Everywhere you look in Berlin, the signs of feverish activity and optimism are palpable. Fuelled by Club-Mate and optimism, there are events, companies and ideas everywhere – and more of them all the time.
Something about the riven architectural fabric of the city lends itself to the necessary dysfunction of entrepreneurship. The scene is scruffy and screechingly adolescent. Its advocates are occasionally a little confused. The blogosphere is truly dreadful.
But the energy in this city alone is a pleasure to dine on, particularly when compared to the booze-fuelled vacuousness and tiresome arrogance of east London. And here are many reasons to be cheerful about what’s going on.
The arrival of General Assembly in Berlin, marshalled by the vivacious and delightful Jess Erickson, is a boon for the city. Deutsche Telekom’s hub:raum accelerator is showing signs of greater promise than Telefónica’s Wayra in London.
There are also terrific innovations in funding here, perhaps best represented by Niko Waesche and Aljoscha Kaplan’s German Media Pool, a new kind of investor that exchanges media instead of cash for equity.
In other words, start-ups can access billboard space and television advertising before they have cash enough in the bank to fund national marketing campaigns. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a rare example of experimentation with the model of venture capital.
Global launch platforms like HY Berlin are encouraging start-ups to think big from day one. (They have big plans for their second event in January.)
Then of course there is the receptiveness of local media giants to new ideas and new ways of doing business. Of the publishers in Germany, Axel Springer has perhaps been the most enthusiastic and genuine about supporting start-ups.
So the signs are positive; conditions are riper than ever for the discovery and execution of great ideas.
There are a few social cautions worth sounding. In branding terms, Berlin values cute over sexy, which can be a handicap: if you like, it prefers Miley Cyrus to Scarlett Johansson. Fluffy mascots and cutesy fonts are everywhere in conference branding and start-up holding pages. It’s silly and parochial.
Germans also suffer from excess dirigisme, and an unwillingness to crow about their successes and aspirations. That’s by no means a phenomenon confined to Germany, and it is changing, but German entrepreneurs must learn to be as pushy and precocious as their American counterparts to stand out globally.
That’s not to say there’s a shortage of personality in Berlin. In fact, it’s sort of a dangerous place for the weak-minded, because, unlike London, it really is a 24-hour party city. It would be easy to lose yourself here.
Perhaps it’s the appeal to lost souls that gives Berlin its edge: everyone I meet here is either running away from, or toward, something. But if Berliners are a bit more broken than Brits, to my mind that only gives them an entrepreneurial edge.
As you may have gathered, I rather like it here. That’s why – announcement klaxon – The Kernel is expanding into Germany over the next few months. We’ve hired two new writers locally already, and we’re looking for more.
While Silicon Valley implodes under the weight of the Series A crunch, and London disappears up its own arse, we reckon Berlin is, if not yet the most economically significant, certainly the most fun of the western European hubs.
So watch this space. Oh, and ladies: if you’re keen to work in a start-up but wondering where to apply, the men here are so much hotter.