Summary: This is how I accidentally spent one month in Berlin without a reason and found my way into the startup scene of Berlin with the co-working spaces and events that surrounds it. Here are the things I learnt and the things I miss, and how I look at the difference between the Berlin startup scene and the Stockholm one, in short.
”Things move fast in the startup world” was one of the first lines in the email I received shortly before my departure to Berlin, more than a year ago. It was followed by an explanation on how the investment firm I was supposed to work at had gotten an offer to sell the portfolio company I had been assigned to, and the sale was happening in less than a week from then. My contact at the firm informed me that in spite of this, my living arrangements had already been set up so if I wanted to come anyway, he’d be glad to welcome me to the city. As I had already booked my flight ticket and prepared for departure, I decided to go anyway and instead explore and learn more about the startup scene in Berlin.
I was met at the airport by my contact and everything went well regarding the living arrangements, which was in a crammed but manageable shared flat just north of Rosenthaler Platz. I lived with one German and one Canadian guy, both of them very open and generous and I really had the freedom to either join them in whatever they had planned or explore the city on my own. The first few days I went to an event almost every day and I was really taken by the warmth of Berliners. It was like the city really opened people up; everyone shared their experiences and introduced me to the people they felt I had to meet, which was really valuable. This is something I’ve noticed happens in Stockholm too but not as often as in Berlin. You wouldn’t find a single person who might NOT be interested in talking to you there, even the shy (but really cool) women on the first ever Women Who Code event in Berlin would modestly share their life stories.
I think a lot of the differences I saw between the Berlin startup scene and the Stockholm one is the manifestation of cultural differences. The openness wasn’t limited to the startup scene, you see it everywhere in the city, no matter if it’s joining a bonfire in the park or making friends on the tram. Can you imagine the travelers on the Swedish subway always finding an excuse to talk to each other?
I loved that, the way people interacted and how normal it was to talk and befriend strangers. The reason this worked so well is probably because every person in Berlin is so very different from the other. Everyone was truly unique and didn’t really ”fit” into a group. This made the boundaries disappear and we were all one group, with all of our differences and similarities. Thanks to this you could find niched co-working spaces, and there were a lot of them. On Berlin Startup Map, you can find all the co-working spaces, accelerators, incubators and startups on one map. One of the first days I opened the map to write down all the co-working spaces and found that there were just too many to visit in a month. So I ended up choosing the biggest and most interesting ones. My completed list contained 15 co-working spaces and I got to visit eight of them on a guided tour, and three of them just peeking in. What I found was that there was really one co-working space for everyone.
“They focus on bringing people together, money is always secondary.”
I visited, among others, a place called Weserland. It was a creative co-working environment in Kreuzberg that doesn’t make a profit, but it’s not supposed to. It’s run by a passionate team that created the place just to have somewhere to work together. They ended up getting ahold of a bigger space than they needed and they decided to rent out the free desks to other creatives around. It ended up turning into a beautiful space where there’s now programmers, designers, photographers, architects and concept developers of all kinds. This kind of mindset was also something that I saw a lot in Berlin. It’s not really about making money over there, that’s always secondary. The reason co-working spaces became so popular was because everybody wanted to co-create and learn from each other and with the cheap rents for spaces like these, it was easy to find a place a couple of people could rent. Their passion is in finding like-minded people in this big city of uniqueness and it’s not really about having the same job or being in the same industry but rather about gathering around values, a specific way of working or a specific way of thinking. They focus on bringing people together, money is always secondary. And somehow, that was the only way of doing it.
What I’ll miss from Berlin
Their complete and utterly organized subway and bus system. You could get anywhere with train, subway, tram and bus lines, anytime of the day. Being in a big city really is great in these kind of situations.
The cosy underground cafés that served amazing coffee during the day and turned into a trendy bar in the evening. Because what would you do without finishing the day with a ”work beer”?
The big community of people to meet, connect with, learn from and share experiences with. You’ll always meet new interesting people at every event.
What I would recommend for people going to Berlin with their startup
Try to figure out what kind of people you’d like to connect with, what kind of environment you need to work well and where it should be located. Then find the co-working space that fits all of your criteria, there is definitely one that will.
Meet the people – at events, in bars, on the tram. Say hi. It can be difficult as a Swede but if there’s ever a moment where you should force yourself out of your comfort zone, it’s with this.
Why I’m glad that I work in Stockholm
All the amenities that we take for granted in Stockholm are not so commonplace in Berlin. You will, for example, have a hard time finding good wi-fi and a place to charge your computer in any public place or café.
But there you go. My experience in Berlin and my opinions about Stockholm vs. Berlin. I hope it gave you something. Let me know! @ firstname.lastname@example.org