The Lower East contribution to the book Startup Guide Berlin, Volume 2, 2016; an intro to Berlin, the startup scene and some of the good and innovative places in the city.
Here’s the text in its full length – you can find the fine book in good stores in the city, and of course in the Lower East Lab in Kreuzberg. Check the Startup Guide website for locations. Link at the end of this article.
Looking at Berlin
Walking the streets of Berlin – which we very often do – we see a lot going on. Stuff happens on almost every corner, in every hinterhof, first, second or third. We love living in the big B! We are still getting inspired from the walks and talks in the city. Love the city for the size it has, love it for the creativity that sprinkles down from the big startup cloud, love it for the diversity, the different colors, sizes, ages and intentions of the inhabitants. Love Berlin for what it does to us in our minds – having left the safe zone in Copenhagen, to the (tiny, little bit more) risky grounds here. A new place for us to live, operate and create from.
At every walk, every little tour in Berlin, we are tempted to enter many doors, visit new places, new companies, small and big – want to drop by, to step in, to ask questions and share stories, about business and about life.
So what do we see while strollin’ around in the many cobblestoned streets of Berlin?
Starting up. Of course we see a lot of startups. Every week, new creative shops, projects, companies and businesses pop up, like dandelions that shoot up out of the pavement; it seems like nothing can keep them down. These years very much so in Neükölln and Kreuzberg, but that can change and shift at any moment (or month), and can extend to other damn fine parts of the city. Then cool stuff suddenly happens in Wedding or Schöneberg – or Moabit and Mitte (again). You can walk the streets to see and follow it yourself, or you can read the countless numbers of blogs, or follow the trends and tendencies on Facebook.
Teaming up. One very fine thing these years is the ‘habit of’ starting up with very interesting teams. We are skipping the lonely wolf period. People, once at the helm of new projects and new businesses, team up with others that may have the same ambition, may have the same hunger for doing good business – but not necessarily having the exact same skills, not coming from the same background and place.
Internationalization. Another wonderful thing about these new teams is that people find each other ‘in mysterious ways’: creative and skilled Germans (Berliners) are teaming up with creative and skilled people flocking to Berlin. Bakers from Italy, butchers from Poland, artists from Mexico, communication talents from Austria, baristas from Australia, actors from Spain, DJs from England, nerds from the US, even project makers from Denmark… Looks like there is an openness to explore what diversity can bring to the team. Seems like there is an invitation from the local Berliner to join the force, that the Berliners fancy the cooperation, have extra space in the team, and are just waiting for the right dude (men and women) to show up, maybe with that good idea, maybe with the necessary skills, or with the missing link in his or her hand. Wonderful!
Good advice. Remember once in a while to climb a mountain (you can always use the Kreuzberg hill in Viktoriapark). Get up there, get some overview, get some fresh air, clear your mind. Maybe your idea, your business can become better? What did you forget to think of, who did you forget to include? What can be improved? Never just lean back in self-satisfaction, do not only celebrate your achievements – be humble, be open for the new, evolve, create, integrate. Set a good example and do your stuff even better, in an even more creative way.
Work hard. Walk the extra mile. Startups really work hard, many hours, many days per week in this city. For these first 1, 2 or 3 years it takes a lot from you. We meet people standing at market after market with their new and fantastic bread, with their smoked meat, with their very special kimchi; we see architects and designers working late in the evening and early in the morning. And we see the beautiful smiles on the faces of the startups, when they have succeeded, when they have achieved their first milestone and when they are able to write their first invoice.
What’s the next thing? The city has been ‘overwhelmed’ with coffee bars the recent years, and thank you for that, all you brave baristas! You needed that, Berlin! Ten years ago it was a hard job finding a decent cup of coffee. But what will the next “coffee-thing“ be? What is that new finding, that new wave in Berlin, that which is just obvious, somehow necessary – and at the same time simple to execute, not so hard to finance and easy to integrate? Will it be small (or big) places for quiet, popping up everywhere like walk-in meditation rooms? Or will it be new locations for having good talks in a new way, with all kinds of people, all kinds of nationalities? Or will it again be new places to eat or to drink – and drink what? We are looking forward to seeing what emerges, while still enjoying our damn good cup of espresso or flat white (for us it is still the good old fashioned italian way of roasting, no third wave here).
New way? The city is happily loaded with a lot of fine co-working spaces. Check them out if you want a place to work from, to start as soon as you arrive in Berlin, or when arriving to the point of no return; it’s now I want to begin my own journey as a startup. Also keep an eye out if there is a new version of how-to-work and where-to-work coming up. Can the co-working scene evolve into an improved form? How can the good from the open co-working environment be combined with the good from working in an intense, disciplined and perhaps silent setting? And how can you find the exact combination that just suits you (and your team).
Ask questions. Be curious. Be interested. There are tons of good stories out there, on the streets of Berlin. Stories about what drives people, for what reasons have they started up their businesses, why here, together with whom? Is it a family business, is it created together with good old friends, or did they meet their (future) business partner in a train, or at a bar – or at a co-working space in Berlin? Ask questions and listen to the answers: they might inspire you in many ways, on how to start and form your new business.
Keep on sharing. And when you are in business, remember to give something back to the big universe of stories, knowledge and experiences. Keep it open, both during successful and problematic periods. Share your gained lessons, big or small, good or bad. Through the shared stories we can support and improve our common businesses. Share them with newcomers and welcome people who visit the city – Berlin can be a very inspiring place for those seeking souls.
Spread the word. We see a lot of good and creative communication here in Berlin. Startups using all the new (social) media platforms in a lively, very strong, visual way, with easy-going, often witty texts and intros – combined with the good ol’ printed stuff, like postcards, flyers and posters, designed with passion and talent in a playful way. We also see a ‘domino effect’ happening here: when people succeed with their first thing in their new business, with their first move, suddenly the next invention and the next thing comes out way easier, like a totally natural thing. It’s very inspiring to look for examples of where one idea nourishes the next.
Anything we missed on our tour de Berlin? Please walk the streets and look for yourself, find your own path in this lively city!
Inspiring spots. When writing this, a lot of fine examples of creative, lively, inspiring and often international businesses and projects crossed our minds. Here is a selection; check them out (and add more to your own list):
In Kreuzberg we of course love the foodmarket Markthalle 9, like thousands of other Berliners and Berlin visitors do. Many of the inhabitants from the Markthalle do really good and interesting businesses, like Big Stuff Smoked BBQ (a BBQ joint with a founding duo from Germany (Tobias Bürger) and Italy (Anna Lai) and an imported barbeque smoker from Tennessee); Kantine Neun and Café 9; Sironi (with Alfredo Sironi, the baker from Milano, Italy); 100pct (delicious olive oil from Greece); Salumeria del Sud (“Feinkost & Wein“ from South Italia with Eugenio Finzi from Puglia in Italy behind the desk) and the new kid in class, Kumpel & Keule (a ‘Metzgerei’ founded by butcher Jörg Förstera and communication designer Hendrik Haase).
In Neukölln you will find the wonderful collective Agora, with co-work, art, food and a lot more, run by an international team. Back in Kreuzberg you can co-work, learn, talk and have a coffee at Betahaus. All over the city you find other creative and good co-working spaces. In Mitte/Prenzlauer Berg, you’ll find the fascinating Platoon Cultural Development. In Mitte/Kreuzberg, below Checkpoint Charlie, you find the cool and very cozy coffee & media shop Westberlin. Back in Neukölln you’ll find the restaurant (and talk of the town) Industry Standard, with its wonderfully international crew. Another talk of the town is Fräulein Kimchi (Korean-American soul food) in Prenzlauer Berg. And back in Kreuzberg you can meet us at our local coffee joint Kiezeklein.
If you are into music, drop by the jazz clubs B-flat (in Mitte) or A-trane (in Charlottenburg). One of our very favorites is Restaurante Maselli in Kreuzberg (chef and owner: Gerado Maselli from Puglia, Italy), we also enjoy dropping by Salumeria Lamuri in Kreuzberg for a delicious coffee, a tasty lunch and a little chat with Lucca Barbieri (of course also from Italy), as well as restaurants Sippi Osteria (Neukölln) and I Golosi Briganti (Kreuzberg).
We would never survive in Berlin without all the italian; it seems like they add spice and flavours, the garlic, the basil, the extra virgin olive oil to the city. They add the good talks, about love, family, relationships and quality of life, they help completing the picture, with warmth and hospitality, with the good food, from Puglia, from Sicily, from Tuscany, from Emilia Romagna or whatever proud region in Italy they have ‘escaped’ from to do some good, warm-hearted work here in Berlin.
We also get inspired by the amazing rooftop Klunkerkranich in Neukölln, the urban garden Prinzessinnengarten in Kreuzberg, and Kühlhaus Berlin (art & event space). In Friedrichshain we enjoy Tres Cabezas (coffee roastery and -bar), Mother Drucker (silk screen printing by the Londoner Dolly Demoratti) and Neue Heimat (which have sadly closed down).
With great pleasure, we have often used Hüttenpalast (hotel with caravans!) for guests coming to Berlin. In Prenzlauer Berg we visit Supalife (a ‘kiosk’ with high quality silk screen printing) and Muse/Thyme Supperclub (restaurant and pop-up dinners run by the British/German couple Caroline Grinsted and Tobias Zeller).
We keep an eye on Buchstabenmuseum (they will hopefully soon re-open), Refugees on Rails (Refugee Coding School), the art organization Node Center, the bookstore Motto in Kreuzberg, Cee Cee (books and lively newsletter), do you read me?! (lovely magazine store in Mitte) – and maybe we will finish the day with a glass of wine at “not only riesling” in Kreuzberg.
Enjoy your Berlin!
Helle Marietta Pedersen and Jørgen Smidstrup are running the design & communication company Lower East, with clients and projects in Berlin, Switzerland and Denmark. They have established their Lower East Lab in Kreuzberg, a lab for creative learning, workshops, meetings, talks, events, dinners and co-work. They are also the creators of the pop up kitchen: Camillo’s Cafeteria and Camillo’s Paladar.
Keep the wheels turning. © photo: Lower East