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By: Martina Muller
Berlin was devastated and divided after World War II. Industries deserted the city and it took half a century for them to return. In the 1990s, the decade after the Berlin Wall came down, it was a city searching for an identity. The eastern, formerly communist part of the city and the western part were suddenly united again and Berlin emerged as a new city profoundly loaded with history. During those times, Berlin was underdeveloped, housing was cheap and options for entertainment were limitless. The city had a vibrant art scene and subculture thrived. However, there were few businesses in Berlin and a job was hard to find. So, when I finished my studies at the Free University of Berlin in 1998, I moved to Frankfurt to start my career, since there were hardly any PR agencies in Berlin at that time.
I never thought I would move back to Berlin, but I did four years ago. The city has changed tremendously. Its economy thrives and plenty of PR agencies have set up shop, thanks in part to a start-up scene that discovered Berlin about 10 years ago. Berlin provided perfect conditions for trying out new ideas, as the cost of living was cheap and the city’s universities produced a stream of well-educated people. Over the years, the start-ups have become successful and this has attracted even more businesses to set up in Berlin.
Today, Berlin is Germany’s largest city with 3.6 million residents. It is a hub for tech innovation in Europe. In fact, in 2017, Berlin secured $3.4 billion (€3 billion) in venture capital, making it Europe’s second-largest city for start-ups. It’s been fascinating to watch the city redevelop and find its way back to its old glory.
Increasingly, international investors swarm to Berlin because they recognize its huge business potential. Company- and university-based incubators and venture-capital funds pop up across the city. Since Berlin has remained a fun and vibrant place, young people from around the globe flock to live here and work at one of the numerous start-ups. More than 40,000 people move to Berlin each year. In 2016, 42 percent of Berlin’s start-up employees were foreign nationals, according to the European Startup Monitor Report.
With the local start-up scene heating up, a new work style has emerged. Co-working spaces have infiltrated the city, offering flexible areas for individuals, teams and larger companies. These spaces are meant for people to get to know each other, exchange ideas, connect and possibly do business together. To make work there even more fun, parties are organized in the evening and interesting founders from Silicon Valley visit regularly and give talks to share their stories and experiences.
The Berlin start-up community encourages its employees to work on something truly innovative. This appeals more to millennials than climbing the corporate ladder, especially in Berlin-Mitte (the center). English is spoken everywhere, and it sometimes feel like you’re in London or New York rather than Germany. Often waiters at restaurants only speak English, since they’ve come to Berlin from Australia, Lebanon or Italy for a gap year after high school.
Ultimately, there is a downside to this development. Berlin is no longer cheap. Rents have risen dramatically and a good apartment is hard to find. The city is less affordable, especially for people with lower paying jobs. The government is trying to drive new apartment construction to overcome this shortage and ease the housing situation. And for the PR industry? The agency space has become intensely competitive, with many agencies competing to help start-ups further build their brands.
But it will take a lot more than rent prices and intense competition to diminish Berlin’s attraction. The vibrant, inspiring atmosphere, opportunities and well-educated talent from around the globe create a unique breeding ground – so much so that maybe the next big thing will come from Berlin instead of Silicon Valley.