Strange things are going on these days. At the top of German music charts is a new band, Kraftklub, with its record “Mit K”. It’s some mixture of Indie and Rap. The strange things about it are:
1. the band is not from Berlin
2. the band’s probably most famous song is “Ich will nicht nach Berlin” (I don’t wanna go to Berlin)
3. they are from the east-German worker city Chemnitz with an, to be polite, unfavorable image
4. (and this is a scandal) the band does not feel ashamed about it
Hojoki is a tech startup and as it happens we are also located in this seedy town of Chemnitz. So I’ve decided to write about the parallels of Kraftklub’s song (and its success) and our view of Berlin’s startup scene.
Don’t get me wrong, Berlin is great! I really mean it.
Berlin has a lot going for it…
As soon as you leave the train you feel the international spirit…hordes of young people. As soon as you enter Sankt Oberholz, it’s crystal-clear that this city has huge creative potential and people who want to achieve more in their lives than a nine to five job. So, if you’re unhappy where you are, if you don’t have a team to kickoff your startup, if you feel like you’re not in the right environment to build something extraordinary, if you feel something is missing for you to be able to live your dreams, Berlin is your place.
But I’m not going
However, I don’t feel this way. Our team feels happy where we are. Does this make us uncool? Are we losers because we don’t move?
Kraftklub say that everywhere they went for concerts the hip band on the stage said “we’re from Berlin” and everyone felt “whooo, they HAVE to be cool”. And the guys on stage felt this too. Kraftklub states that they should be able to play their music and it should be completely irrelevant as to where they live. I have the very same feeling about our startup. But if you talk to Berlin guys recently, the first thing they ask you is, “where are you located? (they mean the Berlin district)” and the second thing, if you answered with “well, Chemnitz”: “OMG. Why would you do this?”
Strange thing is, nearly nobody asks you what it is your startup does. It’s all about where you are from and not about what you do. This can’t be right.
Are we all suffering from Berlin tunnel view?
So why is, what I would call the “Berlin tunnel view”, a bad thing? First of all, you are missing great stuff! Kraftklub play great music. Hojoki builds great software: We have been covered by TechCrunch, The Next Web and were on stage at LeWeb. Read Write Web named us as one of the top ten consumer cloud apps of 2011 next to Evernote and Box.net and this happened just one week after we launched!
And the Berlin-centric German press? Didn’t cover us at all. (Editor’s Note: Well, we did.)
While you could say, “OK, I see that is very mean to you but who cares? It’s only a problem for guys who aren’t in Berlin. Haha!” You’re missing the point. I see a clear danger here that the tunnel view lowers your skills of seeing the world as it is, of broadening your view.
The goal is to build a German Silicon Valley in Berlin. Great. But even Silicon Valley guys look at New York (Tumblr, Foursquare) and Chicago (37signals, Groupon) and other hotspots of innovation in the world (UK, Israel, Scandinavia). In focusing on Berlin, you tend to lose what makes this place very special, you abandon diversity in favour of some crude localism. Even today, the outside view on Berlin is that there is a strange imbalance of who dominates the news and who really builds successful startups.
Tech startups are about ideas and the arts of engineering and marketing. They are not about actors and superstars. Let’s not forget that.
Want to read more on how Berlin fits into the bigger picture? Check out Ciaran O’Leary’s article from earlier this week.