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.


“There’s no reason why Germany shouldn’t be a land of opportunity!”

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Alex Ahom took his first steps as an entrepreneur on the streets of Hamburg around Altona and the Schanze: walking from boutique to bistro to restaurant to record shop to café to cobbler to deli to diner to tailor, asking business owners – in English – to explain to him how to start a company in Germany. Many shopkeepers were happy to help; one shop owner in particular explained the different types of company provided for by German law, and how to go about setting one up, before directing Alex to the Handelskammer (the Chamber of Commerce).

So even before Shhared – Alex’ business idea – was a legal entity, it had become a reality. Alex’ persistence, his refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer, had yielded fruit:

Continue reading “There’s no reason why Germany shouldn’t be a land of opportunity!”

Hamburg’s surprisingly successful startup scene and how “Hamburg Startups” is flying the flag

Hamburg has long been a wealthy city, going right back to the times when it headed the Hanseatic League. Much of this wealth remains in the possession of long-established companies and old families. Adhering to values going back generations, this inner circle of elders is said to be sworn to a codex of honesty and honour, is characterised by understatement, favour action over words, and tend to be sceptical of new ideas and people from outside their ranks. Against that background – the old money, scepticism of lofty ideas in favour of tried and tested solutions, the inner circle of trusted friends – it might seem implausible for Hamburg to become a paradise for startups, or a hive of disruption and innovation. People from abroad might be especially wary.

Continue reading Hamburg’s surprisingly successful startup scene and how “Hamburg Startups” is flying the flag

Diversity is creativity

“Should we fear Google?” – the headline on a tabloid newspaper last weekend. I sighted it whilst queuing for bread at the local bakery. Indeed, there is little more quintessentially German than queuing for bread in a bakery (surprising for an economic powerhouse); the Angst about all-knowing, all-seeing internet companies, vented largely at Google, is becoming equally quintessential.

Tabloid journalism in Germany is very creative, especially when thinking about what could go wrong. Even the CEO of the German media empire Axel Springer is scared, as he commented recently – and he wants us to be scared too.

A few days later I’m sat opposite Jeremy Tai Abbett, originally from Minnesota. Jeremy is Creative Evangelist at Google and his job is to channel Germans’ creativity into thinking about what can go right, and how Google and its products can make life better for them. Of course I was interested to find out why someone would take on such an apparently thankless task. But what I’m especially keen to find out is: Why Hamburg?

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Brightening up a gloomy city

Apart from the odd mention of gentrification on Wilhelmsburg, a river island that is home mostly to generations of poor immigrants and their descendants, the southern part of Hamburg is largely out of sight and out of mind. The Elbe, Hamburg’s industrial river, slices the city in two and is as much a psychological wall of water as a physical barrier, most of the attractions that constitute the city’s identity lying to the north. In recent years, the local government has been pumping money into projects to encourage people to make the “leap over the Elbe” and put southern Hamburg on the mental map.

I made the leap, taking the S-Bahn across the Elbe through Wilhelmsburg and Veddel to Harburg. After a short walk from the station I approached the red-brick university buildings, peering into the laboratories at the lab assistants in their white coats counting iron filings. The shaking platforms and centrifuges were gyrating and vibrating peacefully; the sterility a far cry from the gritty urbanism that this blog is supposed to be about. Seeing the Brightup logo I knew I had arrived at the Northern Institute of Technology Management (NIT) on the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg (TUHH) campus. The occasion for my leap across the Elbe: to meet Ana Cristina Agüero, a Costa Rican biotechnician, engineer, and entrepreneur. Ana showed me her office, introduced me to her colleagues (including the office dog) and we had a chat in the cafeteria below. My journey was nothing in comparison to her leap over the Atlantic.

What made her study at the NIT? Why did she become an entrepreneur? Why Hamburg? Continue reading Brightening up a gloomy city

In Hamburg by accident or design?

Sihavann’s very first impression of Europe was the descent into Hamburg airport. The parks and gardens, the trees, the houses with their colourful roofs. “I couldn’t believe that the houses really look like that. It was just like I’d seen on TV. Really cute!” says the Cambodian design student.

A world away from the concrete jungle and surrounding paddy fields that he left behind in Phnom Penh, I met Sihavann – or Vann for short – in Eppendorfer Baum where we went for a coffee followed by a walk through the Isemarkt, a weekly market under an iron bridge.

I was curious to find out whether the design student is in Hamburg by – excuse the pun – accident or design. In other words: why Hamburg?

Continue reading In Hamburg by accident or design?

Loving German culture

Seeing a jogger running around the Alster or along the Elbe for the first time might provoke a little giggle, if not bring you out in a fit of laughter. The tight, lycra trousers. Hair overflowing out of a headband like a neglected pot plant. Set off by a pair of steamed-up glasses, held perfectly in place by the practical headband. There’s no need to feel awkward in your amusement because the German jogger either won’t notice you laughing, or won’t care.

To put a positive spin on it: Germans are not usually worried about what other people think of them, but do what it takes to get the job done. At their best, they are non-conformist and persistent. Nearly every German job advertisement asks Durchsetzungsvermögen of its applicants: the ability to get your way.

Leticia Sigarrostegui García says she has grown as a person since coming to Germany, citing Durchsetzungsvermögen as one of the German character traits she has adopted. On top of this, I would say there is certainly something non-conformist about her story. Leticia lives in Hamburg, is the author of two books, teaches Spanish and Danish, has lived in Madrid, Cologne, Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Hamburg, and works for XING, the biggest business networking website in the German-speaking world. Who better to tell me about German culture and the comparative merits of cities like Hamburg?

So in a café around the corner from her employer, I deprive Leticia of her lunch hour to find out: why Hamburg?

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“We’re glad we gave Hamburg a second chance!”

Crouching in front of María and Lucas, trying to get the perfect photo. The right composition, a bit of flash to lighten up the foreground. Using the flash limits the exposure time to 1/200s, meaning the aperture has to be as small as possible. Which increases the depth of field, but I can live with that.

The Spanish couple stands in front of the huge Kampnagel logo, smiling down into my camera; I negotiate with my Nikon, apologising with each release of the shutter. Presented with the finished object, you might be oblivious to the balancing act that goes into producing the photo, or the options that were discarded along the way.

Similar, you might say, to the decision for or against a place to live. María and Lucas, both from Valencia in Spain, live in Hamburg. But how did they end up here? What factors did they weigh off against each other? Or, in other words: why Hamburg?

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Mélanie came to an unknown city for work. Six years later she tells us why she loves Hamburg.

Mélanie was desperate to live in a city. A city – any city – would be preferable to living in the middle of nowhere. Having studied Food Industry in Rennes, most jobs that fitted her profile were anywhere but in the centre of a bustling metropolis. So when she had the chance of a job in Hamburg, it was quite literally a case of “any port in a storm”.

If, like Mélanie, you have lived in Lyon or spent time in Sydney, you are likely to have high expectations of a city. Your first night in a gloomy, rainy, northern German city – far from the Alps, not a sunny beach in sight, away from your friends and family – might be enough to make you turn tails and head home. Perhaps she would have, if her car hadn’t been towed away that evening.

Six years later, she’s still here. Either they haven’t given her her car back or there is something about Hamburg that makes it worth staying. So on a grey and gloomy, windy and wintery Sunday afternoon we meet up in a café next to the lake in the centre of Hamburg and I ask her: why Hamburg?

Continue reading Mélanie came to an unknown city for work. Six years later she tells us why she loves Hamburg.