To Berlin:

The Greatest College Campus That Ever Lived!

This is my neighborhood, Prenzlauerberg. Those are free ping pong tables.

You guys, let me tell you about my day.

I woke up in my lovely apartment, in my safe neighborhood, for which I pay nice, comfortable vaguely-Midwestern prices.

I made myself some breakfast, and biked to a client’s office for the morning, where I worked with a lot of clever, kind, international people.

I then took myself to Badeschiff — that would be a pool in the middle of the Spree river — and read for a couple hours. Took the train home — cost me €2.70 — and, on the three-minute walk from the station back to my apartment, managed to buy myself some fresh blackberries and a coffee.

Then, this evening, I arrived — solo, again by bike — at Factory Berlin, Berlin’s newest and brightest tech-campus-slash-coworking-space, for a Meet & Pitch event with Leo Widrich, COO of (my favorite-ever company) Buffer.

Leo Widrich and Candy Behunin chat remote work, natural hierarchies, and SaaS business.

I sat in the front row, as evidenced by this photo. We were on the patio, as you can see here.

Before it started, I helped my friends on the Factory team set up their Periscope livestream for the chat.

After it ended, I raced around the neighborhood on an eletric Unu Motors scooter, courtesy of Candy Behunin, fellow Southern Californian and moderator of this here event.

Hung out on the patio for a bit longer. Had a beer. Biked the ten minutes home, where — the cherry on top — my normal bike rack spot was patiently waiting for me.

You guys are probably catching onto this already, but let me just say it out loud for the class: I had a GREAT DAY.

After my Unu Motors ride. Having a great time.

And this is Berlin. Yesterday, on an eight-minute walk through a boring part of Mitte, I ran into three people I knew — and simply high-fived them in the street as I kept walking, while chatting on the phone to my dad back in San Diego.

It’s hard to eloquently explain the warm authenticity of the Berlin expat/techspat community — but I’m going to give it a try.

Berlin is a young scene when it comes to entrepreneurship and to “startup culture.” You can in fact tell how young it is by how often people use the word “startup” here — and, also, how often they use “tech” and “startup” as synonyms.

Our strange and conglomerate expat-techspat-hustler-coder-artist community is growing rapidly. If you’re curious about how rapidly, I suggest you check the facts in Kalie Moore’s quarterly funding analysis.

Now, there are plenty of reports out there that address the question of why (or why not) Berlin. I don’t need to re-write that article. I just want to tell you how it feels.

The simplest way I can explain it is this: Berlin is the greatest college campus that ever lived.

You remember that feeling you get when finals are coming and everyone is working on a really important assignment? You’re all stressed out, but not really stressed. In fact, it’s kind of fun. Because you’re all at the library together. And you can feel that gentle, communal hum of working on your individual different projects and papers — everyone together, everyone at once.

Yeah, that’s it. Berlin is like being at the library together.

Greg Koch, CEO of Stone Brewing Co, talks American vs. German beer at Tech Open Air 2015.

In Berlin — and in school — you have this concept of the friendquaintance. You may have only met a few times, but there’s an immediate and unspoken understanding that you’re in the same tribe. You feel a need to protect and support each other, because the community is greater than the sum of its parts.

In Berlin, I can call up friendquaintances I haven’t seen for eight months and invite them to come over for dinner. Or to give me some advice on a project. And there’s — swear to you — nothing socially awkward about it.

Do you know how rare that is in grown-up life? But it’s here. In Berlin.

Yes, part of Berlin’s brilliance comes from its youth.

There are certain subsets of the Berlin startup community that are still Playing Business when it comes to growing, building, or working at a early-stage venture. My jaded, capitalist American self occasionally rolls her eyes. And a lot of “Silicon Valley” slang — see: networking, contacts, leveraging — without enough American business context for it to make loads of sense.

Berlin’s women-in-tech community, the Geekettes, with Sheryl Sandberg in July 2015.

But you know what? In Berlin, everyone is so earnestly excited about building a platform — an entire city, in fact — for growth, that those words and actions are real. Relationship-building is not just a marketing word to the Berliner — it is an authentic glue of this community. A glue that’s going to propel the entire community forward, greater than the sum of its parts.

When asked to explain American tech networking, I say this: “Honestly, we never would have even gotten to this part of the conversation. I would have said I run a copy and content strategy business, and you would have glazed over and looked past me, cut me off, and said, ‘Nice — I actually think I see my friend from Stripe, if you’d just excuse me…’”

(Stripe, I’m sorry that I always use you as an example. It’s only because you’re hot. I don’t actually think any of you Stripe people would ever do this to me.)

In Berlin, we don’t have contacts. We don’t even have a real hierarchy. We just have our friendquaintances, the members of our tribe. A tribe that pretty much anyone can join, as long as you love and respect it as much as we do.

And man-oh-man. When you have a day like I did today — well, you really can feel it. The community love. And that’s just about as magical as it gets.


Thanks for reading. If you want to keep in touch, you can find me singing on Instagram at @alexashoen.

I also write emails once a week about how to apply content marketing strategy to your own life and career. If that sounds cool to you, go ahead and join my TinyLetter mailing list.

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