Berlin: the Silicon Valley of Europe [Part II]
Mauerpark, Berlin, Germany

Germany has the largest national economy in Europe and its capital is considered to be Europe's coolest city. No need to convince me further, I embarked on the adventure of expatriation and made Berlin my third home city.

After a long collaboration with elegantly dressed up and conventional people of the EU Bubble, I am experiencing the Start-up Scene where I meet originally dressed and laid-back people everyday. It’s definitely exciting to be part of the growing IT/Web start-up scene in Berlin, but the reality is not as wonderful and appealing as the media tends to describe it, and I wish someone had told me beforehand how it really looks behind the scene.

For years, Berlin hasn’t been the most important economy of the country, but the situation has changed within the last few years, and the unemployment rate has been trending downward; partially because most German start-ups are focused on the outside of the German market. Nevertheless, even though they are now addressing the global market, unemployment remains high, at about 11%, making it hard to find a decent well-paid job.

In 2014, Berlin can certainly stand for a "cool and cheap” city. Many entrepreneurs are launching their business from here or choosing to relocate to Berlin because they can rent an office space much cheaper than in London and can also employ people for less money. Almost every digital start-up based here is looking for young graduates with strong technical skills, especially software developers, online marketing specialists and web designers. But the market has become more competitive in the recent months and start-ups can employ their staff even for less money than in Asia. Most start-ups here don’t have the budget to fly you out for an interview, it will be done over Skype but the best is to be on the ground and available on the spot.

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Every single expat who landed in Berlin is desperately in need for a room inside the "Berlin Ring“. The rent for a WG-Zimmer in Berlin (translation: room in a shared apartment) is still low in comparison with London, but renting a one-bed flat in central Berlin is no longer cheap. Looking for a shared flat is a veritable marathon, as it involves a recruitment process almost identical to a job interview: be ready to send 20 applications per day and to prove that you are the ideal candidate with many documents, such as your job contract. As if this wasn’t hard enough, when you are accepted by your new flatmates after a few weeks’ research, beware that the rooms are usually rented or sublet for one month or three if you get lucky. The bright side of it is that the adventure starts by visiting various areas of Berlin, with its graffitis, as well as its U/S-Bahn stations, the rapid underground network that is spread all over Berlin.

Why are so many people coming here?

Berlin has turned into an international funky city where no one speaks German in the start-up world. English is the working language where even German-born employees speak English in Berlin at their job. Therefore, digital start-ups can hire anyone from anywhere and many educated young people from across the world who can't get jobs in their place come here and get a job. The best opportunity you can get is an underpaid internship for years or short term contracts as that’s all that small start-ups can afford. The average salary in Berlin is lower compared to other cities in Germany or Europe, and you may need to collect bottles to get an income that covers your basic needs.So if you want to join the community, expect to work funny hours and for nearly nichts (translation= nothing), as until now, there is no national minimum wage in the country. This will change in 2015, though.

Nobody has a ‘real job’ and everyone has a ‘personalized contract’ with various ongoing projects that may not materialize, because the objective is to launch the business fast and get immediate results. The positive side of this is that you may end up working not in a basement, but in a trendy co-working space such as in Ahoy or Betahaus, and to greatly enjoy the Berliner lifestyle by combining work and networking events. On weekends you can party until Sunday when the sun rises and the following morning you may work online from home. You can also come and work a few hours and your colleagues will not judge you if you come late to a meeting with a hangover. If you don’t like working from home, there are many bars like St Oberloz, where geek-people gather and shape their creativity. In fact, the stereotypes describing that Germans love “rules, organization, structure and punctuality“ seem to not to be applied in the creative internet world. Nevertheless, if you want to create any kind of company, you have to be disciplined and work hard.

Berlin is still a small ecosystem and needs more years to overtake London as the European start-up capital. Other cities are also competing for attention, and have their own technology hub. Berlin could potentially win the title of the European Silicon Valley, since it’s a good place for small businesses looking to connect with both East and West in Europe. However, even though Berlin has this amazing spirit of innovation, it’s important to distinguish start-ups from multinationals like Google or Microsoft. A few start-ups based in Berlin have become globally successful, but the other businesses are financially insecure and may not survive in the long term. To help the new start-ups to grow, accelerators such as Start-up boot camp connect companies, investors and corporate partners and some investors are taking the risk to invest millions of euros. The Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would make the industry grow and will make it easier for foreigners to register, so they can work in the city as well.

The list of new tech start-ups in Berlin is getting long and let’s see how these companies will succeed in implementing their ideas of start-ups into successful business models. But since the motto seems to be “Failure makes smart because we are a start-up“, does that mean that failure is awesome?

Find out everything about the start-up environment in Berlin from this Berlin Start-up guide.

Edited by Catalina Ghelan