The Economy in Germany

Young, creative, international – the creative industries in Berlin

Edial Dekker, Gidsy-CEO; © GidsyBerlin, Friedrichstraße; © claudecastor/Fotolia.com
Berlin, Friedrichstraße; © claudecastor/Fotolia.com

Berlin is teeming with artists and creative people who come to the city from every corner of the globe. Young entrepreneurs wax lyrical about the unique vibes that Germany’s capital give off. It’s like an idyllic microcosm in which everyone knows each other, everyone helps each other, and people get together to develop new ideas.

German is spoken on Tuesdays at Gidsy – during the lunch break, at least. The rest of the time the 14-strong team communicates in English, as the company’s employees come from nine different countries. Its founders, Edial Dekker and his brother Floris, are from the Netherlands, their co-founder Philipp Wassibauer is from Austria, and other members of its staff come from places such as Canada, Ireland, the USA and Denmark: “That’s the great thing about Berlin – that so many people from different parts of the world come together here”, says Edial Decker.

The 28-year-old has been living in Berlin for something over four years. He came straight to the city after graduating with a degree in new media in Amsterdam, initially setting up websites for other companies and then, a little over a year ago, founding his own company, Gidsy. The website allows customers to book workshops, dinners or adventure tours all over the world: street art courses, alternative city tours or ten-day journeys around Peru organized by the local inhabitants. Business is good, says Edial Dekker, with many customers coming from Berlin or other parts of Germany – though he is reluctant to reveal the precise number of his customers.

Berlin has a kind of magical appeal for artists and creative people

Edial Dekker has no problem explaining why he and his co-founders chose Berlin of all places to set up their company: “It is simply an amazingly exciting city”, says the Dutchman, “and there are so many people doing interesting things here.” Young entrepreneurs are constantly coming up with new ideas and setting up businesses based on these ideas: “You can learn a lot from others, and also find suitable advisers and investors.”

Berlin, UNESCO City of Design

Many people enthuse about the special vibe the city gives off for people of a creative bent. Ingrid Walther heads the communication, media and cultural industries department at Berlin’s Senate Department for Economics, Technology and Research. She explains that, like other major cities, Berlin has long held a special fascination for those working in the cultural and creative industries – and has done for over 150 years. This is because the city is constantly changing: industrialization in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, then the Roaring Twenties, followed by the Nazi reign of terror and the Second World War: “Many artists were drawn to the city by the morbidity after the war”, says Ingrid Walther, “after which things started moving again and new things began to emerge. This process is still continuing today.”

Programmes to provide funding for freelancers and small entrepreneurs

Logo Projekt Zukunft; © Senatsverwaltung BerlinCreative and cultural professionals are an important advertisement for Berlin, the effects of which are felt well beyond the capital’s boundaries. Many programmes have been initiated to provide financial support for freelancers and micro-entrepreneurs, and a total of 20 million euros of funding were invested in the “Information Technology, Media and Creative Industries Cluster”. In addition, two million euros have been pumped into the “Project Future” aimed at promoting network-building among creative professionals.

The city intends to pursue this funding strategy, while at the same time encouraging creative individuals to develop stronger links with traditional industries such as the automotive industry, and to tap into new markets outside Berlin.

Networks generate new ideas

The cultural and creative scene encompasses many disciplines: artists, computer game developers, musicians, designers, film professionals. What is more, from time to time traditional industries also let themselves in for innovative adventures – like the publishing house “Das wilde Dutzend” (i.e. The Wild Dozen), for instance. It describes its aim as follows: “To bring the mysteries and secrets of literary and cultural history into the modern world”. And that is a story in itself, as a secret society is behind the publishing house, reports co-founder Dorothea Martin, namely the ‘lodge’: “Believe it or not, this is a group of 13 unknown individuals who over the centuries have collected numerous stories which we are now publishing.”

The publishing house releases one book per year. In mid-2012, it published The Secret Grimm Files, with texts and materials relating to the fairy-tales of the Brothers Grimm. The book functions in its own right, but surrounding it are also numerous events and stories which readers can follow. For example, there is a Facebook group in which users can read stories posted by Adele, who is out and about trying to find new texts on behalf of the secret society. Adele also publishes her adventures on Twitter, and the publisher offers games and workshops for children that are all about the fairy-tales of the Brothers Grimm: “We now have a solid following of fans”, says Dorothea Martin, though she concentrates mainly on Berlin: “A great deal depends on personal exchange.”

The publishing house is only one of the strings to her bow, however; she also develops “trans-media storytelling” concepts for companies. For instance, a book publication may be accompanied by an app that allows the reader to find out more about the characters, or a company may find potential applicants via an Internet game. Her clients include many companies from the entertainment industry, though it is also conceivable for such stories to be developed for management consultancies or banks, she explains.

Space for creative ideas

The idea works so well in Berlin because people from different lines of work find it easy to get into contact with one another: “There are game developers, IT experts, film people, social media experts and publishers”, says Dorothea Martin, “and when the knowledge of all these people is combined, ideas such as trans-media storytelling are the outcome.” In a city like Berlin, forging new contacts is an everyday process: “There are places where people can rent offices for several days at a time and share ideas with others, and conferences or network meetings take place almost every week.” People from all corners of the globe find this extremely appealing, she continues. “Put simply, there is space here for creative ideas.”

Just how creative Germany’s cultural industries are outside Berlin, however, can be verified each year at the annual conference of the “Cultural and Creative Industries Initiative of the Federal Government”, where one outstanding initiative from each of the country’s states receives an award for its role as a “motion sensor”. And where does this happen? In Berlin, of course!

Britta Mersch
works as a freelance education journalist, lecturer and presenter in Cologne. She works for the WDR5 and Deutschlandfunk radio stations and presents a knowledge interview programme on DRadio Wissen.

Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
March 2013

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