A note on the Berlin startup scene

by James Glazebrook

If you have even a passing familiarity with the Berlin startup scene, you’ll have seen this blog post on The Guardian website, written by someone who recently returned to the UK after a brief immersion in the city’s tech “bubble”. Well, The Local asked for my reaction – as someone who has a lot of contact with expats in the startup world and part of the team about to open Berlin’s first tech campus – and I thought I’d share it here. Read their response “Ten points in defence of Berlin’s startup scene” here, and my comments below.

The Guardian article contains nothing we haven’t heard before. As one of Berlin’s biggest English language blogs, we attract a lot of questions and enquiries from the group to which the writer (who we know) belongs: young non-German speakers who are early in their careers, and attracted to the city’s competitive creative scene. Their observations are valid, but represent a very narrow experience of the Berlin tech ecosystem, one with fairly predictable outcomes.

If you land an internship at an English-speaking company, you are likely to remain in that bubble, speak (and hear) very little German – and you’re most at risk of losing your “job”. We know lots of people who have discovered that “the streets are not paved with gold”, and have had to move back home or onto somewhere where they can more easily lay the foundations for their career. But we also know plenty of people who’ve landed (very) real jobs at successful companies, who have stable work and are appropriately rewarded for their experience and qualifications.

We’re sick of the mainstream media cycle of hype and backlash when it comes to Berlin in general, and the startup scene in particular. No one in their right mind would believe that Berlin is the next Silicon Valley, or the only European startup hub that matters – but, equally, no one should dismiss it as just a hipster party town. We turn out innovative, productive businesses with global impact (SoundCloud, 6Wunderkinder, ResearchGate), and we’re only going to see more success like this. But we still have a long way to go…

To the Berlin startup community we say: ignore all of this. Keep your heads down and keep up the good work. To anyone thinking of moving to the city to follow their startup dreams, we say: don’t believe the hype! Follow the advice of this article and do your homework, find a company that you fit with and feel passionate about, and enter the Berlin startup scene with open eyes and realistic expectations. Good luck 🙂


Illustration by Josh Bauman.

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs

by James and Zoe

Not only is Berlin the startup capital of Europe, it’s fast becoming its App-icentre. Developers and netrepreneurs are coming up with mobile solutions for problems you never knew existed, in the hopes of earning geek points and investment from Ashton Kutcher. Whether you want to explore Berlin, buy your buddy a beer or just make sure that you’re never alone again, if there isn’t already an app for that, there soon will be. überlin thought it was time to halt the march towards App-igeddon, and to come up with five apps that Berlin really needs.

Berlin winters getting you down? Can’t bear another miserable grey sky? We have the perfect solution with our Summerfy app! Using augmented reality our app can turn the most depressing of scenes into a beautiful summer’s day. Simply point your mobile device at whatever is bumming you out and see it transformed instantly. Berlin – and Berliners – never looked so good!

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs 1

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs 2

Berliners’ favourite pastime just got social! Now you can earn badges, as well as bragging rights, when you attend the city’s countless demonstrations. Stick it to The Man and be crowned Green God/dess, Nuclear Reactor, Nazi Hunter or Baby Bugger-Off-er. One day you could be the proud owner of the coveted WTF?! badge, issued when everyone is rallied together to protest, but no one seems to know why.

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs

This app recreates the Berlin busker experience in all its horror. Bursting with over 100 badly-sung songs, played poorly on outmoded instruments, Buskamatic will annoy your fellow commuters just like the real deal! With styles like “Atonal Accordion”, “Ballad Bollocks” and “Fuck off Folk”, you’ll blend seamlessly with your busker buddies, and wonder how you ever lived – and paid the rent – without this mobile music maker.

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs

The Berlin streets aren’t exactly paved with gold, but every other bin contains treasure – bottles that can be returned for a deposit, or Pfand. Find-a-Pfand hacks Google Maps to show the location of the bottle banks and trash cans that are overflowing with glass goodies, and the closest place to collect your cents. The bottle icons glow red when collection time approaches – get there fast to pick up your pay day!

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs 8

Angry Berliners
Sick of dealing with German bureacracy? Why not take out your frustrations on this classic strategy game?! Fire your Angry Berliner through webs of red tape, topple over mountains of paperwork, and repeatedly bang his head against brick walls,  in order to defeat the pencil-pushing Office Pigs. With over 200 levels available in the App Store, you’ll really be getting somewhere – unlike in real life. Angry Berliner soft toys coming soon!

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs

What Berlin apps would you like to see? Drop us a comment below.

Berlin Sound: A SoundCloud Group

by James Glazebrook

What does Berlin sound like? Many would nominate the 4/4 thud of the Berghain speaker stacks, the blare of U-Bahn buskers, or squat-party punk. But what about non-music audio?

We’ve set up a SoundCloud group called Berlin Sound, for people to share their sounds from around the city. So far we’ve heard: the hustle and bustle of the Maybachufer market, the eerie calm of Neukölln and Kreuzberg at night, and the seemingly endless announcement from the female “voice” of the U-Bahn when it pulls into Alexanderplatz. Oh yes, and the 4/4 thud of the Berghain speaker stacks!

You can hear the sounds we’ve collected so far using the widget below, or over on the Berlin Sound group page. If you already have some (non-music) audio to share, simply join the group, upload your sound to SoundCloud and click the “Share to group” button on the track player. And why not download SoundCloud’s mobile app, and go out and record something we’ve never heard before?

We’d love to hear your Berlin Sounds!

Bumper Berlin Map of Coworking Spaces

by James Glazebrook

We’re slowly going stir-crazy in our office/flat/shared cell. We can’t carry on like this, so we’ve started seriously looking at coworking spaces – and the city’s startup blog Venture Village is proving an invaluable resource. Not only have they published a list of the ten best coworking spaces, and are running a competition to find an overall winner, but they’ve also assembled this bumper map of all(?) the shared workspaces that Berlin has to offer. So much choice!

Do any of you have experience of coworking in general, or these places in particular? Feel free to leave your tips in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you.

View Venture Village Berlin Co-Working Map in a larger map

Computer Games Museum in Close Up

by Zoë Noble

Computer Games Museum 1Computer Games Museum 2Computer Games Museum 3Computer Games Museum 4Computer Games Museum 5Computer Games Museum 6Computer Games Museum 7Computer Games Museum 8Computer Games Museum 9Computer Games Museum 10Computer Games Museum 11Computer Games Museum 12Computer Games Museum 13Computer Games Museum 14

Berlin’s final frontier

by James Glazebrook

Not a month goes by without someone bemoaning the influx of a new itinerant, immigrant population into Berlin. But concerned citizens like this guy (not a current resident of the city, yet part of the first wave that opened up “bohemia” to “yuppies” like us) needn’t worry, because future Berliners will find the pressure valve they need… in space.

As documented by the Star Trek series, New Berlin will be founded on Earth’s moon in about 2069. That’s less than 50 years until Berliners can enjoy a nice shiny new city, hopefully free of English expats, but with all the cultural benefits of their current home. At the Mazurka festival, revelers can get down to Polish folk music in their lederhosen, as fondly recalled by two Starfleet commanders in the video below (jump 2:10 in) – “sausage and beer all around!”

And the clubs on New Berlin are every bit as hedonistic as their Terran counterparts – if this photo snatched at Borghain* is anything to go by:


However, as this Federation Colony grows so large that, by 2373, it can be seen from Earth in the daytime, it’s only a matter of time before Ryanair Galatic arrives to ruin it all. Not to worry – when we inevitably outgrow our new lunar home, we can move onto the star system New Berlin on Freelancer of the same name as depicted in the MMO Freelancer. As you can see on this map, New Berlin includes the picturesque planet of Potsdam, and bases called Bonn Station and Brandenburg Border Station. Fittingly, Kreuzberg Depot is inhabited by “junkers”, “an itinerant population unaffiliated with any colony”, whose commodities include light arms and pharmaceuticals.

Of course, it will take us a while to get there – and it’s not going to be easy. As Moon director Duncan Jones is going to show in his follow-up to Blade Runner, dark days are ahead for the city so loved by his father, David Bowie. But the concept art for Mute indicates that the residents of near-future Berlin will still be able to get their rocks off, at the strip club Fremde Traum (Foreign Dreams):

Mute on Slash Film

Time will tell whether future Berlins will have room for “lifestyle tourists” like us, but the city’s current inhabitants can be reassured that their reputation for sleazy thrills will follow them through time and space.

*yeah, so I made this up. But everything else in this post is definitely going to happen.

Transmediale 2011

by James Glazebrook

Our experience of the Transmediale festival for art and digital culture was short but sweet. Restrictions on our press accreditation, work commitments and sheer lack of organisation meant we missed the Hyperdub night at Berghain and live sets from Monolake and Deadbeat. Fortunately, we had some pretty good backups. On Saturday, we caught a snippet of Deadbeat’s stunning collaboration with video artist Lillevan as part of a review of the week’s AV performances in the immersive CineChamber, then hopped on the U-Bahn to Club Maria, which shook to the sounds of Modeselektor and their global team of bass pioneers.

We also made it down to the HacKaWay Zone, to see some artworks that “not only respond to scientific or technical developments, but that shape the way in which we think about and experience the technologies which impact virtually all aspects of our daily lives.” Some was enjoyably incomprehensible, like the brilliantly titled Ambiguous Cut Into Space of Conjecture (Lucid Phantom Messenger #2) – strobing multicoloured eye candy. Other work was thoughtfully executed, like overall festival award winner Intelligent Bacteria, which highlighted the dangers of alcohol processing in Indonesia by incorporating the bacteria produced into a performative acoustic installation, a “bacteria orchestra”.

But of most interest to this social media nerd were two projects that explored Facebook and its implications for our privacy, both on- and offline. Seppukoo provides a service for users who want to “commit Facebook suicide”, setting up a memorial page in their honour.  Or it did until it received a cease and desist letter from the web giant – now Seppukoo exists as a DIY guide to virtual self-destruction:

Also drawing the attention of Zuckerberg’s goons is Lovely-Faces.com, which scraped 250,000 Facebook profiles and used the data to build a huge, fake dating site. Taking publicly accessible data and using technology like facial recognition to fill in the gaps, it constructs an alarmingly complete picture of its “members”  by providing their gender, nationality, interests and even character (“sly women”, anyone?). As Wired reports, the creators of Lovely-Faces are only just sidestepping Facebook’s terms of service by taking down users’ data on request, so go and have a play on it while you still can.

Here are our impressions of a week of art, tech and music dorkery: