour demeanours are familiar: harassed, grim, preoccupied with smart phones and tablets.

I feel smug in my yoga pants, because my day promises to be anything but monotonous. I’ve signed up to an entire day of Meetups – events organised via the social networking website that brings people with similar interests together.

Since the site’s 2002 launch in New York, Meetups can be found all over the globe – but for some reason, Berlin is one of its fastest growing cities. Since its first Meetup was mooted in 2008, it has become the fourth largest city in Europe. What does that say about the city? I’m here to find out.

( . . . )

This, the React Native Meetup is the biggest I’ve been to all day, with almost 300 attendees. Tech Meetups are a popular way for developers and designers to network, and are heavily linked to the city’s burgeoning start-up culture, of which Zalando is one of the major successes. Nearly 30 per cent of all Berlin Meetups are now tech-related.

Officially we’re here to listen some presentations about using React Native, an open-source JavaScript library. Most attendees, however, seem more interested in the boxes of free pizza that are up for grabs. I cram slice after slice into my mouth as my neighbour says that the pizza provided by the Meetups of Berlin-based online bank N26 is better. Some people, it seems, are here with a single agenda – and I might be one of them, as I notice the curiosity and openness I started my day with are gone. As the speaker from Soundcloud begins to talk about using the framework for app prototyping, I lose interest and wander off to the loo.

. . .

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Germany Is Building a Wall to Protect the Berlin Wall

An effort to limit damage done to the Cold War landmark by tourists.

Souvenier-seeking tourists have done serious damage to the Berlin Wall, leaving Germany with no choice: A wall in front of the wall will be erected in summer 2018, to protect the landmark structure from further vandalism, reports the Art Newspaper.

This isn’t the first time the idea of a protective barrier in front of the Berlin Wall has been raised. In November 2015, authorities of Berlin’s Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, home to the “East Side Gallery” section of the wall, which is covered in murals created in 1990, announced plans to erect a permanent protective fence.

The wall, a designated heritage site, was erected in 1961, dividing citizens of West Berlin from the rest of the city and the surrounding East Germany until November 9, 1989. The wall began coming down in June 1990, but parts of the structure were left intact as a monument.


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Look out, London. Berlin’s startup scene is ready for a Brexit bonanza

Startups that previously looked to London are being wooed by Berlin’s fast-developing scene. But can Germany capitalise on Brexit uncertainty?

At a co-working space on Friedrichstraße, Berlin’s startup economy is getting ready for Brexit. Mindspace’s first location in Germany, opened in April 2016, sits in the heart of Berlin’s Mitte district, flanked by high-end fashion shops and perfumeries. Its walls are adorned with hand-stencilled signs directing people, in English, to the “yummy kitchen” and “awesome offices”. It feels exactly like the startup scene in London – and that’s deliberate. What London stands to lose after Brexit, Berlin hopes to gain.


“Berlin is starting to be considered as a startup ecosystem, particularly targeting the tech startup scene,” says Nijvenko. The company’s “official language”, she explains, is English. All signs, documents and posts on the community’s private Facebook group are auf Englisch. Its co-working spaces bare an uncanny resemblance to a template Silicon Valley, faux-hipster style – superfluous clocks; plush, well-worn armchairs; Communist-era televisions; and work from local artists adorn almost every remaining inch of space. Around 760 members pay between €250 and €450 per month (£215 and £390) to use the space, with the two additional sites in Berlin upping capacity to more than 2,000 people. Business is booming. “The political incentives right now are targeting the startup ecosystem. Berlin is very affordable, so for startups it’s the best place to be,” says Nijvenko.

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The Secrets of Soho House Berlin: Lessons in Colorful Real Estate

In the five years since its 2010 opening, Berlin’s iteration of Soho House has become a major Central European roadhouse. The signature loungy-luxe details honed by Soho House founder Nick Jones, 52, since he opened his first Soho House in 1995—in Berlin’s case, the tidy little roof pool, the fireplace with its art-directed logs, the Vegas-style couches and day beds for extra-louche group lounging—all conspire mischievously to imply that the authorities, such as your momma, your significant other, or, in a celebrity’s case, a howling pack of street-dog paparazzi would have a really hard time finding you enjoying the place with whomever you choose.

This is a very profitable and fantastically marketable lodging idea. Although the traditions of it hark back to the 12th century Knights Templar and the London guilds and clubs, its authors in the late 20th century in the U.S. are the disco-magnate-turned-hotelier Ian Schrager (Morgans) and the dater-of-Uma-Thurman Andre Balasz (The Mercer, The Standard). In this market, Mr. Jones, of the UK, is a relative latecomer. (read more here…)

Berlin roars up ‘best city’ rankings

Hamburg, Munich and Berlin all appeared in the 25 most liveable places on the planet in elite magazine Monocle’s 2015 rankings. Berlin shot further up the charts for the second year running.

While Hamburg and Munich slipped back one place each to 21 and 9 respectively, Berlin once again rocketed up the charts to come in as the 3rd most liveable city in the world.

But the strong German showing put it in a class with Japan as the only two countries to have three cities in the top 25 – considerably better than the 0 scored by the United Kingdom and the one entry at the bottom of the rankings for the United States.

Monocle’s annual Quality of Life survey ranks cities around the globe according to factors including climate, architecture, crime rate, environmental issues, food and drink, business and design.

While some of the data is scientific, other measures are more subjective and the magazine’s editor in chief Tyler Brûlé said on Thursday the judges employed a change in the metrics in 2015 which included how much influence the state has over everyday life in different countries.

“We’ve given extra marks to cities that limit their nannying and we’ve tried to give value to places where there’s something else we know is vital: freedom, grit, independence, a joy with life,” he was quoted as saying by the website Skift.

“We’re frustrated with city councils that are too quick to say no, places where parents never let their children run free and capitals that seem opposed to the odd late night out.”

(Read more here – http://www.thelocal.de/20150612/berlin-roars-up-best-city-rankings)

The 5 best coffee shops in Berlin

Every city has a personality, but few European cities are as unique and iconic as Berlin.

The German capital is the perfect mix of regal architecture and rough urban streetscapes, beautiful laneways and grungy concrete, vintage shops and cutting-edge modern spaces.

Berlin is wonderfully rich in history and culture, and its coffee scene reflects this richness.

1. Oliv

Cafe Oliv Facebook/Oliv

On a pretty street corner in the fashionable district of Mitte, Oliv has a warm, welcoming feel and some of the best coffee in town.

Their homemade teas are also wondrous: order a mint tea and you’ll receive a sprig of fresh, leafy peppermint in a tall glass. Plus their food is wholesome and simple; think autumnal vegetable salad and crispy hot croissants.

2. Godshot

Godshot coffeeFacebook/Godshot

Berlin’s modern cafe scene is booming and Godshot is one of the main forerunners. The space is sleek, the baristas are experts and the beans are perfect. An ideal spot to recharge one afternoon.

Plus names don’t get any cooler than this; perhaps we should start calling espresso shots “godshots” from now on…………

Berlin Beats Rome as Tourist Attraction as Hordes Descend

Wieland Giebel’s stores near the Brandenburg Gate that sell Berlin Wall pieces for less than $10, miniature Trabant cars, and 3,000 books about the German capital were struggling four years ago. Then tourism kicked in.

“The interest in Berlin’s turbulent history is huge,” said Giebel, a 64-year-old whose sales have risen 20 percent since 2011. “If I ask my customers why they’re visiting Berlin, they tell me: ‘Because everyone wants to come here.’”

Berlin — which has surpassed Rome as Europe’s third-most visited city, after London and Paris — is the fastest growing of the continent’s top 10 destinations. The city’s economy expanded the most of all German states last year after overnight stays from tourists climbed 8.2 percent to 27 million.

The boom is changing the face of a city once termed “poor but sexy” by outgoing Mayor Klaus Wowereit for a bustling nightlife that came with cheap living costs, low wages and high unemployment. While it’s a godsend for business owners like Giebel, others view the influx as an invasion of visitors rampaging through their once-quiet neighborhoods.

Adam Tellmeister, a Swiss artist who’s been living in the eastern district of Prenzlauer Berg since 1989 and deals in his works with belonging and home, says Berlin is undermining the quality of life by focusing on ever-growing tourism.

Juggling Jobs

Many “Berliners have two jobs, and are trying to pay their rent that is rising fast, and on the weekends, when they need calm, hordes of flat-rate drinking tourists are bussed into their neighborhoods,” Tellmeister, 53, said while eating beef goulash on Oderberger Strasse, an area filled with bars and cafes. “That leads to stress, the fear of losing your clanship and eventually, anger. This can’t go on.”

Visitors get their first glance of Berlin’s struggle to keep up when they arrive at Tegel airport, designed for a fraction of the 55,000 people traveling daily through the gateway and only connected to the rest of the city by bus.

A new airport, under construction since 2006 and first set to open in 2011, is years behind schedule and has almost tripled in cost amid at least 60,000 construction faults. There’s still no opening date.

The new airport is critical to the city’s economy, with tourism sales more than doubling from the turn of the millennium to 11.5 billion euros ($15 billion) last year. The city-state’s job market expanded the most in Germany in the first quarter as restaurants, hotels and others in the service sector added positions. Berlin’s unemployment rate was 11.1 percent last month, moving the city out of the bottom slot among Germany’s 16 states for the first time since 1997.

Dynamic Growth

Cornelia Yzer, Berlin’s economy minister, said she expects another visitor record this year on the heels of what will probably be the city’s busiest weekend ever in November for celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The city will place 8,000 illuminated balloons where the Wall once stood and release them on Nov. 9 to symbolize the event that ended the Cold War.

“Berlin’s dynamic economic growth is to a large part positively influenced by tourism,” Yzer said in her wood-paneled office in Schoeneberg, a stone’s throw from where John F. Kennedy made his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech five decades ago. “The retail industry alone gets 40 percent of its sales from tourism.”

Sold-Out Concerts

Berlin, which has almost as many hotels as New York, will increase the number of beds by 20,000 to about 150,000 in the coming years, Yzer said. The boom is accompanied by concerts that sell out in minutes, crowded subways that used to be half empty, and 300-yard-long lines to get into Berghain, the cathedral-like dance club that on weekends draws Berliners and tourists alike for two-day techno parties.

Monika Herrmann, the mayor of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district that’s turned from a gritty area with yearly punk riots to the center of cool with trendy bars, said Berlin should seek less tourism and hand visitors a code of conduct instructing them on trash, noise and respect for residents.

“I have the impression that some visitors think this is some sort of Disneyland and we locals are the extras,” Herrmann last month told daily newspaper Tagesspiegel.

On weekend evenings, the train, tram and bus lines arriving at the Warschauer Strasse station in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg disgorge hundreds of locals and tourists, who meander around on an 80-meter-long bridge with a view of Berlin’s TV tower.

Red-haired punks pull at the leashes of their barking dogs as Australian backpackers stroll around. A group of singing stag partygoers from England block the way of bike riders ringing their bells furiously as their revelry merges with that of nearby street musicians. A 24-hour supermarket supplies partygoers with beer, sparkling wine and hard liquor.

Josephine Froehlich, a 25-year-old architecture student with blonde, chin-length hair and a bright smile, lived not far away on Simon-Dach-Strasse — until she’d had enough.

‘Reckless Partygoers’

“It was packed day and night, summer and winter with many reckless partygoers,” she said. “I had to get out.”

While her new home in the back courtyard of a Kreuzberg apartment building shields her from noise, she’s trying to avoid nearby streets where quiet hangouts have turned into places providing “food and drink for the masses,” she said.

Some shops now sell “Berlin doesn’t love you” stickers with a crossed-out heart which locals have plastered on lampposts and walls. The city is spending 300,000 euros starting this autumn to find “concrete solutions” for issues that crop up from tourism, such as dispatching garbage trucks more frequently to visitor-heavy areas or sending more night buses to streets dotted with bars and clubs, Yzer said.

The central Mitte district has tried unsuccessfully to block beer bikes — vehicles equipped with kegs, a sound system and space for 16 singing tourists pedaling away — from streets around the Brandenburg Gate. The Berlin government has banned illegal rental flats and those wanting to offer apartments to tourists now have to register with the city.

Tourism Needed

“Some people may complain that the line at the baker is too long, but without tourists, that baker may not exist,” said Burkhard Kieker, the CEO of VisitBerlin, the city’s tourism marketing arm. “Today’s partying tourist who feels welcome may come back as a father tomorrow and the day after start his own company here.”

The bottom line is that Berlin is seeking more visitors because it needs them. Tourism made up 10.6 percent of the city’s gross domestic product last year, according to a Bloomberg calculation. By comparison, the figure is 5.1 percent in London, according to the city’s marketing company. Most Berliners understand this dependence, with 88 percent saying in a recent poll that they welcome tourists and the economic benefits they bring, Kieker said.

Guided Tours

Dallas resident Rachel Sheppard visited the city for five days in August, taking guided tours of Berlin’s city center and the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and said she didn’t run into any disgruntled locals.

“When I was standing in the U-Bahn station and didn’t know what to do, a local Berliner came up to me and said: ’You look lost, can I help you?’” said Sheppard, a 22-year-old industrial engineering student at Southern Methodist University. “So I had a good experience.”

Giebel, whose mother fled with him from East Berlin to West in 1952, started his business 17 years ago and has expanded into publishing. He now churns out a new book every two weeks, explaining to visitors the city’s many facets.

“They come here because they want to know what we have made of our city,” Giebel said. “Tourism is saving Berlin.”

Source – http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-03/berlin-beats-rome-as-tourist-attraction-as-hordes-descend.html

Berlin travel guide: It is the perfect time to visit the German capital

In November the real partying starts as the city marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall which cut the German city in two for 28 years

The legroom was tight and the top speed of 40kph was never going to thrill. But my luminous Trabant was the coolest motor ever.

Once you’re in a car with a cerise pink roof and bright stripes, the stench is the last thing on your mind – just avoiding the giggling tourists taking pictures of you is enough.

The Trabant, or Trabi, was made from reinforced plastic with a lawnmower-like engine and became a stark, fume-belching symbol of the Eastern Block.

They were later banned because of pollution but tourists can still have a go on a hilarious 70-minute Trabi Safari ( trabi-world.com , from £27pp, U15s free).

My sons Harvey, 13, and Max, 11, picked out the cerise-and-stripes number and our guide, Axel, gave me a quick lesson on the gearstick, a lever which you move up, down, back and forth, then led our convoy on an entertaining tour via a one-way radio.

The Trabi Safari is a novel way to experience Berlin’s uniqueness and the city’s sense of fun.

In November the real partying starts as the city marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall which cut the German city in two for 28 years.

As the Wall came down, I’d dashed over to join Berlin for the celebrations myself – and to chisel out my own bit of Communist concrete.

So my latest visit – with my husband and our two boys – was particularly poignant. We visited the remains of Checkpoint Charlie, once a main East-West crossing point.

Westerners used to be searched by East German guards before passing through – now mock guards demand tips for posing for pictures.

The boys enjoyed reading about East Berliners’ escape attempts, from hidden compartments in cars to underground tunnels, at Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie (adults £10, children £5.50). mauermuseum.de

Better still was the free Topography of Terror ( topographie.de ), an open-air exhibition in what looks like a long bus shelter. It’s a simple crash course on the evils of Nazism.

But there’s more to Berlin than a mournful history……(read more here)

Welcome to Berlin’s Silicon Allee, Germany’s new startup hub

The low thrum of ambient electronica music pulses through a four-floor walkup in the hip central neighborhood of Prenzlauerberg as dozens of young programmers stick on nametags and swap stories.

Welcome to what locals are calling Germany’s Silicon Allee, where the code junkies have come for a Startup Grind event.

It’s a pretty typical meet-and-geek. Software code is the primary topic of conversation. One young man with a ponytail shouts on his cell phone as another in a hoodie furtively dives into a spread of canapes before the buffet table is officially open. There are only a handful of women.

The big news is that this kind of event is taking place in the German capital almost every night.

Despite cheap rents and a reputation as one of the world’s coolest cities, Berlin has so far failed to live up to its goal of becoming Europe’s startup hub. But that may finally be changing thanks to a rapid growth in funding, a new drive to attract foreign talent and a burst of interest from industry giants like Google, say insiders like Marco Brenner, who moved here a year ago to found a startup.

“We need to grow some meaningful businesses in Berlin,” he says confidently, looking more like a PR executive dressed in his blazer instead of the usual hoodies or T-shirts. “Then the money will follow.”

Berlin’s startup scene could create as many as 100,000 jobs by 2020, according to a recent report by the global consultancy McKinsey & Co.

Although the city still lags behind competitors like London when it comes to infrastructure — partly because Germany’s conservative investors have long made it difficult to raise capital — the city has some of the right ingredients, including a low cost base and a hip image that helps attract top talent.

Earlier this month, Google unveiled a mammoth new startup incubator known as “Factory,” where veterans from Google for Entrepreneurs and Twitter will mentor company founders.

A 16,000 square foot space carved out of an abandoned brewery that will eventually employ around 500 people, it represents a big vote of confidence from the world’s most successful internet company.

And while German venture capitalists remain more conservative than their counterparts in Silicon Valley, the amount of money available for startups has increased dramatically.

Over the past year, Berlin-based tech startups have raised over $650 million, more than three times the amount generated the previous year and more than six times the amount raised the year before that, according to venture capital database CB Insights.

Founders of some of the city’s more promising startups — such as the audiofile sharing service SoundCloud, the academic social networking company ResearchGate and collaborative video-editing software maker FlavourSys — say Berlin’s shortcomings can sometimes be advantages.

The city’s hip reputation attracts software engineers interested in the intersection of technology and creative projects at the heart of companies like SoundCloud. The lower level of activity here also makes it easier to afford and retain talented people than it would be in more advanced startup hubs.

Starting out here allowed FlavourSys to fly under the radar as the company developed collaborative software that enables television company video editors to work on files simultaneously from different locations.

Even though the company’s target market was always the US — which now accounts for 80 percent of its business — FlavourSys booked the National Geographic channel as its first customer before anyone in the software world had an inkling of what it was doing.

That happened at an industry convention in Las Vegas.

“It was amazing,” said FlavourSys co-founder Marco Stahl on the rooftop of the company’s converted-apartment headquarters. “There were crowds of people, 20, 30, 40 people standing there watching demos. Then National Geographic came along and said, ‘We want to buy this!’”

For a company that two weeks earlier had no website or printed business cards, that was a big deal.

ResearchGate co-founder and CEO Ijad Madisch has a similar story.

Billed somewhat dismissively as “Facebook for scientists,” the company aims to break traditional boundaries that often keep academic research cloistered in ivory towers and exclude scientists from the developing world. When Madisch first came up with the idea six years ago, he found the world-weary capital of academia Boston too jaded to bite.

Berlin was different. When Madisch moved ResearchGate here in 2010, fifteen years after Jeff Bezos had launched Amazon, copycats had attracted programmers and created a nascent ecosystem for e-commerce startups, but little else. However, Madisch says it created a hunger to do something more interesting.

As a result, it was comparatively easy for ResearchGate to attract top developers, doctors and scientists.

“Everyone here is hungry to work on something big,” Madisch says. “That puts Berlin at an advantage to Silicon Valley.”

Source – http://www.sgvtribune.com/technology/20140707/welcome-to-berlins-silicon-allee-germanys-new-startup-hub

Berlin has more to offer than you know

It’s easy to get bogged down in the history of Berlin.

Not many towns have so many stories to tell – the Berlin Wall, as well as the legacy of Nazi Germany tend to be the first things that come to mind when people think of one of Europe’s most famous – and infamous – cities.

What many people probably don’t know is that an incredibly eclectic underground culture exists behind the tourist hotspots and museums. This is what makes Berlin so interesting.

Driving around, it’s hard not to notice the graffiti on the walls. This is just one element of the alternative vibe that can be found if you look a bit closer. Riding the underground trains, you find yourself surrounded by young, hip commuters, who seem to come from everywhere but Germany.

When I asked for information from a couple of city kids, I was given an answer in the broadest of New Zealand accents.

As I walked across the buzzing town square of Hackescher Markt, an American girl with wild curly hair and a serene smile caught my eye as she created gigantic bubbles with nothing but string and a kiddie pool filled with water and what must’ve been detergent. Her son, a cute kid with a beanie, made smaller bubbles on the side-lines as people passing by stopped and happily threw coins in a hat.

A few metres away, an Asian man was being questioned by a couple of policemen on patrol. He had a permit to sell T-shirts, but had decided to take advantage of the ornate manhole covers on the square to make prints with paint and paper for eager tourists. They allowed him to finish on condition that he cleaned up and didn’t return the next day. I left carrying a rolled-up print awkwardly under my arm – happy that my Berlin souvenir wasn’t a clichéd snow globe with a piece of the Wall in it.

Later that night we headed off on a “gastro rally tour”. Our tour guide was an Australian woman who has relocated to Berlin because, quite simply, she loved it. Our group was expecting to find ourselves at another run-of-the-mill spot. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Our taxi deposited us outside the uber-snazzy Westin Grand Hotel and as we all headed towards the entrance, our guide ushered us into the alley behind it. We found ourselves surrounded by trash cans and dumpsters, with not another soul in sight.

Everyone giggled nervously as we walked, our South African instincts making us wonder when the big burly guy would jump out and demand our wallets. At the end of the alleyway, a huge chandelier hung from the rooftop. Our guide knocked on a door, which swung open to reveal a club.

This was Cookies Cream, a popular hangout in the city centre. The restaurant epitomised all that is Berlin – a kaleidoscope of different cultures set against the grandeur of a place rich in historical and cultural value.

People visiting the city to get their picture taken at Checkpoint Charlie, which has been recreated as a Disney-style attraction, may never get to see this side of Berlin. However, I’m sure those that have chosen to make the city their home are the ones who relish its extraordinary side.

Source –http://citizen.co.za/143343/c_ml_14-3_berlintsravel/