“Why Hamburg?” meeting on 22nd January 2015, 7pm – Paddy’s Irish Pub

Recently I have been speaking to a lot of people regarding “Why Hamburg?” and all things related to the lives of international people in Hamburg, how Hamburg can attract more of us, and what we can do to fly the flag for our city.

Anyway, I’d love to get a small group of people together to talk very informally about topics such as Hamburg’s international image, startups, and attracting not only tourists but also skilled workers to Hamburg. You don’t need to be an expert to come along and have your say. It’s more about getting to know each other and talking about next steps.

So if you’re up for it, drop me a short email on john [at] why-hamburg.com and come to:

  • Paddy’s Bar (Schauenburgerstraße 40, 20095 Hamburg)
  • at 7pm
  • on 22nd January

I look forward to seeing you there!

Why do people move to a city? What Richard Florida says and whether it applies to Hamburg

My aim when starting this project was to find out why people move to Hamburgand to shed a bit of light on whether conventional wisdom – that cities are in competition with each other and need to do all they can to attract mobile, talented people who can move at the drop of a hat – applies to Hamburg. I’m also interested in what cities have to do to attract people.

This is especially relevant as Germany and other countries increasingly find themselves in need of highly-skilled workers, the so-called Fachkräftemangel.

Richard Florida and the Creative Class

One of the major thinkers and writers on this topic is Richard Florida, author of the 2002 book “The rise of the creative class”. A while ago, I got hold of the Revisited version.

From page 183 onwards, you can read the story of a graduate who was recruited from a Pittsburg university by an Austin company. Florida suggests that the real reasons people choose a city. It’s not about impressive buildings:

The physical attractions that most cities focus on building – sports stadiums, freeways, urban malls, and tourism-and-entertainment districts that resemble theme parks – are irrelevant, insufficient, or actually unattractive to them.

As it happens, I was having a chat to friends the other night about whether Hamburg’s hugely expensive world-class concert hall complex, the Elbphilharmonie, will do anything to make Hamburg more visible internationally. According to Florida, it will not. (For more on this, see below.)

What is it that attracts these people? Florida says its more about other people like them, but not too like them – diversity is very important.

What creatives look for are abundant high-quality amenities and experiences, an openness to diversity of all kinds, and above all else the opportunity to validate their identities as creative people. […]

A big part of [the] success [of places where creatives live] stems from that fact that they are places wher creative people want to live.

Does this tally up with my experience? Yes and no

Firstly, “Why Hamburg?” isn’t just about the creative class that Florida describes, but there is a big overlap.

All in all, I very much agree with Florida in terms of what makes a city attractive to internationals: in simple terms, it’s the people. Spouses, friends, recommendations from friends – usually there is somebody who has given the person a nudge to move to Hamburg. Diversity, too, is often mentioned by participants.

However lots of people come here because of work, which Florida says the creative class aren’t so bothered by.

It’s also slightly different with Hamburg, because although other people generally cause someone to come here, it’s usually individuals giving them that nudge for a wide range of reasons. That’s much different from a community radiating an image about a place that attracts more members.

Most interviewees love Hamburg also because of its amenities like parks, lakes, greenness, public transport, night-life etc., which contradicts what Florida says. But I think the group of friends and acquaintances, even a network of like-minded people to do business with, is the most important factor in making people stay.

So was the Elbphilharmonie a big mistake?

Elbphilharmonie
The Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, pictured in 2011.

I mentioned above that Florida says amenities such as big prestige projects aren’t the way to attract members of the creative class. (At one point he says it can even be a turn-off.)

I’m not an expert on this, but I think the Elbphilharmonie can – possibly – play an important role in attracting tourists and creating a buzz about Hamburg. But I’m sceptical about its power to do so on its own, and also think that for attracting long-term new residents Hamburg needs to have people and processes in place to assist people in setting up in Hamburg. (More on that another time.)

However, don’t forget that the Elbphilharmonie is part of the HafenCity, Europe’s largest urban development in terms of size. The HafenCity will only be completely finished around 2025 – and if they do it right it could combine affordable housing, offices, collaboration spaces and more to foster open innovation in a walkable neighbourhood. Until now, it has had a reputation as an extremely expensive ghost town, but it is gradually coming to life as more people move in and the Hafencity University moved its campus there in 2014. I don’t know enough about it yet, but there is a possibility that by 2025 it will be very different and will be home to a community that will be attractive to talented people from overseas.

Possibly more on this topic in a later post.

Could, and should, Hamburg host the 2024 Olympics?

[UPDATE 2: On 29th November 2015, there will be a referendum to decide whether Hamburg should continue its bid to host the Olympics. Non-Germans aren’t allowed to vote, as explained in my article.]

[UPDATE: On 21st March, the DOSB confirmed Hamburg as the candidate city for Germany.]

Imagine the scene as a flotilla carries olympians and paralympians from all corners of the world along the Elbe to the opening ceremony of the 2024 Hamburg Olympics. The cheers from the crowds of Hamburg residents and their international guests assembled along the Landungsbrücken, the craning of necks to see the athletes from our home countries and – oh my God! – people off the telly. Binoculars at the ready.

Across the world, Hamburg would be the centre of attention with the international press and heads of state here in the city we call home. You probably wouldn’t bump into Barack Obama at Jungfernstieg, but you might catch a glimpse of the odd familiar face off national TV and your sporting heroes from times past and present.

Hamburg has a mountain as large as Olympus itself to climb if it wants to host the Olympics and Paralympics in 2024, but it’s surely achievable. And the view from the top would be supreme.

Timeline: it could be all over by 21st March 2015

[UPDATE] – At the end of February, Forsa took a survey amongst 1,500 residents in Berlin and Hamburg, respectively. The DOSB had said that they would take into the account the results of this survey on whether residents were in favour or against. Hamburg “won” – residents were 64% in favour; in Berlin 55% were in favour.

One thing we know for sure: Germany will almost certainly apply to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic games. Either Berlin or Hamburg will be the proposed host city, and the DOSB (Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund or German Olympic Sports Confederation) will decide on 21st March 2015 which city it will be. Even if Berlin is chosen over Hamburg, there will surely be implications for our city because Berlin is a mere 90-minute train ride away from Hamburg and it would be feasible for major sports teams to have their bases here.

As outlined on the City of Hamburg website, there are many steps to be taken before the final decision. The German city that applies will hopefully be amongst the final candidates, which will be decided in May 2016. After that, the final decision will be taken in autumn 2017.

Could this catapult Hamburg onto the international stage?

On this blog, I have recently been arguing that Hamburg is not one of those “gone viral” cities (in the sense that we say something has “gone viral” on social media), and that it is unlikely to change.

Although I’m by no means certain that it would, the Olympics is one of the few single events that stands a chance of massively increasing Hamburg’s visibility internationally. With seven years’ anticipation (from the time of the selection) and four years’ intense anticipation (following the Olympics in Tokyo), Hamburg would be constantly in the international media. This would be a huge opportunity to build the international brand that Hamburg is, in my opinion, currently lacking.

It would be interesting to see what effect previous Olympic games have had on the image of other international cities, especially ones that weren’t previously well known internationally.

Do we want this? Hamburgians apparently do

There are definitely some people who are against the Olympic games taking place in Hamburg, not least the (n)Olympia group. Some would argue that quality of life suffers when cities become extremely popular because of the “churn” factor I dealt with previously, and the strain on resources. Others fear that it could lead to an acceleration in the gentrification process that is already a very hot topic in Hamburg. And of course there’s the cost of the whole thing, which can potentially run into billions, see below.

I, if I’m honest, have yet to make up my mind. My instinct says “yes” because the city authorities appear to be well aware of the criticisms of previous Olympics – especially where sustainability is concerned. I think it would be good for Germany to host the Olympics following its success with the World Cup in 2006 , and it would say a lot about Germany as a decentralised nation if it were to let it go to Hamburg.

According to a poll reported in the Abendblatt (Hamburg’s local broadsheet), Hamburgians are in favour of hosting the Olympics here: in September, 53% were in favour and 44% were against. Berlin citizens are against hosting it there: 49% were against, 48% were in favour.

On the other hand, Germans as a whole would apparently rather see the Olympics held in Berlin: again reported in the Abendblatt, 40% think that Berlin would have better chances of winning, whereas only 17% think Hamburg has a better chance.

But, as mentioned above, Berliners don’t want it.

Treading carefully following failed Munich referendum

In 2013,  Munich’s bid for the Winter Olympics 2022 fell at the very first hurdle: with a majority 52%, a the proposal was rejected in a referendum. This will no doubt play on the minds of the DOBC and the officials within both cities. Coupled with the aforementioned ongoing debate around gentrification and costs, dissatisfied citizens could cause problems if they feel they are being ignored. I suspect this could play in Hamburg’s favour, because the city is not quite as rebellious as Berlin.

Indeed, following the DOSC’s decision there will be a referendum in Hamburg to allow citizens to decide whether to proceed with the bid.

Sustainability and IOC reform

A big factor in keeping the people on board – whichever city is put forward – will be addressing concerns about the sustainability of the Olympics. We have all seen the listicles with photos of derelict Olympic sites. The logo and campaign CI for the previous Hamburg bid has been rolled out again for this campaign. Whether intentional or not, resources are being reused from the word go.

Sustainability partly means having a lasting effect, and as discussed above, in Hamburg’s case it could be argued that the additional publicity for the city would make a longer lasting change than it would for Berlin.

Where environmental sustainability is concerned, the city claims – probably much like any other city – that it will use existing facilities where feasible, and, where new ones are built, consider the future use of them. Hamburg, and Germany as a whole, are world leaders in sustainability practices so generally I think you can take them at their word.

In recent years, scepticism surrounding large – massive – sporting events like the Olympics and World Cup has grown. Corruption, or alleged corruption, amongst officials is often in the media. Hamburg has made its bid conditional on IOC reform from the word go.

In early December 2014, the Sport Senator (Michael Neumann) made a point of welcoming the IOC’s 40 reforms.

The practicalities

In the pre-application stage, Hamburg had to answer a whole host of questions about plans for the location of the Olympic village, transport arrangements, the Olympic stadium, and of course events such as sailing that cannot be hosted within Hamburg itself.

You can see a map of the plans in this unwieldy PDF. The main area including the Olympic village and Olympic stadium would be on an island in the Elbe between the northern and southern part of Hamburg. As I detailed in my article about Ana, the southern part of Hamburg is often forgotten. Part of the overall strategy with regards to the Olympics is to bridge that gap further.

In terms of transport, it seems that Hamburg considers itself to be up to the challenge without the necessity for any permanent extension to the transport system. We will see Olympic bike lanes, but other than that extra busses and subways will be put on to make up capacity. The StadtRad, a system that enables people to borrow bikes easily for a short time (think of Boris Bikes in London), will be extended, and Hamburg is a green and walkable city.

How much would it cost?

As far as I can see, nobody knows. In an answer to the (n)Olympia group, Sport Senator Michael Neumann said that overall the London Olympics in 2012 made a profit of £30 million. However, the (n)Olympia organisers say the initial projected budget of £3.07bn rose by a factor of almost four. So in terms of costs, we’re looking at possibly upwards of €10bn; but if the Senator is right, then the costs will be at least to some degree offset by income.

For or against?

I’m still not 100% certain whether I’m for the Olympics in Hamburg. My experience in London (where I ended up in the city during the Olympics almost pretty much by accident) biases me a little towards “yes”. Despite scepticism right from the day the logo was announced, people were generally in favour when it actually took place and look back on it, as I do, with fond memories.

Are you for or against? I’d be interested to hear what you think.

What I’ve learned from “Why Hamburg?” and Plans for 2015

It’s been just over a year since I started this project, aiming to get to the the bottom of why exactly people choose to move to Hamburg from abroad. I was motivated by personal interest and my professional background, having completed my graduate traineeship at Birmingham City Council, followed by a stint in Hamburg working in the area of online citizen participation, or e-participation. There is a close link between decisions for or against a particular city and the field of urban development. Much of the theory around why people move to a city is summed up by, or based upon, Richard Florida in his book “The Rise of the Creative Class”.

Since then, I’ve done ten portraits of other international people here in Hamburg and spoken to many more. I think I’ve got a better idea of why people choose Hamburg: in a nutshell, it’s not because Hamburg is their dream city, and many know little about it before they come here. Generally, either through a personal recommendation or personal circumstances (love or work) people end up here. But they usually fall in love with the place once they’ve spent some time here.

The two sides of Hamburg: “viral” nationally, “non-viral” internationally

To some extent, what Florida says applies to Hamburg. It particularly applies to Germans migrating within Germany, it would appear, as shown in this study by the Hamburg Institute of International Economics about attracting talented individuals. I think the reasons he lays out also align with the reasons that international people want to stay here, but not necessarily why they come here in the first place.

I think things are more complicated where what I call “non-viral” cities are concerned. Cities like London, New York, and Berlin have “gone viral” in the sense that they are very well known and have an incredibly strong international image. Hamburg is not one of those places. To make things more complicated, I would argue that Hamburg, within the German-speaking countries (DACH), is viral. So Hamburg has to operate differently in attracting internationals vís à vís attracting people from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In the former there is work to be done; in the latter, Hamburg is very successful – and justifiably so.

Goals for “Why Hamburg?” in 2015

The question, though, is where to take “Why Hamburg?” from here?

When I set out to start this project, I planned for it to be feasible as a pastime project. So it had to be enjoyable, and not take up too much time. That has worked out, so at a very minimum I will continue the project in its current form.

I am, however, seeking ways to extend it but this will mean finding other parties who have an interest in promoting what this blog is about. (This doesn’t necessarily mean extending the website, rather promoting the underlying values and goals.)

Making the case for an international Hamburg

It’s one thing to make demands of people, companies and public organisations within the city, but in order to be taken seriously we need arguments and voices that can convince these people that it’s worth the considerable effort. After all, Hamburg doesn’t have a problem attracting highly-skilled Germans so we need to demonstrate why throwing some internationals into the mix is worth the extra effort.

This project does that already: by showing examples of international people who have settled in Hamburg, in many cases learned the language, and are making a contribution through their businesses and employment we can show the unique perspective that internationals bring.

And the project itself, if I may say so, is an example of an international person (me!) marketing the city to outsiders with testimonials from people they can relate to. Each time one of the participants shares their story via social media, they are personally recommending Hamburg to hundreds, if not thousands, of their friends.

Doing the thinking and backing it up with facts

Selling Hamburg internationally is not easy. Not because Hamburg is not a nice place – of course it is, as I have outlined many times. The challenge is getting the message out there, competing with other places without being just a commodity, and reaching the right people.

My current thinking is that Hamburg needs to act very differently when marketing itself internationally, and in the case of attracting talented people to the city, it needs to think very differently about how to approach people it would like to attract. I’ll be writing more about this soon on the Hamburg Startups blog – but suffice to say, it’s more akin to customer relationship management than large-scale image campaigns.

Another aspect, which logically fits in with the niche campaigns that I think Hamburg needs to carry out, is about solving problems that international people face. I’ve identified a number of these through this project, and as Hamburg is reliant on recommendations for people choosing Hamburg, something comparable to good “customer service” is paramount.

All this thinking is very well, but at some point it has to be backed up with facts, statistics, and may even inform the basis for new research. Obviously I don’t have the resources to do all this myself, try as I might. Help would be appreciated!

Forging alliances

Next steps must be to find out who has an interest in supporting international people in Hamburg, and how they can help.

This means finding actors who want Hamburg to be promoted in a good light, who are interested in making life sustainable for international people in Hamburg, and are interested in how we can attract international people to Hamburg so that they can make a positive contribution to this great city.

This could be companies that recruit internationally (because the international market is larger, and international people bring benefits in and of themselves), or organisations that are interested in encouraging international startups and other companies to set up shop here. Incubators and public bodies spring to mind, as well as research institutions.

Any ideas? Get in touch!

A high “churn” rate has its downsides, but Hamburg needn’t worry

I recently spoke at 12min.me about “Why Hamburg?”, and the line I took was that international people generally come here for a specific reason, e.g. love, work, a recommendation from a friend, or some other coincidence. They don’t often come here because Hamburg is their dream destination, but usually love it when they are here.

This means that these people are rooted in, and rooting for, Hamburg.

High churn rate

Cities that have “gone viral”, on the other hand, don’t have this luxury. London, New York, Sydney and recently Berlin have such a strong international image that people just go there because they have heard it’s great and arrange a life around them once they are there: any job, accommodation, etc. The question “Why New York?” might even seem superfluous.

This group of young and internationally mobile people can leave at the drop of a hat, and do, meaning that they don’t necessarily put down roots in the same way that we do in Hamburg. This in turn means that there is a high “churn” rate of people coming and going.

This is the topic of an article by Richard Goodhart for Demos Quarterly, published by the UK thinktank Demos. The article itself is controversial in the way it deals with race issues – in my opinion, the author is too clumsy in his use of terms and statistics relating to the white population without clearly explaining why.

However, it points to some of the problems with being one of those hyper popular cities like London. I don’t want to do London a disservice – I love visiting friends there! – so take this with a pinch of salt, but the author describes a hellish vision of a city where people don’t put down roots, nobody trusts their neighbours, and nothing is sacred.

So what does this mean for Hamburg?

Firstly, this churn phenomenon is partly to do with the UK setup, which is much more polarised between London and not-London than Germany vís à vís Berlin. In fact, Germany has several cities that are richer than the capital and their populations aren’t way behind it. Birmingham, my home city and the second largest in the UK, is merely an eighth of the size of London in population; Hamburg is over half the size of Berlin.

Secondly, I think “churn” is not a problem Hamburg should really worry about. Hamburg could probably do with more internationalisation, even if some of those people come and go within a short space of time. (You can’t force them to stay here!) It’s only when it starts hitting high levels that it becomes a problem. I’d say this is like inflation in that respect. Or another comparison that springs to mind is the default fear that some organisations have when using social media or online forums: they decide not to do it because they worry about their capacity to moderate responses. In reality, their problem is not having enough interaction, rather than too much. The same goes for Hamburg as an international city: it would take a lot of work, and is probably impossible, to attract too many members of this “creative class” because Hamburg won’t go viral.

Thirdly, and on a similar note, I think places like Hamburg need to see the positive in not being a “viral city”.

Another social media analogy: not everyone is Stephen Fry, meaning the lessons we can learn from how he uses social media are limited. I think we can look to similar cities, and think about how we can do more low-level marketing instead of trying to compete with London and New York. This is a rather vague idea at the moment, but think more spear-fishing (addressing smaller groups, and having excellent “customer service” for startups thinking of relocating, the kind of stuff that requires a CRM system), instead of blunderbus-style catch-all marketing.

In all of that, I suggest there is a role for our long-term international people, who are rooted in the city, know it well, and have an interest in promoting it and ensuring that people have a good experience and stay here. After all, who wants to see their group of friends evaporate?

Career progression for international people in Hamburg

Recently I’ve been talking with quite a few international people in Hamburg about issues affecting them, because I’m brainstorming about where to take “Why Hamburg?”.

One of the issues that keeps coming up is employment.

My take on it is this: we’re really lucky to live in a lovely city like Hamburg, and even more lucky to have friends both from the local community and from all over the world. In order for this to be sustainable (apologies for inflational use of this word!), we need to have employment. Otherwise we’re not reaching our potential, and life is less enjoyable.

There are many international people in Hamburg who have good jobs. But if their company were to make them reduntant, or go bust, they would have trouble finding employment at the same level.

Some people work in jobs for which they are over-qualified; others are in danger of leaving altogether. I say “danger” because for me, when other international people leave Hamburg, that’s a threat to the lifestyle I enjoy. It’s also bad for the city, because international people who are rooted in Hamburg also root for Hamburg as I argued previously.

How do we enable career progression for international people in Hamburg?

I don’t think this is necessarily Hamburg or Germany-specific, and partly it is because – no matter how well you speak the local language – as a foreign person you will never be chief editor of the newspaper, or the person writing press releases.

But how do we ensure that international people can stay for the long-term, safe in the knowledge that they aren’t dependent on one employer and can progress through their career at successively high levels of skill and seniority, just like everyone else?

We can only succeed if Hamburg succeeds

Yesterday (11th December) I gave a talk at Absolute Software’s offices in central Hamburg as part of the 12min.me format. The concept is simple: speakers are allowed 12 minutes (and strictly no more!) to present a topic, followed by an equally strict 12 minutes of questions from the audience.

Thanks to Olli Rößling for inviting me. It was a great opportunity to spread the word and also to think in a structured way about what this project has taught me so far and where I want it to go next. There are so many things I could say about Why Hamburg? and I packed a lot in. Here are a few of the things I said.

We can only suceed if Hamburg succeeds

My message was: internationals are rooted in Hamburg, and rooting for Hamburg.

Continue reading We can only succeed if Hamburg succeeds

A growing international community at Shhared, Bahrenfeld

Yesterday (4th December) I went to my first “CIC” at Shhared, CIC standing for Creativity, Inspiration and Conversation. Alex Ahom, founder of Shhared, and Sabela Garcia organised the evening of talks, activities and conversation.

Since interviewing Alex for “Why Hamburg?” I have worked at Shhared on several occasions. It’s really to see things coming along there, and yesterday evening it was nice to meet other people from the wider community around Shhared and feel part of an emerging community.

The atmosphere was very relaxed and it felt like a good bunch of people from diverse backgrounds. The group was very international: at one point we did a round robin and everyone said their name and what country they came from. At the very least half of the people were originally from outside Germany.

So all in all, an enjoyable and productive evening and I’ll gladly go along to the next Shhared event! (Especially if there are beer and sausages again.)

Germany’s media capital gets a startup accelerator

I’m probably biased, but for me Hamburg is Germany’s undisputed media capital and recent events only confirm that: Twitter Germany recently located its main office from Berlin to Hamburg,  and now DPA (Deutsche Presse Agentur) has chosen Hamburg as the location for its new media startups accelerator.

As reported by Vocer, DPA chose Hamburg because they see more potential for angel investors (Hamburg is one of Germany’s most wealthy cities), and the network of actors within the media scene.

Twitter too cited Hamburg’s strong media scene, proximity to large customers, the presence of advertising agencies and the startup scene as justification for its move to Hamburg.

A bit of historical background: Germany’s largest and most well-known media organisations were founded in Hamburg. These include Axel Springer, Gruner + Jahr, Der Spiegel and Die Zeit. Over 70,000 people are employed in the media industries, with a total of 14,063 companies.

The startup accelerator builds nicely on Hamburg’s rising startup scene. For more information about that, see my interview with Sina and Sanja from Hamburg Startups.