WORK & START UP
THE WORKING ISSUE
Make a Move A guide to succeeding in Europeâ€™s largest economy
Still worth it: Opportunities for newcomers abound
Already ahead: Innovation grows in unlikely places
Back to the future: Alternative mobility is shaping up fast
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SP O T LI G H T- V ER L AG .D E / E D U CAT IO N
IN THIS ISSUE 4 SKILLS SET
Germany is making it a little bit easier for qualified workers from abroad to immigrate 10 FAST FACTS
Photos: Patrick Desbrosses (cover), Norman Hoppenheit (this page)
From left to right: Uwe Jean Heuser (Publisher), Deborah Steinborn (Editor-in-Chief), Julia Steinbrecher (Art and Photo Director), Katharina Heckendorf (Assistant Editor), Andrea Capita (Editorial Assistant)
Is it still worth it? The bureaucratic hassle and the hard work of moving, the difficult first days and the cultural differences. All that for the experience of working in Germany while its economy struggles? The answer is a whole-hearted “Yes, it’s worth it!” Growth may have slowed, but business is more innovative than ever, especially in the green economy and digital startups. Unemployment is historically low, and from engineering firms down south to fintechs up north, employers are doing a lot to attract new talent. The world of German business is so diverse that it holds promise for nearly everyone. The ZEIT Germany Team ZEIT, Germany’s leading weekly newspaper, covers business, politics, and much more ZEIT Germany is available worldwide at locations of the Federal Foreign Office and the German Chambers of Commerce Abroad, to name just two. It is available digitally in its entirety at www.zeit.de/work-start-up
Business and pleasure at a glance 14 WORKING ON IT
Two foreign professionals on life in a new land 18 DRIVING CHANGE
Racing to provide alternative mobility from car-sharing to air taxis 22 SHOP TALK
Read the funnies and pick up common workday parlance for newcomers 26 OUT IN THE COUNTRY
Tucked-away towns and the companies that thrive there 34 GET TO WORK!
A British comedy writer’s pop quiz on all things related to working in the German world 38 WORD ON THE STREET
Frankfurt commuters talk about life and work in the financial capital
44 LOOKING FOR THE GOOD GUYS
How some business leaders stand up to the alt-right 46 SOFT LANDING
Don’t forget to pay the dog tax! Navigating bureaucracy 50 I LOVE THE IMMIGRATION OFFICE
A relocator cuts red tape 52 WORLD OF DIFFERENCE
Delights and downsides of a multicultural startup team 54 SPACE MAKERS
Hamburg puts itself on the map with coworking 60 WHY I’VE LEFT AND WHY I’M BACK
Migration goes both ways 62 MAKE NO MISTAKE
Seven things to avoid if you seek startup financing 65 MASTHEAD
The staff. Plus: Distribution partners and further details 66 WORK SCRABBLE
For the bilingual business brain 3
SKILLS SET Germany is making it a little bit easier for qualified foreign workers to find a job in Europeâ€™s largest economy BY GERRIT WIESMANN
Photos: Thomas Pirot
Spanish national Raquel Close Villas outside a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen on the Rhine river
“WE WANT TO APPEAL TO SKILLED WORKERS FROM BEYOND THE EUROPEAN UNION” GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGEL A MERKEL
Labor Immigration Act, came into force nationwide on March 1, 2020. The new rules extend the privileges already enjoyed by highly skilled workers with university degrees to skilled workers who have completed at least two years of vocational training. Suitably qualified foreigners with reasonably good German language skills can apply for jobs in all sectors, not just in so-called bottleneck jobs like nursing or information technology. They can come to Germany for six months to find work, or for 18 months for additional vocational training to meet Germany’s high training standards. Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the new rules “a paradigm shift in how we want to appeal to skilled workers from beyond the European Union.” Her government is supporting pilot programs to encourage applicants from Mexico, Brazil, India, and Vietnam. It also is pressuring Germany’s federal states to speed up the processing
Herbert Otoniel Perez Victoriano, a nurse from Oaxaca, Mexico, on a break at Berlin’s Charité Hospital
Photos: Robert Rieger
With his sports-blue scrubs and neatly combed hair, Herbert Otoniel Perez Victoriano is visibly at home in the generously heated staff room of Ward 147 at the prestigious Charité hospital in central Berlin. But there was a point in time when the trained Mexican nurse really wondered whether he’d actually make it to Germany. Perez, now 28, had been learning German for about a year in Monterrey, northern Mexico, when the employment agency through which he had contracted to go to Berlin went bust. It was late 2017. “The hospital’s nursing directorate quickly stepped in and told us not to worry,” he recalls of Charité. “And it did sort everything out: visas, paperwork, travel arrangements.” Perez arrived in Berlin in November 2018 for supplementary training and started work in the hospital’s department for infectious and lung diseases in June 2019. The young nurse was happy, and administrators at Charité – one of Europe’s largest university clinics with a history reaching back to the first king of Prussia – were relieved, too. That’s because nursing is one of the sectors of Germany’s labor market most affected by a so-called Fachkräftemangel, a shortage of skilled workers that has plagued the economy throughout a decade of solid economic growth. The German Nursing Council estimates that Europe’s largest economy is short of about 50,000 nurses. Overall, German employers advertised almost 1.4 million job vacancies in the third quarter of 2019, even as growth prospects for 2020 were hit by the effect of a trade war between the United States and China and by uncertainties surrounding Brexit. “Despite the headwinds, the job-market situa tion looks set to remain very good,” says Michael C. Burda, professor of economics at Berlin’s Humboldt University. “Areas like healthcare and education are a bit stronger than export-focused manufacturing, but businesses are still looking for workers.” And they are looking increasingly further afield. Charité started scouting for nurses outside the European Union in 2016. It has since recruited 100 Albanians, 20 Mexicans, and 11 Filipinos, among others – and it aims to keep adding several dozen more nurses from outside the country each year. “Charité employs 97 nationalities, and we offer an intercultural skills course,” says Marie-Luise Eßrich, a hospital integration officer. Perez, the young nurse, has taken advantage of the offering and signed up for the course, Eßrich notes. “It’s a great opportunity for people to come together and reflect about their culture and all the other cultures here.” To help employers address a shortage of skilled labor, the Fachkräfteeinwanderungsgesetz, or Skilled
The Charité hospital, its historic original campus and new building juxtaposed above, is one of Europe’s largest university hospitals
of work-permit applications and has promised help with integration to foreign workers who come to Germany. Merkel wants skilled workers outside the EU to “see Germany as a country that is interested and cosmopolitan.” Merkel, who has served as chancellor for 15 years, prizes modern Germany’s first immigration law as a constructive reaction to the global refugee crisis. But the law is also the result of pure economic need. More Germans are currently retiring than entering the job market. According to forecasts by the Institute for Employment Research, part of the Federal Employment Agency, Germany’s work force could shrink from around 46 million as of late 2019 to some 42 million by 2040. Last year, the Bertelsmann Stiftung estimated that Germany needs net immigration of about 420,000 skilled foreign workers every year over the next 40 years to make up for the country’s aging population.
“HURDLES TO THE RECOGNITION OF FOREIGN QUALIFICATIONS ARE STILL HIGH” ENZO WEBER, INSTITUTE FOR EMPLOYMENT RESE ARCH
In recent years, Germany was able to recruit most of the talent it needed from within the EU. Many labor migrants arrived from southern Europe as economic crises hit there from 2010 and from eastern European EU countries after 2011, when restrictions on workers from the bloc were removed. These flows are now ebbing, and experts wonder whether foreign workers from beyond the EU will be able to fill the void. “The new rules will bring improvements,” says Enzo Weber, a labor-market expert at the Institute for Employment Research. “But they aren’t going to lead to a boom for non-EU foreigners. Hurdles to the recognition of foreign qualifications are still high.” Indeed, Germany is proud of what it calls the “dual system” of school- and work-based vocational training. This system remains uniquely strong in German-speaking Europe. And the certifying authorities in countries like Austria and Germany are 7
BASF in Ludwigshafen is one of the largest integrated chemical complexes in the world
expected to prove fussy when it comes to accepting foreign qualifications. Internally, the German government reckons that no more than 25,000 skilled workers from outside the EU will be able to profit from the new rules in a given year – at least initially. The German Federation of Chemical Employers’ Associations, for one, is already calling for changes to the new law. Among other possible measures, it would like to take professional experience into account alongside formal employment qualifications. But anecdotal evidence suggests that the extra effort to meet German standards could be time well spent for EU and non-EU citizens alike. Raquel Close Villas, a Spanish national, was 22 and studying business management at a university in Spain when she heard about a training program at the German chemical giant BASF. She applied and was accepted to the program. 8
“WHAT I WAS TOLD IN THE CLASSROOM I HAMMERED HOME WHILE AT WORK” R AQUEL CLOSE VILL AS
“I put my studies on hold for a great chance to work for a big company,” she recalls of her decision. Now 24, Close is in the final stretch of a rigorous threeand-a-half-year course to become a chemical technician with BASF in its home base of Ludwigshafen, in southwest Germany. “Training is very good here, the standards are very high,” she says. “Job training takes two years in Spain and is very theoretical.” Close signed up for the program in Tarragona, in northeastern Spain, and divided her time between vocational schools and BASF’s sites there and in Ludwigshafen. “Germans combine theory and practice,” she explains. “What I was told in the classroom I hammered home while at work.” As a chemical technician, she now is mastering how to run all seven lines in a BASF production facility that manufactures health and nutrition supplements like vitamin B5 and nature-identical carotinoids, which are used to enhance food pigmentation in farming and aquaculture. Her workplace is one of 110 facilities at BASF’s sprawling site. She enjoys her shifts at Plant O814 with a team of colleagues from six countries, and she can imagine one day working for the company at another location or in another division. Perez, too, had to make time for additional training in Germany – even though he had a nursing degree from Mexico and four years of work experience. “We did three months of anatomy, physiology, and basic nursing, a lot of it for the language,” he says. “And then three months’ work experience on the ward.” He, too, praises Germany’s mix of theory and practice in vocational training: “I came here to see a foreign country and grow professionally, and I am doing that.” And he has his next goals in sight. He wants to pass the C1-level German test. And he wants to take additional training to become a nurse in intensive care. Of course, moving took some adjustment for both Perez and Close, who say they are happy in Germany. Neither found learning German to be easy, and negotiating the local accents at work was hard as well. But they both now speak the local language fairly well. Germany’s colder weather also took some getting used to. Perez had a miserable first winter. Close did not understand why her car wouldn’t start one cold morning. And then there was the food. For Perez, the cuisine of Oaxaca, the Mexican province from which he hails, is “probably the best in the world,” but he now likes German black bread with butter. And Close is still surprised about her colleagues’ eating habits: “They want to eat some kind of sauce or other with every meal.”
Photo: Thomas Pirot
FOREIGN LABOR IN GERMANY
nationals from EU states lived in Germany in 2018
non-EU citizens held work permits in 2018 These included citizens of
INDIA (12%), CHINA (9%), BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA (8%), and the UNITED STATES (7%) Sources: Statistisches Bundesamt, Statista
Germany is the second most popular destination for immigrants worldwide after the United States, yet it has a massive shortage of labor: 44.4 percent. That means almost half of all positions in the country are hard to fill, according to a recent study by the Institute for Employment Research in Berlin. And all sectors of the economy are affected. Last December, the Federal Employment Agency reported shortages of mechatronics engineers, nurses, physiotherapists, professional drivers, and trained specialists in automotive, aerospace, and shipbuilding technology. Every second company is looking unsuccessfully for candidates with dual vocational training, according to a survey by the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK). A third of companies surveyed has already hired foreign workers from both the European Union and non-EU countries. Human-resources professionals say applicants with
good German language skills are particularly desirable. They’d like to hire even more expats, they add, but bureaucratic hurdles often stand in the way. Indeed, a 2019 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that within the EU, Sweden, Ireland, and the Netherlands are most attractive to skilled workers from abroad. That’s because their qualifications are more easily recognized and valued in these countries than on the German labor market, the study found. Germany’s skilled-labor shortage will intensify in coming years, which should be an incentive to make conditions less stringent. The independent Bertelsmann Stiftung has calculated that roughly 146,000 workers will have to immigrate from non-EU countries annually until 2060 for Germany to maintain current employment levels. – Katharina Heckendorf
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CAREER AND FAMILY
after the United States, China, and Japan
FAST FACT S
COMPANIES LARGEST COMPANIES BY ANNUAL REVENUE
VOLKSWAGEN 236 billion euros
3.4 TRILLION EUROS
Gross Domestic Product
167 billion euros
131 billion euros
97 billion euros
SIEMENS 83 billion euros
70% of women
are employed in Germany
gender pay gap
37% of working LGBT people disclose their sexual orientation at work
9,000 companies nationwide
classify as startups
13 employees at the average startup
EXPORTS 3 RD L ARG E ST
export economy after China and the US 1.3 TRILLION EUROS
in total exports in 2019
TOP FIVE EXPORTS 1. CARS AND CAR PARTS 2. MACHINES 3. CHEMICAL PRODUCTS 4. DATA PROCESSING DEVICES, ELECTRONIC & OPTICAL DEVICES 5. ELECTRIC APPLIANCES 10
84% of founders are men BY K ATHARINA HECKENDORF, ELLEN SELLWOOD, AND DEBOR AH STEINBORN ILLUSTRATIONS SEB AGRESTI
Germany is known for its fast cars, but the economy is driven by so much more than that. For the record â€¦ ... did you know that more than 9,000 German companies classify as startups, or that 84 percent of their founders are male? That there are 3.5 million smalland medium-sized enterprises, and most of them are familyowned or family-run? That Germany is the third-largest export economy in the world, after
China and the United States? Or that Germans work, on average, three hours overtime per week, spend six hours per week in meetings, and collectively consume 489 kilos of sweets in a given minute at offices around the country? Impress your colleagues with quirky tidbits about life at work and after hours.
MITTELSTAND 3.5 MILLION companies have less than 500 employees 99.5%
of all German companies belong to the Mittelstand 80%
have less than 5 employees 88%
of Mittelstand companies are family-run
24 1/4 Singles go on
dates per year
38 HOURS average work week
of these dates are with co-workers
FAVORITE VACATION DESTINATIONS
On average, Germans … … take 30 DAYS of vacation
1. BALTIC SEA 2. SPAIN 3. ITALY 4. AUSTRIA 5. BAVARIA
lunch break is mandatory for a six-hour workday
lunch break is a must for an eight-hour workday
… call in sick
10.6 DAYS per year
… work 3 HOURS overtime per week … and spend 6 HOURS in meetings each week
LAST YEAR, GERMANY AS A WHOLE …
LAST YEAR, THE AVERAGE GERMAN …
865 MILLION TONS
88 KILOS of meat
TOP 3 FEIERABEND ACTIVITIES 1. WATCHING TV 2. LISTENING TO THE RADIO 3. LISTENING TO MUSIC
of greenhouse gases
PROCRASTINATION! EVERY 60 SECONDS, OFFICE WORKERS ACROSS GERMANY ...
... sip 25,762 cups of coffee ... click 746,483 times on their smartphones ... spend 13,770 EUROS on Amazon ... eat 489 KILOS of sweets
736 BILLION kilometers
22.6 MILLION smartphones
… used renewable energy for
247 KILOS of paper
cigarettes … ate
of basic electricity needs
477,000 TONS of cocoa beans
94 LITERS of beer
TOP NIGHTCLUBS THAT AREN’T IN BERLIN 1 . Golden Pudel, Hamburg 2. Goethebunker, Essen 3. Institut für Zukunft,
4. Robert Johnson, Offenbach 5. White Noise, Stuttgart 6. Unten, Kassel 7. Salon des Amateurs,
8. Conne Island, Leipzig 9. Acephale, Cologne 10. Klub Neu, Dresden 11
HAMBURG 11.59 EUROS
SCHWERIN 7 EUROS
BREMERHAVEN 5.47 EUROS
BIELEFELD 7.50 EUROS
BERLIN 10.49 EUROS HANNOVER 9 EUROS
DÜSSELDORF 10.73 EUROS
KASSEL 7.53 EUROS
COLOGNE 11.13 EUROS
LEIPZIG 7.08 EUROS
JENA 8.78 EUROS
FRANKFURT 13.86 EUROS
LUDWIGSHAFEN 8.50 EUROS
KÜNZELSAU 7.64 EUROS STUTTGART 13.32 EUROS
*Rental price per square meter 2019
NUREMBERG 9.62 EUROS
MUNICH 17.51 EUROS
DRESDEN 7.76 EUROS
GLASHÜTTE 5.23 EUROS
COST OF LIVING HOUSING
per person, per month, on housing, energy, and utilities
for the BahnCard 100 annual flat-rate second-class card for rail travel
of total income goes to rent A 140-square-meter house in Bremerhaven costs
per year to drive 15,000 kilometers in a VW Golf VIII, including insurance, tax, inspections, fuel and depreciation
will get you a house similar in size
In Munich, you’d have to spend 1.2 MILLION euros for a similar house THE 5 MOST EXPENSIVE CITIES
based on cost of living, including rent, food, transport, and leisure activities 1. MUNICH 2. STUTTGART 3. FRANKFURT AM MAIN 4. FREIBURG IN BREISGAU 5. HEIDELBERG
THE 5 CHEAPEST CITIES 1. BREMERHAVEN 2.CHEMNITZ 3.MAGDEBURG 4.HALLE (SAALE) 5.ROSTOCK
Your salary isn’t the only thing that determines what type of housing and lifestyle you can afford. In Germany, a lot depends on where exactly you live. Earning about 50,000 euros a year in Essen, for instance, and living well? You’d have to earn an additional 29,000 euros if you moved to Munich to maintain your living standard. This is mainly due to how widely rental prices vary throughout the country. In cities such as Munich, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt, rents are sometimes twice as high as in medium-sized cities like Period: 2018–2019 Sources: Adac, Allensbach Media Market Analysis (AWA), Arbeitsrechte.de, Auxmoney, Bitkom, Boston Consulting Group, Bundesverband Deutscher Startups, Bundesverband mittelständische Wirtschaft Unternehmerverband Deutschlands e.V. (BVMW), company annual reports, Destatis, Deutsche Bahn, Deutscher Start-up-Monitor,
Bielefeld or Leipzig. Often, leisure and sports facilities are more expensive in large cities. Compared to Essen, for example, Munich residents have to pay 12 percent more, on average, for gym memberships, sports associations, or other leisure facilities, shows an evaluation by the service provider Financescout24. Want to get more bang for your buck? Try moving from Berlin to Leipzig: you’ll need considerably less. If you earned 60,000 euros a year in Berlin, you’d need about 7,500 euros less in Leipzig for a unit of roughly the same size. Deutschland.de, DGB, Eurostat, Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWI), Financescout24, Freizeitmonitor, GfK, I am Expat, Informationsdienst des Instituts der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IWD), Kraftfahrtbundesamt, OECD, Umweltbundesamt, Vdp Research, World Population Review, Zeit Online with Empirica Regio, ZEIT research, independent calculations
of gross domestic product is spent on groceries in Germany. In France, it’s higher, at 6.3% FOOD
Price in euros of a pizza margherita at various pizzerias on TripAdvisor 7 EUROS
Pizza Bande, Hamburg 8.50 EUROS
60 Secondi Pizza Napoletana, Munich 4 EUROS
Trattoria Romantica, Düsseldorf 8.50 EUROS
L’Osteria, Dresden 5.50 EUROS
Gusto Tavola Calda, Kassel 13
EDDY MICAH JR., 31, BONN 14
WO RKI N G O N IT
From Kumasi to Bonn Eddy Micah Jr. grew up watching German television at home in Ghana. Now, he’s a journalist for public broadcaster Deutsche Welle BY ELLEN SELLWOOD PHOTO JULIA SELLMANN
As a young boy, Eddy Micah Jr. watched the news on Deutsche Welle in his family’s living room and thought, “I want to do that one day.” Now, the Ghanaian journalist really is presenting for the German state-owned public international broadcaster in Bonn and Berlin. Born in the city of Kumasi, Micah lived in both the smaller town of Koforidua and Ghana’s capital, Accra, before starting a master’s in journalism in Europe in 2015. His chosen program, the Erasmus Mundus Master of Arts in Journalism, Media, and Globalization, took him to two European cities – Aarhus, Denmark, and the northern German city of Hamburg – in two years. Micah decided to stay in Europe after completing his studies. Some extended family already lived in Germany, so it felt a bit familiar, he says. And back home, he explains, “we also all knew about the German manufacturing machine and cars like Mercedes Benz.” So, while finishing his master’s program in early 2017, he applied for an internship with Deutsche Welle in Cologne. He got the position, and soon he was able to parlay that positive beginning into a contract with the international broadcaster. Micah began to realize that he had something special to offer – and a reason to stay in Germany – when he and a fellow journalist from Kenya de-
veloped an online program called “WhatElse” soon after he started at Deutsche Welle. “This show covered the things that were not being reported on, because the coverage on Africa doesn’t come close to representing what Africa really is,” he says. “There’s so much diversity” on the continent, he says. “I wanted to get past the stereotypes.” So Micah and his colleague “talked to young people by covering different topics like culture, food, fashion, women’s rights, and music, amongst other things.” Last year, Micah auditioned to present the news on Deutsche Welle Africa and now is one of two presenters on DW News Africa. It’s today’s incarnation of the television news program he used to watch as a child. He also co-hosts a regular half-hour radio program on Deutsche Welle called “AfricaLink.” Off-screen, there’s a lot to learn about cultural differences
between Ghana and Germany, Micah says. “Weather was the biggest shock for me,” he notes. “In northern Europe, you need to embrace the cold. So, when I go to Ghana and step out of the plane, it’s like a big ball of fire hits me,” he laughs. Another stark difference that Micah notices now that he lives abroad is that people are more socially outgoing in Ghana. “When you’re on public transport [in Ghana], someone will definitely talk to you, whereas in Germany, people tend to mind their own business.” When it comes to feeling at home in Germany, Micah advises other expats to “get out of your bubble,” and, first and foremost, to learn the language. It’s challenging, he says, but he’s getting there. By now he is comfortable introducing himself and enjoys short conversations. As for adjusting to work life, Micah has noticed that “Germans are very punctual, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that the public transport runs on time.” That said, he adds, “as a Ghanaian in Germany, I tell my colleagues and friends that I will always be late for appointments, but that’s not really a cultural thing. That’s just me.” Three years after moving, Micah has already found his dream job. Germany “has become my second home,” he says. “A lot of my friends and loved ones and my work are here.” 15
ALONA KHARCHENKO, 26, GARCHING 16
From Novohrad-Volynskyi to Garching Alona Kharchenko grew up in a small town in Ukraine and carved a path for herself from there to Bavaria’s university and startup scenes BY EVA VON SCHAPER PHOTO RODERICK AICHINGER
Alona Kharchenko’s email account handle at work, email@example.com, may seem unusual to some people. But it just reflects her reputation at the Garching-based startup where she works, she says. Unicorn is a nickname that her boss assigned her a while back, the 26-year-old Ukrainian explains. She earned it, she says, for having non-stop ideas, from setting-up hack-a-thons to finding sponsors and organizing raves. These are out-of-the-ordinary ideas, in the same way that unicorns are out-of-theordinary creatures (albeit unreal ones). Kharchenko left her hometown of NovohradVolynskyi six years ago to get a master’s degree in robotics, cognition, and intelligence at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). And she’s been making some unusual moves since. At General Interfaces GmbH, a startup located just north of Munich with roots at the university where she studied, Kharchenko has been working on developing a robot named Roboy since 2015, first as a student at TUM and now as a robotics engineer. She’s also earning a Ph.D. in neurorobotics, the combined study of neuroscience, robotics, and artificial intelligence. The Roboy team at General Interfaces works in several big rooms, one of them a development lab, at a technology incubator called gate Garching. Housed in a group of modern office buildings adjacent to sprawling open fields, gate collaborates with various research and educational institutions in and around Munich. Achtung! Spielende Kinder (Caution! Children at play), proclaims a yellow sign on the door of the lab. Inside, the project team occupies an oblong room strewn with robot components and computers. It does look a bit like a kindergarten rumpus room. At the end of the hall, Kharchenko shows off Roboy. It looks like a cross between a friendly ghost and a large human being. She first saw a poster of the machine five years ago, she recalls, and thought: “Oh my God, this robot looks so awesome.” That
was when she joined the Roboy team as a student. This so-called soft robot is built to look, move, and function a lot like a human body does. These human-like qualities are central to development, she says; the team aims to create a robot that could serve as an aide to elderly or frail patients or assist others in need. Just a few years ago, designing high-tech robotic machines and writing code weren’t on Kharchenko’s radar. In high school in Novohrad-Volynskyi, a city of about 50,000 in northern Ukraine, she had won a string of competitions in math, chemistry, and physics. She’d thought about studying chemistry, but a disagreement with a teacher and the lack of funding made her rethink that choice. “It was much more beneficial to study programming,” she says. “All I needed, basically, was a laptop.” And, of course, a glowing academic high school record and a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Her parents, a social worker and a logistics manager, would have supported any choice she made, Kharchenko says. In the end, she decided on cybernetics. One of the main reasons may sound like the most banal: “I really liked the name,” she says. She chose to pursue further university studies in Germany,
where she had participated in two foreign-exchange programs during high school. She took additional German classes to pass several language tests before arriving at TUM. Initially, Kharchenko says, she struggled with the coursework and found it tough to connect with other students and professors. “I thought, ‘I will not make it through the exams, I will flunk out, I will go back to Ukraine,’” she recalls. What most helped her pull through this difficult phase? Working on Roboy, she says. Now, she benefits from the resources at gate. She has access to one of the fastest computers in the world, for one. And she can network. The tech sector in Munich is thriving. Every day, there are after-work meet-ups, and she takes advantage of them. Growing up in a modestly sized city in Ukraine, Kharchenko says, taught her to adopt an easygoing approach to many situations. That often can be a blessing, but it also can confuse German counterparts, she admits. Once, while collaborating with a major German tech company, she was asked if the dimensions of a promotional paper cup suited her needs. Her reply was a simple, “Looking good.” She had meant to encourage her counterparts and quickly resolve their dilemma. Instead, the remark elicited four more emails from them asking if the cups really were the right size. Kharchenko’s advice to other foreigners in Germany is to be absolutely sure before making any statement. “I think (Germans) cannot stand bullshit,” she says, adding that she’s honed her skills and knowledge of technology in order to feel confident and speak up, especially “as a girl in tech.” She’s also discovered techno music and clubbing, and she takes weekend trips to Berlin and Frankfurt with friends. She says she’d love to live in Berlin but is afraid the capital and its night life would distract her from pursuing robotics with the same energy. Besides, Kharchenko says, “Roboy is my life, and it’s the anchor that keeps me here.” 17
DRIVING CHANGE 18
BY ELLEN SELLWOOD AND DEBOR AH STEINBORN
Photo: Stephanie Füssenich
In recent years, Germany’s car industry has hit some major roadblocks. Now, its biggest car manufacturers and some of its smallest startups are racing to provide alternative mobility services
The app is straightforward. Where do you want your trip to begin? it asks. Where do you want to go? Do you want to leave right away, or in five minutes, or ten? It takes about three seconds for the program to suggest a ride. Pick-up: in just five minutes, around the corner, 7.39 euros for three people to ride 2.5 kilometers from Hamburg’s Harvestehude neighborhood to the city center. Dropoff: the main strip along the scenic Binnenalster (the Inner Alster Lake). Want to accept the charge? the app asks. Sure! So off we go to look for our MOIA on the street. MOIA? That’s what Europe’s biggest carmaker, Volkswagen, calls its electric ride-sharing service, which it’s been piloting in Hamburg (and, on a smaller scale and with some combustionengine buses, in Hannover) since 2019. A fleet of 330 noiseless, gold-and-black minibuses already drive around Hamburg all day, every day. Each one offers enough space for six passengers with or without luggage, free wi-fi, and a USB-based charging station next to every seat. Even for three passengers, the total cost of the ride is less than what you would otherwise pay for a ride of similar distance in an official, beige-colored German taxi. MOIA drivers aren’t just cast right off the street. They need a special permit to transport passengers, participate in a week-long theoretical course, and have to pass a written test before completing three test drives. But compared to the wider transportation sector, MOIA pays its workers well. So some cab drivers in the two cities have already made the switch and become Moianer, as they like to call each other. The driver who takes us to the Alster used to be a waitress but says this job is better. “I’ll give you a benchmark,” she says. “I have four children and a husband at home, and I can support them all with my salary.” Nobody knows how widespread MOIA will become and whether it’s here to stay, but it’s one reflection of a growing trend in Germany. Indeed, Germans are speeding ahead with developing new forms of mobility, as homegrown startups and large car manufacturers alike provide an array of alternative-mobility services. A Berlin-based e-scooter provider called TIER (German for “animal”) provides such services on two wheels, MOIA on four. And Lilium, a startup based in a small town in Bavaria, hopes very soon to do so up in the air; it’s developing air taxis.
MOIA Volkswagen’s inner-city minibus service has operated in the Hannover city area since February 2019, mostly with conventional VW buses. And the service was launched in Hamburg in April 2019, exclusively with newly developed e-buses. To date, MOIA users have booked 2.5 million rides
WUNDER The tech platform Wunder, founded in Hamburg in 2014, enables all kinds of digitalized mobility. It started out with a ridesharing service in India, Brazil, and the Philippines before making its way back to Germany. Its technology is now used in more than a hundred countries to connect a million devices to Wunder’s network
LILIUM Lilium is developing the first all-electric, vertical take-off and landing jet, which should be fully operational in 2025. According to current plans, each jet can carry up to five passengers, is propelled by 36 small engines, and can travel up to 300 kilometers at a time. The first prototype took off in April 2017
TIER Founded in October 2018, Berlin-based electric scooter provider TIER Mobility has expanded to 56 cities in 11 European countries and has committed to full carbon neutrality in production as well as scooter operation from 2020. The company also sells a version of its e-scooter online for 699 euros
This string of innovations in battery- and hydrogenpowered mobility is a sign of hope in a time of distress. German carmakers BMW and Daimler, as well as most of the VW group (with its wellknown brands Audi and Porsche) are known and admired around the world. Yet in the past year in particular, the country’s car industry has hit some major obstacles. It is grappling with decreasing foreign demand for passenger cars, tariff disputes with the United States, intense competition from electric car makers, including Tesla (which announced last fall it would build a gigafactory just outside Berlin), as well as the challenge of meeting stringent environmental obligations set by the European Union. The answer, at least in part, is to go electric. In December 2019, Bernhard Mattes, former president of the German Association for the Automobile Industry (VDA), declared that “the e-model offensive is now in full swing.” By 2023, Mattes said, “German companies will have tripled their portfolio of e-models from fifty models today to more than 150 models.” And by 2024, according to Mattes, they will have invested roughly 50 billion euros in electromobility and will invest an additional 25 billion euros in digitalization. One major casualty of this push toward e-mobility is the loss of production jobs at manufacturers and suppliers alike. In November 2019, Volkswagen’s Audi division said it would cut up to 9,500 jobs – 10.6 percent of its total staff – by 2025. And that’s just one single brand. An e-car is easier to make since its powertrain has far fewer components, and many of those components will be produced in China, the US, and elsewhere. However, just as traditional car manufacturing jobs are declining, Germany’s carmakers are reinventing themselves as “mobility companies.” And they are on the hunt for new talent to do so. With ShareNow, BMW and Daimler offer a car-sharing service with about 20,000 vehicles – almost a fifth of them electric – in major German and European cities. And Volkswagen founded MOIA at the end of 2016. According to Jennifer Langfeldt, spokesperson at MOIA, the goal is to “contribute to a fundamental shift in how people move in cities.” Volkswagen, which lost its rank as the world’s largest carmaker a couple of years ago to Toyota, hopes to create incentives for city dwellers to give up their cars and, by doing so,
help cities to reduce air pollution, congestion, noise and space constraints, and achieve their sustainability goals. To do this, MOIA employs more than 1,300 people, 1,000 as drivers and, among others, 120 at a technology unit. It’s also on the hunt for foreign talent. The company language is English, and colleagues come from 34 countries. Right now, Langfeldt says, MOIA is “primarily hiring in software development and data analysis, as alongside our app, we’re also working on artificial intelligence and employ 12 different programming languages.” Another German company that is changing the way people move is Wunder Mobility. This Hamburg-based startup, which also has offices in Dortmund and Los Angeles, has developed a smart mobility marketplace and tech platform that provides shuttles, scooters, car sharing, and digital parking space reservations to consumers, corporations, and cities. The all-in-one startup provides software for communities of commuters to self-organize. It helps cities evaluate and regulate their local network of mobility providers. And it supports companies that want to manage their fleets of alternative mobility vehicles efficiently. All in all, the ambitiously named Wunder, which means “miracle” in German, is a major driver of digitizing mobility. Founded in 2014, the company now has more than 70 clients worldwide, including BMW and Daimler. In terms of jobs, founder and CEO Gunnar Froh says, “since Wunder is first and foremost a mobility tech startup, many of the jobs we offer – particularly in engineering – are vastly different from those of traditional carmakers.” According to Froh, there are “more than fifty nationalities working at Wunder, in every team and on every level, from leadership to people to engineering to sales and marketing.” Germany’s burgeoning alternative-mobility sector makes it sound like the sky’s the limit. Unless, that is, you work for Lilium. On the banks of Lake Weßling is the picturesque Bavarian town of Weßling. In many ways, it is like many other small scenic towns dotted around Germany, except for one thing – it’s also the home of a startup that’s developing air taxis. Lilium started as the dream of four engineers who met while studying toward Ph.D. degrees at the Technical University of Munich. The four men co-founded the startup in 2015. It is now a
Photo: Charles-Henry Bédué
400-strong company that aims to launch a fleet of jets by 2025. Vehicles are conceived to provide space for five passengers each, making it a kind of MOIA of the air. Oliver Walker-Jones, Lilium’s head of communications, moved to Weßling from the United Kingdom, where he’d been working with Rolls-Royce. Today, he is proud to be “part of a team made up of the brightest minds from the aerospace, Formula 1, aerodynamics, battery technology, and automobile sectors from forty countries,” he says. In its current stage, “Lilium is an engineering company consisting of two-thirds engineers,” adds Walker-Jones. “But, as we get closer to launch in 2025, we will be hiring a commercial team, architects, software developers, and pilots,” he explains. The team of mostly engineers is working on an existing prototype of the vertically
lifted, electric aircraft, which Lilium hopes will transport passengers up to 300 kilometers from city to city, at speeds as high as 300 kilometers per hour. In other words, the startup doesn’t intend to compete solely with cars and buses but also with Germany’s extensive but aging rail network. Deutsche Bahn served about 150 million longdistance passengers in 2019, but its reputation has been tarnished in recent years amid train cancellations and lengthy delays. (Industry analysts attribute the problems to a chronic underinvestment in infrastructure and a partially outdated train fleet.) It might sound like science fiction, but Lilium is just one of many alternative mobility offerings “made in Germany.” Germans might even soon prove to the world that when it comes to driving, they still do know a thing or two.
SHARE NOW The joint venture of Daimler and BMW provides car-sharing services in urban areas in Europe and North America. Share Now was formed by the merger of car2go and DriveNow and is presently the second-largest car-sharing company in the world
SHOP TALK »Na? Schönes Wochenende gehabt?«
A simple “Hey! How was the weekend?” on a Monday morning might save you during the ride up the elevator with a not-so-chatty colleague. Germans love discussing holidays and free time, after all.
»Schreib mir am besten noch ’ne Mail.«
“Could you send me an e-mail about that?” is a popular and polite way to give a colleague the runaround. If you don’t feel like talking or want to avoid a deadline, ask for the follow-up mail.
»Das hatte ich gar nicht auf dem Schirm!« »Maaaaaaahlzeit!«
Use this catchy equivalent of “That wasn’t even on my radar!” if you really didn’t know about a meeting or other important project, or if you need to pretend you didn’t because you plum forgot. 22
This old factory-floor greeting literally means mealtime, but it’s now commonly used in offices too, at all times of the workday. Passing someone you don’t know in the stairwell? Just say, “Mahlzeit!”
What phrases are you bound to hear at work? And how should you respond? Learning common workday parlance will get you a long way at the water cooler and around the office BY DEBOR AH STEINBORN ILLUSTRATIONS SEB AGRESTI
»Sonst haben wir einen Shitstorm.«
»Lass uns unbedingt ein Käffchen trinken.«
“Let’s be sure to grab a coffee” can be a polite way to cut off a nagging colleague – or a sincere attempt to network, brainstorm, or just plain catch up with a colleague in a relaxed atmosphere.
»Reden wir morgen darüber.«
“Let’s talk about it tomorrow” is the highest form of avoidance in an office setting. Read between the lines. Your colleague is saying, “I want to go home now, actually. It’s already past 6 p.m.!”
“Otherwise, we’ll have a shitstorm.” Unheard of in English, this Denglisch phrase is used often in German to describe the snowball effect of harsh criticism of a person or company on social media.
“Have a nice evening!” is one of the most common office goodbyes. Just like Mahlzeit, it needn’t be evening when you say it. As long as someone’s workday is over, this phrase is good to go. 23
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The partnership was founded in 1926 by James O. McKinsey (1889-1937), a professor of accounting at the University of Chicago who left his academic career to establish the eponymous consulting firm with a commitment to rigorous research and training. Since then McKinsey has grown significantly, employing more than 30,000 people in 65 countries and with clients in every field. Changes are hard. But grasping change has always been McKinsey’s strength. The firm provides the most analytically thorough advice for corporations and organizations, being built on the belief that it takes the brightest people to solve the hardest problems. This is a world where digital advances are transforming both what we produce and how we produce it. Classic nine-to-five jobs are rapidly becoming a thing of the past and the effects of climate change will mean adjust-
ments for everyone. Innovative strategies are called for. To master unprecedented complexities – in areas such as environmental science, healthcare, education, technology and business – the firm seeks out top graduates
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nization in India aimed at helping millions of underprivileged children learn to read and write or, closer to home, helping engineer a new vision for the beleaguered European automotive industry. The firm has much to offer its individual consultants. Alongside a large degree of autonomy, McKinsey’s consultants have access to state-ofthe-art training programs, paid educational leave, and opportunities to travel in a global network. The firm has also embraced workplace flexibility: worklife balance is a priority, as is a deep commitment to diversity. Not least, McKinsey prides itself on a strong set of values where ethics and principles are as important as spreadsheets and presentations. “What is the right thing to do?” is a question that is constantly encouraged, reflecting the firm’s core belief that helping the world we live in is a serious matter.
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INTERVIEW WITH FEHMI YÜKSEL Fehmi Yüksel was born in the North Rhine-Westphalian town of Mönchengladbach. He originally wanted to be an actor, but his great interest in research and technology led him instead to study Industrial Engineering at RWTH Aachen, as well as UC Berkeley and ETH Zurich. Based in Cologne as a Management Consultant, he has been with McKinsey since 2012. In 2015 he took an educational leave to complete his doctoral studies in Aachen.
“NO MATTER HOW DIFFERENT WE ALL ARE – WE ALL WANT TO BUILD BRIDGES.”
How did you arrive at McKinsey? I came to McKinsey in 2011 as an intern while studying in Zurich. Since I joined the firm full time I have worked not only in the automotive industries, which is my main area of expertise, but also in the fields of medical devices, consumer goods, logistics, and transport. It has been exciting. A wide spectrum of projects. What are you currently involved with? Without going into detail, we are working at the moment for a European automotive supplier in order to devise new technologies, which means I lead the project with junior colleagues of various educational backgrounds and three partners. Together we are focusing on product quality but also growth opportunities that arise through electrification and other trends in the automotive industry. A typical McKinsey assignment can last between two and twelve months and involves teams of various sizes. Also, part of the project is going into a plant. We don’t mind getting our hands dirty.
This sounds demanding. Yes, the work is demanding. But we constantly look for opportunities to create a better lifestyle. I think I can say McKinsey is leading in creating personal space and sustainable working environments. This is a firm where everyone has the opportunity to tailor their assignments to their individual situation. The slogan “Build your own McKinsey” is no empty phrase. What exactly does this motto mean? For example, I had the opportunity to take an educational leave. Here I could gain additional knowledge in the fields of behavioral science. Also, I could follow my original dream and take professional acting classes. In other words: people can be who they are. That is what I value most. Within the framework of “Build your own McKinsey” – is there something like a typical day? There is no such thing. But let me describe a fairly typical week. On Mondays we travel to our clients. We dedicate ourselves to solving problems together with the clients – as one team – throughout the week. We return to our home base on Thursdays. Fridays are typically spent in the office. But you can also work from any other office or from home. It is up to you. I don’t think I have ever worked on a weekend. Problem solving strategies are, of course, the essence of McKinsey. Indeed. And since we are involved in so many diverse projects, consultants come from all walks of life. They include medical doctors, engineers, de-
signers, and data and research scientists – you name it. McKinsey has also been on the forefront of diversity. In 1995 a group of colleagues founded GLAM, a worldwide network of the LGBTQ Community. We believe that diversity – in all forms – makes us stronger and better in what we do. And women now represent 50% of newly hired employees. The firm takes inclusion seriously. Furthermore, the firm has shown itself active on environmental issues. McKinsey is committed to playing a part in the ongoing transition to a more energy-efficient economy – whether at the UN Climate Change Conference in New York or at the World Economic Forum in Davos. And we are constantly looking at our own performance. We invest in green energy, dispense with plastics, and fly less whenever possible. Air travel has become a politically and environmentally toxic issue. But traveling opens our minds. What, would you say, have you learnt most from your travels? I have traveled mostly in Europe, but have also worked on projects in China, India, and the United States. If there is one thing I have learned over the years: no matter how different we all are – we all want to build bridges. In India it didn’t me take long to become friends with my clients and get a much deeper understanding of the country and it’s people. That is what makes our work so exciting.
TRAINING In the first two years of working with McKinsey each consultant receives five to nine weeks of individually tailored training. This includes virtual learning with colleagues from around the world and allows for flexible time modes. TAKE TIME Consultants have the option to take up to ten weeks of unpaid leave during the year – whether they want to travel, spend more time with the family, or become involved with charity work. This is best taken between two projects. FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM Consultants with a bachelor’s degree can have educational leave after two years to further their academic career path. They are paid fully for one year.
OUT IN THE COUNTRY Künzelsau? Bielefeld? Glashütte? A tour of three tucked-away towns and some of their pluckiest small- and medium-sized enterprises BY SAR AH K AR ACS
Photo: Christan Protte
The town of DelbrĂźck, just south of Bielefeld, draws bird watchers and others on weekends
GLASHÜTTE TOWN WITH A LOT OF TIME
This quaint town of fewer than 7,000 residents rests at the foot of the Erzgebirge range, some 30 kilometers south of Dresden. Despite its small size, Glashütte is truly the country’s watchmaking capital, with a 170-year tradition and reputation for the very engineering excellence, precision, and innovation that Germany prides itself on. Dubbed the Home of Time, Glashütte is surrounded by the forests and hills of Saxony. In winter, it looks every bit the Christmas-card-perfect wonderland promised by the district’s tourism board.
It is also where Ferdinand Adolf Lange (1815–1875) built up his watchmaking enterprise, fostering a network of watchmakers that blossomed into an industry. Lange, who became Glashütte’s mayor, also invested in the town with social, cultural, and charitable projects. A. Lange & Söhne was founded in 1845. More than fifty years later, the Kaiser himself, Wilhelm II, commissioned the company to make the spectacular, diamondencrusted pocket watch that he presented to Sultan Abdul Hamid II on his first state visit to the Ottoman Empire. Over the years,
A. Lange & Söhne’s watchmaking innovations have rivalled those of the Swiss. The enterprise’s twentiethcentury trajectory was far from smooth, however. After World War II, the company was nationalized by the East German state in 1948, and the Lange name disappeared from the dials entirely in 1951. After Germany’s reunification, Walter Lange, the founder’s great-grandson, reacquired the company and refounded it as Lange Uhren GmbH, working closely with watch industry executive Günter Blümlein. Together, they rebuilt and began a
new chapter for the enterprise and for the town, now home to a dozen market-leading watchmakers. As watchmaking faces the challenges of a modern, digitized world and an existential crisis brought on by time-telling smartphones, Glashütte’s enduring horologists are still creating timepieces of engineering excellence with a lot of tradition. And these watches don’t come cheap. For example, the limitededition GR AND LANGE 1 “25th Anniversary” watch in white gold has an official asking price of 43,700 euros. That’s per piece. Just 25 have been produced.
LARGEST WATCH MANUFACTURERS: A. LANGE & SÖHNE, GLASHÜTTE ORIGINAL, NOMOS GLASHÜTTE NUMBER OF WATCHMAKERS: 9 NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 2,900 UNEMPLOYMENT RATE: 2.9 PERCENT TOP SIGHTSEEING LOCATION ON TRIPADVISOR: DEUTSCHES UHRENMUSEUM GLASHÜTTE 28
Photos: Franz Grünewald
Glashütte, population 7,000, may officially be a city, but it looks as quaint as a village. Just two main streets run through town. In the nineteenth century, watchmaking saved Glashütte after the iron-ore mining industry collapsed. Today, the town in the Erzgebirge (literally, Ore Mountains) is a mecca for timepiece enthusiasts
MozartstraĂ&#x;e in Freital, Saxony, just south of Dresden. Opposite page: GlashĂźtte
Two musicians of the Trachtenkapelle Sasbachwalden in the Black Forest on Trinity Sunday. Opposite page: CafĂŠ Bauer in Langenburg, Baden-WĂźrttemberg
KÜNZELSAU BOLTS, JEANS, AND GREEN
Photos: Christina Stohn, Daniel Blum
Headquarters to more world market leaders than anywhere else in Germany, Künzelsau is on the prowl for labor. To become more family-friendly to potential employees, local authorities abolished daycare fees in 2018
Considering the impressive list of manufacturing SMEs headquartered there, it’s a bit surprising to find Künzelsau in such bucolic surroundings. The town, which dates back to the year 1098, lies in a verdant valley along the Kocher river in Baden-Württemberg’s Hohenlohe district. Its population is modest, just about 15,000. But several companies with global reach are based here, including family-run Berner SE, which supplies tools and manufacturing parts, and Rosenberg GmbH, a ventilation technology firm. This is the spot where, in 1948, a small sewing enterprise entitled
L. Hermann made Germany’s first jeans. True to the town’s touted family-focused reputation, L. Hermann had opened in 1932, when Luise Hermann, whose sister had taught her to sew, sought a source of income to offset losses from her husband’s stagnating wood business. The company underwent a rebrand and launched the Mustang brand in 1958, and its Wild-West-themed clothing did well. Mustang has since moved on from Künzelsau, though a museum located in Hermann’s old home plays homage to the brand responsible for Europe’s
first jeans – and one of the first jeans manufacturers to explicitly market trousers for women. Other family-run businesses stayed, grew with, and invested in the town. It is now home to many global market leaders, most notably the tool dealer Würth. This group attributes its success to the down-to-earth and thrifty values embodied in its founder, Adolf Würth, who first set up shop here in 1945. After the founder’s death in 1954, his son Reinhold Würth – now a bolt billionaire and avid art collector – took over at the age of 19. The company has grown into
one of Germany’s largest non-listed entities and continues to pride itself on its flat hierarchy. True to its Mittelstand roots, Würth has invested in the local community, and in 2014 earned the accolade of “Hidden Champion” for giving back to the community. As Würth prepares to mark its 75th anniversary this year, it continues to thrive. It reported a 4.8-percent sales growth in 2019 to 14.27 billion euros and attributed this success to robust exports. Managers continue to keep an eye on tariffs and political tensions that might impact foreign trade in the coming quarters.
LARGEST COMPANIES: WÜRTH GROUP, BERNER SE, ZIEHL-ABEGG INHABITANTS: 15,000 JOBS: 12,000 UNEMPLOYMENT RATE (DISTRICT OF HOHENLOHE): 2.3 PERCENT TOP SIGHTSEEING LOCATION ON TRIPADVISOR: STADTMUSEUM KÜNZELSAU 31
BIELEFELD THE CITY THAT NEVER WAS?
East-Westphalia’s leading business location, Bielefeld, is a city of around 340,000 and covers an area of 258 square kilometers. Several Mittelstand enterprises are headquartered here. But for some years, it has also been the butt of a sophisticated joke: the claim that it doesn’t exist at all. The faux conspiracy theory began in 1994, when an IT student named Achim Held joked at a party that Bielefeld wasn’t real. The prank became an internet sensation and has garnered a cult following as a meta-comment on the general silliness of conspiracy theories. Angela Merkel made her
own droll contribution in 2012. After attending a town-hallstyle meeting there, she told an audience in Berlin that she had recently been to the city. “So it must exist,” she said. Or at least, she added drily, “I had the impression I was there.” And Bielefeld does indeed exist. It was founded in 1214 as a linen-producing town, and later moved into textile and clothing manufacturing. In a scenic forest landscape, Bielefeld hosts a range of industries as well as a good university. Its strong infrastructure makes it well suited to supporting medium-sized enterprises.
One company practically synonymous with the town’s success is Dr. Oetker, founded in 1891 by Dr. August Oetker, the inventor of a ready-made baking powder. It is now a market leader in almost all of its product lines, a familyrun business managed by the fourth generation of Oetkers. More recently, the Oetker Group has paved the way for other Bielefeld SMEs by collaborating with startups. In February 2020, Bielefeld even hosted a conference to bring together startups and Mittelstand companies. The town’s biggest employer, however, has a staff of 8,500 and
is also Europe’s largest social enterprise: the Bodelschwing Foundation Bethel cares for disabled people. Another company launched its claim to fame in 2017, when entrepreneur Lasse Rheingans acquired a small software firm and renamed it Rheingans Digital Enabler. After talking with his ten employees, the entrepreneur decided to slash workhours to five a day and while keeping the old full-time salaries – for everyone. So far, the staff has more than made up for lost time, and this small group has become a showcase for Bielefeld.
LARGEST COMPANIES: DR. OETKER GROUP, GOLDBECK, SCHÜCO GROUP INHABITANTS: 340,000 JOBS: 158,000 UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IN BIELEFELD: 7.3 PERCENT TOP SIGHTSEEING LOCATION ON TRIPADVISOR: HEIMAT TIERPARK OLDERDISSEN 32
Photos: Christian Protte
In recent years, introverted Bielefeld has opened up to the world. A matter of a new generation? Certainly. But new buildings and new faculty at local universities have helped pave the way. And a growing startup scene doesn’t hurt, either
Weekend homes in the countryside near Bielefeld. Opposite page: Once a year, this lawn serves as a parking lot for the Katharinenmarkt Volksfest in DelbrĂźck
GET TO WORK! BY ADAM FLETCHER
ILLUSTRATIONS SEB AGRESTI
Moving to a new country is hard, and starting a new job there is, too. But it needn’t be – if you take the time to understand the broader culture. To see how you’re doing, take this quiz prepared by the British comedy writer and author of “How to Be German in 50 Easy Steps” 34
Congratulations, foreigner, you aced the interview and got the job! A glorious career awaits you at AK Expert AG, a mid-sized, family-run car
acoustics technology company just outside of Stuttgart. But are you ready? Will you survive your Probezeit (the six-monthlong probation period) and
be rewarded with that most hallowed of all German possessions, the unbefristeter Arbeitsvertrag (permanent work contract)?
Let’s find out! 1 When you do something …
“Dirk. I need a thing. You have the thing. Give me the thing by 10 a.m. tomorrow. Alles klar?” C
“Hallo Dirk. It’s short notice but I really need some sales figures from you by 10 a.m. tomorrow for an important presentation. Is that possible? Danke.”
… you do it very well. B
… you do it like it’s never been done before in its goddamn life. You do it to death. You bury it. You dig it up, and then you do it all over again.
Dirk’s kind of intense. I’ll get my colleague to ask him. Or send an e-mail. Or write a letter. Or try telepathy.
… all in all, you do it fine enough.
… do something? You? Isn’t there someone else around who could do it? How about that guy? Yeah, that guy, over there! HINT
Germans are very professional people, more likely to take a long-cut than a short-cut. If they decide to perform any task at all – whether it’s hanging a curtain, inventing car acoustic technologies, studying yoga, or building an airport in their capital city – you can be sure that, no matter how long it takes and what it costs, they’ll do it properly. This is precisely what makes them such great employees, lovers, and accountants. So, throw away your shrug, set fire to your indifference, and nuke your nonchalance. Here in Germany, we do things properly, or not at all.
2 The first few weeks at AK Expert AG pass in quiet, glorious productivity until you realize you urgently need sales figures from your colleague Dirk. How do you ask him for them?
“Sup D’Man. Anything planned for the weekend? I was just at the sauna yesterday. CRAZY! TOTALLY NAKED! EVERYONE! Yeah, anyway, so I hear it’s going to rain tomorrow? That sucks. Did you check that new Netflix show about the cat killer? My God. It’s A-M-A-Z-E-B-A-L-L-S. So anyway, that new intern is pretty cute, right? And oh yeah, by the way, there’s this presentation that I’m working on … ”
Germans are pathologically direct. Every sentence is an arrow fired at the heart of the matter. So in your interactions, you can drop all the endless small talk and piffle paffle. Global warming is already breaking enough ice, thanks very much. Make your communications honest, give fair deadlines, throw in the occasional alles klar (all right), and you’ll discover that underneath their slightly prickly pineapple exterior is a soft, sweet, and extraordinarily helpful interior.
3 Another month passes. One day, sitting at lunch, you notice your colleague Sara has a 35
Around lunchtime. C
From mid-morning to mid-afternoon. D
All of the time. Any time. Each and every time. HINT
Mahlzeit, which literally means mealtime, is now often confusingly used as a general greeting, divorced of its culinary origins. Don’t be surprised if, at 10 a.m., standing in the office bathroom, washing your hands at the sink, a colleague enters and throws a hearty Mahlzeit your way. Just throw it right back. Mahlzeit!
on these slightest of breezes. It’s a cute, entertaining, collective irrationality, like how they think wishing someone happy birthday early causes the person to burst into flames. Every culture has its quirks. So don’t argue, don’t ridicule, and don’t present peer-reviewed science to the contrary. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
6 5:30 p.m.! Finally, it’s Feierabend (end of the workday). But wait, you’re in the middle of a task. What do you do? A
new haircut that makes her look like a small boy from the 1950s. She asks your opinion. How do you respond? A
Say nothing and look away until she changes the subject. B
In this land of Denker, DIN-A4, and Döner, honesty is always the best policy. So, if you think you won’t like the answer, turn and run from the question. Germans realized long ago that sugarcoating is best reserved for cakes. This might sound negative, but it’s actually great. This is one of the few countries where you can take everyone at their word.
Lie and say it suits her. C
Tell her the full, honest truth: “That haircut makes you look like a small boy from the 1950s.” D
Tell her the full, honest truth but in a nice way (for Germans): “That haircut makes you look like a small boy from the 1950s. This is probably the fashion of the young people now, oder?” 36
4 When in a German office, what’s the correct time to use the greeting Mahlzeit (mealtime)? A
When someone has food inside their mouth and is – at that very moment – chewing.
5 There’s renovation work at AK Expert AG. Sitting at your desk, you detect a slight draft. What do you do? A
Run away shouting, “Oh my God, a draft, oh my God, it burns. It burns! The sickness is already inside me.” B
Say, “Is there a draft? I think I’m getting sick.” C
Quietly put on your scarf, a.k.a. The Magic German Schal of Instant Wellness. D
Nothing, it’s just a draft. HINT:
Germans are terrified of drafts. Rather than seeing them as a bit of air to the neck, they react to them as if they’re hurricanes to the head. There is almost no physical malady they’re unwilling to blame
Stay until it’s done. You’ll surely be thanked for your diligence. B
Finish it from home. C
Immediately stand up, close your laptop, and leave. D
Drop everything and perform an emergency process review of how you’ve been so inefficient that this could possibly have occurred. Then close your laptop and leave. HINT:
While Germans often define themselves by what they do, they tend to only want to do it during office hours; they work to live, they don’t live to work. While there’s a huge difference between the private and public sector, working a lot of overtime is likely to be seen as a sign you’re not very good at your job, have no friends, probably aren’t even in a Verein (social club or society), and should be treated with the caution shown a ticking bomb. So leave Instagram, personal calls, and gossip about your colleagues for your own time, slacker.
Thank you, Ausländer/in, your Probezeit is over! To see if you’ve passed, use the key and
add up your points for each answer. Did you make the grade? Do you still have a job?
What do Sara and Dirk really think of you? Check the results table to find out.
Points & Results The Points 1) A: 3pts, B: 4pts, C: 2pts, D: 1pt 2) A: 1pt, B: 3pts, C: 4pts, D: 2pts 3) A: 2pts, B: 1pt, C: 3pts. D: 4pts 4) A: 1pt, B: 2pts, C: 3pts, D: 4pts 5) A: 4pts, B: 3pt, C: 2pts, D: 1pt 6) A: 2pts, B: 1pt, C: 3pts, D: 4pts
21+ points = You aced it!
Outstanding work! We’re delight ed with the past six months. You work hard, you work efficiently, and you’re absolutely terrified of drafts. Your colleagues like you, but they only know an appropri ate amount about you. They ap preciate how you instinctively try to split every bill, never saw a beer bottle you didn’t try to Prost, and always have at least five different types of pens on your desk. Ja, a bright future in the mid-sized car acoustics industry awaits you. Gut gemacht! (Well done!) 17–20 points = Your contract is renewed.
You’ve survived your first six months admirably. You’re fitting in. Your colleagues note how hard you try to keep a collegiate atmo sphere. There’s still room to improve. For one thing, you scheduled your holidays just six months in advance. You don’t drink cof fee, STILL don’t have a Ph.D. in ancient Japanese haiku, and you haven’t been to the Baltic Sea yet. But let’s not nitpick. You’re doing a sufficient job, and we’re keeping you on. Glückwunsch.
12–16 points = Sorry, but we’re letting you go.
While you tried hard, mostly, we have decided that AK Expert AG is not the best place for you to continue your career. Why? You came in late, left either late or ear ly, never had a pen or pencil, on several occasions your shoes were scuffed, you never used anyone’s academic title and you asked for vegetarian food in the Kantine
(canteen). While your work was not without merit: we’re letting you go. Good luck out there! Less than 11 points = You’re fired!
Thanks for nothing, foreigner. While you tried – sometimes, we think – you aren’t a good fit for the corporate culture of AK Expert AG. You expected us to bring you cake on your birthday. You friended all your colleagues
on Facebook, shirked your tasks, turned in a holiday request only three months in advance, gossiped about Dirk’s love life in the kit chen, and, on April 15th, placed a plastic bottle in the paper re cycling bin. We could go on, of course, but we’ve organized a little party today from 3:10 to 3:25 p.m. instead. We’ll celebrate that you’ve been fired while having coffee and cake. Auf Wiedersehen! 37
Elena Dellis, 20, & Lara Feger, 20 Finance and operations trainee (on the left) and event-management apprentice (on the right) Elena: I grew up here, and it’s always been a diverse community, maybe much more than elsewhere in Germany. You meet a single mom on the bus, and sit next to a banker on the subway. Everyone is here, and it all fits. There’s something for everybody. Both personally – where you hang out or who you socialize with – and professionally. Maybe you’ll become an event manager, maybe you’ll develop apps. You can easily see all the possibilities you have. That is, if you’re open-minded. Lara: I was abroad for a year. I was sad when I was about to return. I thought I would miss it all – the pride that people have in their business, their careful attention to marketing detail. That got me interested more broadly in marketing as well as event management. Now I realize, though, that Frankfurt is experiencing a similar trend. People are a lot more daring than one might think from a distance. I think Frankfurt has changed very positively in terms of unusual marketing concepts. You see it in cafés and restaurants.
WORD ON THE STREET
While commuting to and from work, young professionals in Germany’s financial hub of Frankfurt stopped to talk about their jobs, dreams, and daily encounters BY DEBOR AH STEINBORN PHOTOS EVELYN DR AGAN
Gesine Laura Hennig, 36 Freelance photographer, wood sculptor, and craftsperson
I work near the banking district, in an atelier in an artists’ collective called Basis. It’s really nice because it’s multicultural and fairly diverse. I prefer doing photo shoots out in nature. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the countryside in an area called Odenwald. But it’s great to work in the city center. It’s such a contrast, and that sparks creative ideas for my work. When I’m out around town, I see the strangest things, and often I photograph them. I saw a walker chained to a metal bar outside the entrance to a house. The walker was shimmering a blue color due to the reflections of the house paint. It was a beautiful shot. Before I became a photographer, I’d learned wood sculpting and worked for a while as a carpenter. I lived in Mexico for a year and worked for an artist there. Then I went to university to study communication design. I thought that wood sculpting wouldn’t be lucrative as a job. Now, I’m looking for a way to combine my photography with wood sculpting. I have to say I miss the craftsmanship.
Benedikt Luft, 32 Freelance illustrator and graphic designer in a cooperative studio I grew up in a very small village called Bermuthshain, which has less than 550 inhabitants. It’s in the Vogelsberg mountain range, about a hundred kilometers northeast of Frankfurt. My family has had a winter-sports shop there
since 1888, but the business is getting harder and harder to run as climate change advances. I studied communication design in Wiesbaden and then, in 2014, I moved to Frankfurt. I work at a cooperative studio in the Bahnhofsviertel. It’s sort of a coworking space for designers and artists. To be honest, my opinion of Frankfurt is mixed. Sometimes I think it lacks a certain dynamic. And yet it’s still a nice, manage
able city to work in, and I really appreciate that. I have done illustrations for The New Yorker, MIT Tech Review, and others, and some animations, including for Selfridges in London. That’s an advantage of being in this international city, you have contact with people from all over. I like to go to punk concerts in my free time, at Klapperfeld in Frankfurt, Schlachthof in Wiesbaden, or Oetinger Villa in Darmstadt. 39
Jacqueline Grimme, 30 Waitress at Café Nullsechsneun in the Kleinmarkthalle I’ve been working at this café in the Kleinmarkthalle for about five months. I’m a single mother of two small children. I live in a suburb of Frankfurt, and I take the S-Bahn (commuter rail) to work every day. It takes just 15 minutes to get here. It’s really nice to work here. We all know each other; it’s like working with family or friends. Colleagues from other stands come over on their lunch breaks. If we run low on ingredients for our salads, we can just head over to the produce stand right next to ours. Our customers? A very mixed crowd, from young to old, from locals to tourists from countries far away. On weekends, it gets really, really crowded. Salads are the most popular item on our menu. We have a lot of unusual salads, like lentil salad with spinach, feta, and grapes – people love it. We don’t use plastic; everything comes in refundable glass jars. So I guess you could indeed say that we care a little bit about the environment.
Jannis Kreis, 22 Founder of information platform startup Cashew During my studies in informatics at Goethe University Frankfurt, I had an idea for a startup that I believed had traction. And I’ve been working on this idea for two and a half years now. It’s still in development, but we are in the fi40
nal stages, and it will go live early this spring. The platform is called Cashew, and on it anyone can create a collection of knowledge – whether it’s a single document or many – and share it easily. Students who are working on bachelor’s or master’s theses on similar topics can exchange information. Journalists and researchers could share articles with each other on it, too. Frankfurt is an optimal place to
found a startup. Of course, the large banking sector here makes it more logical for fintech startups. My product is basically a businessto-consumer product, so I guess I could just as easily be in Berlin, but I am from the Rhine-Main region, I know Frankfurt well, and I am networked here. So it seemed the best option to stay in the city and work on my business idea rather than go to Berlin or elsewhere. I stayed.
Simon Emge, 30 Independent product designer with global reach
Luxcy Alex Lambert, 27 Junior lawyer at Frankfurt’s Higher Regional Court I grew up in the Taunus region north of Frankfurt, in a town called Oberursel. My parents are Tamils from Sri Lanka. They moved here when they were young. So I have a migrant background although I was born here.
Working at the court is really interesting and multicultural. It reflects the city at large. People come from everywhere. I have traveled a lot through India and Latin America, and I spent a longer period of time in Canada. Frankfurt was always a place for me to return, and I never doubted that I’d come back to build my career here. I know that Frankfurt used to have a negative reputation abroad,
it was considered a boring financial center that empties out at night, but the reality is that it has really evolved. Of course, given all the money in the banking sector, compared to other cities in Germany it is a bit high society. Nevertheless, these days you don’t need a lot of money to go out and have a good time if you’re with the right people. There are lots of alternatives. In summer, it’s amazing.
In the small city where I grew up, it’s easy to get bored. It is called Seligenstadt and about 25 kilometers away. I worked in a Frankfurt-based architecture firm until a few years ago. Now I work independently. I build prototypes, try to help clients make meaningful products that are also pleasant to look at, touch, and feel. Recently, I designed a stool in collaboration with an Italian architect. We come from very different cultural backgrounds, and the collaboration was fascinating because of that mix. The stool is pretty cool, too. It’s called Sgabello, which simply means stool in Italian. It has a trapezoidal profile. And it’s stackable. You can easily build a global client base from Frankfurt. And it’s central; I worked on a project in Portugal a while back and traveled down there once or twice during the project’s course. Sure, there is a type of conservative banker that shapes one side of the city, but there are many creative types as well. And I know bankers who are creative and interested in things other than banking. 41
Rosemary Harte, 22 Digital marketing assistant and dual-degree student
Sam Yi Xian, 26 Scouting and matching intern and master’s student in finance I’ve been in Germany for more than a year now. I just started working at TechQuartier, an innovation hub in Frankfurt, yesterday. And I’m in a master’s program at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. 42
Anyone who comes to Frankfurt should be open-eyed. The city has a reputation abroad for being all bankers and finance. If you just walk around a corner, you’ll find so much else that you can do. I used to work in the banking sector. I decided to switch to tech because people seem happier in this sector. And they really do. Have I had office culture shock? The happiness is a culture shock. In the German corporate world,
things were much more conservative, serious, and a bit distant. And there still aren’t many women. I am from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Asia it’s different. I worked in Hamburg for a very large bank before moving here. I was the only woman on the Mergers and Acquisitions team. It was a bit awkward; sometimes the jokes they made were a bit more, well, male. It’s not so funny if you are female.
I am just finishing up a dualdegree program at the European Business School here, a joint program between Canada and Germany. I’m interested in staying on, since it’s such a cool experience to work internationally. Before moving here, I worked in a company in Niagara Falls, Ontario, which was very manufacturing focused. Germany is so different. Business, startups, lifestyle, tech – it is all so advanced here. The office I’m working in is comprised of more than 60 percent women. That’s really refreshing. I never would have expected that in a startup environment. My number-one tip for anyone who moves here is to make some German friends. It is so helpful to have a few people, not just one, help you navigate the bureaucracy and settle in. Even the social scene requires navigation! Frankfurt is interesting because a lot of the social scene is underground. You can’t really access the whole cool art and music scene without some insider help. There’s a fun afterwork bar, for instance, that’s kind of word-of-mouth. It’s near a huge euro sign and is just called BAR.
© Getty Images (2)
Find out how Germany works Want to really take off in Germany? Let us give you a head start. At deutschland.de, you will find everything you need to know about German politics, business, society and culture – as well as some vital tips for studying and working in Germany. What’s the best route to finding a job? See for yourself!
Many German business leaders are fighting back against right-wing populism. Professor Daniel Kinderman, a political scientist at the University of Delaware, shares insight into his research on politics and business BY JENS TÖNNESMANN PHOTO MICHAEL PAUL ROMSTÖCK
How did you set about discover ing their motives? During extended research visits in Germany in 2017, 2018, and 2019, I talked to many entrepreneurs and with representatives of three federal and regional industry associations. In the Black Forest of southwestern Germany, the Wirtschaftsverband Industrieller Unternehmen Baden (Business Association of Industrial Enterprises Baden) had launched a campaign in 2017 to dissuade employees and the broader local populace from voting for the AfD. They advertised in local newspapers, gave speeches, and handed out flyers. Campaign supporters also posted and commented on social media. I interviewed several leading businesspeople involved in this campaign. All of them agreed that protectionism or a collapse of the global liberal market order would be extremely damaging, and potentially catastrophic for their companies.
Translation: Deborah Steinborn
LOOKING FOR THE GOOD GUYS
Mr. Kinderman, your research explores how German entrepreneurs are standing up to far-right populism. Why don’t you focus on American companies instead? Of course, the current political situation in the United States is extremely dangerous for liberal democracy. During the election campaign of 2016, many entrepreneurs supported Hillary Clinton, but the winds have changed. With his tax gifts, Donald Trump has bought the friendship of many US entrepreneurs. In Germany, things are still quite different, with many entrepreneurs positioning themselves against the far-right political party Alternative for Germany (AfD). That development made me curious.
Why are these entrepreneurs so involved? On the one hand, they’re motivated by material interests. These entrepreneurs are very dependent on exports and are afraid that their businesses could struggle if nationalism continues to mount. But the entrepreneurs’ personal values also play a role. They want to assume responsibility at a time when politicians alone can no longer do the job. Many of my interview partners also recalled the Nazi era and said that they feel a historical responsibility to stand up against right-wing radicalism. Even if they lose customers in the process? Indeed, companies are more cautious if they are very dependent on AfD supporters who purchase goods or services from them. German car manufacturers, for example, have hardly raised their voices at all against the populists so far. Among the entrepreneurs who have become active, business interests and values have not been in conflict.
“ECONOMY FOR AN OPEN SAXONY IS BECOMING MORE AND MORE ACTIVE IN THE LOCAL WORKFORCE” on exports but also on skilled workers and, in the long run, on immigration to fill the skills gap. So actually, many more entrepreneurs would have to speak out against nationalism than have so far. But there are a lot of free riders who prefer to have others do the fighting for an open society while they shy away from the effort. This is a typical problem in any collective action, however. Individuals can benefit from a group effort without contributing anything themselves.
Are personal values really what’s driving these businesspeople to speak out, or can some prospect of economic advantage be derived from their activism? In most cases, material interests are a necessary condition for engagement, but not the only one. Most businesspeople who are committed to fighting right-wing populism also expect economic benefits to stem from their engagement ...
Can entrepreneurs in Germany learn from companies in other countries? Actually, I would argue the reverse. In Germany, the commitment is still comparatively strong. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, businesspeople overwhelmingly have been very hesitant to speak out in public against Brexit, the UK’s exit from the European Union. Certainly, they feared losing customers. Aside from Germany, I have only observed a similarly high level of business engagement against right-wing populists in northern Italy, a region whose economy, much like Germany’s, relies heavily on exports.
... though certainly not all entrepreneurs who would benefit from fighting the far-right get involved ... That is true. Germany’s economy is not only dependent
Many of the business initiatives you’ve been researching are just temporary campaigns. Were you able to find out whether they have had any lasting positive effect?
That is difficult to assess. But I’d say that temporary campaigns are more likely to fizzle out than long-term initiatives such as the Dresden-based association Wirtschaft für ein weltoffenes Sachsen (Business Association for a Liberal, Open-minded, and Cosmopolitan Saxony). It has attracted a large number of entrepreneurs and regularly organizes events. And it is becoming more and more active in companies and the local workforce. Do you think entrepreneurs will remain committed to the anti-nationalist cause in the long run? For an open economy to succeed in the future, it is certainly crucial that they do. It will be interesting to see whether they position themselves against rightwing populists in the climate debate, too. In the short term, at least, saving the planet will cost a pretty penny, so values and economic interests no longer fit together so well on that front. Some Mittelstand entrepreneurs silently or even openly support the AfD. That is especially the case in the former East Germany. Does this support outweigh what their liberal counterparts are trying to achieve? You are correct that some entrepreneurs in the German Mittelstand tacitly or openly support the AfD. Tino Chrupalla, a businessman-turned-Bundestag politician of the AfD party, is a prominent example. But these figures do not outweigh the defense by their liberal counterparts of the liberal-democraticinternationalist market order. There are several reasons for this. Businesspeople who support the AfD tend to be dispropor-
tionately from the vast craft trades (Handwerk) sector as well as small shopkeepers. The AfD doesn’t yet have substantial support among owners or managers of the most dynamic, exportoriented segments of German manufacturing. And the AfD has not yet made substantial inroads into the powerful German business associations, either. Even in the Handwerk sector, the German business establishment remains overwhelmingly supportive of the EU and of the basic liberal democratic order. Why does your research only focus on the good guys? Good question! But let me clarify that my research doesn’t only focus on the so-called good guys. Globalization, the EU, and liberal democracy serve the material interests of the most dynamic segments of German business, which makes it easier for them to be “good.” What’s more, collective memory – the desire to never repeat the darkest period of their country’s past – motivates many Germans, including those in business, to stand up for liberal democracy in the present. But when German companies take their business abroad, the situation gets murkier. I’ll give you one example. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is no friend of liberal democracy, yet German companies have invested more in Hungary than companies from any other country over the past decade. It is very hard for businesspeople to resist right-wing populists if it pays to collaborate with them. A shorter version of this interview was published in German in the March 2020 issue of Zeit für Unternehmer, a ZEIT publication 45
BEFORE TAKING OFF, MAKE AN APPOINTMENT AT THE REGISTRATION OFFICE IN THE CITY YOU'RE MOVING TO
SOFT LANDING Want to work in Germany? You’ll need to hop over a few stumbling blocks. Here’s what you need to tackle within the first three months of your stay BY K ATHARINA HECKENDORF PHOTOS ALEX CRETEY SY TERMANS
LOOK FOR LODGING
The first thing you need is a roof over your head. It’s probably best to spend your first days in a hotel or an Airbnb and look for apartments from there. In Germany, for the most part, you still have to go to apartment viewings to get shortlisted. The bigger the city, the more challenging it is to find a place. Many young professionals live in a so-called Berufstätigen-WG – a living community shared with other professionals. If you are in Germany for a limited time, it may be your best bet. You’ll share a washing machine and a tea kettle, the bathroom and the kitchen, but you’ll also make friends in a foreign city. If you are looking for your own apartment for a limited period, you can find a so-called Zwischenmiete on Wg-Gesucht or Ebay Kleinanzeigen. The latter is also a good address to get some secondhand furniture for an unfurnished apartment if you don’t want to spend too much money. You’ll find everything from beds to balcony furniture for not much money or effort. And you can sell your furniture this way, too, at the end of your stay. Planning to stay for a longer time? Then the stress of looking for an apartment may be worth it. Try looking on Immoscout24, for example. But the price you see is only half the truth. In addition to the so-called Kaltmiete, which includes rent and utility costs, you also have to pay heating, electricity, water, and internet provider. And you’ll need to organize these utilities after moving in. If you need a DSL connection or electricity, you could look up check24, which lists the most affordable providers in your area. Landlords, by the way, typically require a security deposit equivalent to three months’ rent, 48
which you will get back upon termination of the lease. To be on the safe side, you should document the condition of the apartment meticulously when you move in to prove that nothing has been broken during your stay. MEET THE AUTHORITIES
In some German cities, women apply for daycare spots before they even get pregnant. Same thing here: it’s better to book an appointment with the local registration authority (Meldeamt) before you move. That’s where you’ll get your Meldebestätigung, to prove where you live. Be sure to bring along your passport, the Anmeldeformular (filled out and signed!) and a Wohnungsgeberbescheinigung, which should be completed and signed by your landlord. In a shared flat, the main tenant can do this. According to the law, you should make this appointment within two weeks of moving to any German city. But as local authorities tend to be fully booked even months in advance, it often takes longer. If you don’t meet the deadline, it’s not a big deal, but be able to prove that you tried to get an appointment within those first two weeks. A few weeks later, you will automatically receive your tax ID (Steuer-ID) from the tax office. Once you have this number, you should pass it on to your employer so that they can transfer your salary. HAVE CASH ON HAND
If you earn a decent salary, an account at one of the public savings banks may be a good choice. Their networks have ATMs on almost every street corner in Germany, and you can withdraw money free of charge (there may be account maintenance fees). In addition to your passport and your regis-
tration confirmation, you should also bring your tax ID along when you open a bank account. It will be needed for tax allowances on any capital gains. At online banks such as Comdirect or ING Diba, accounts are free, but there are fewer ATM machines to be found in their networks. Fortunately, thanks to online identity procedures, you no longer have to get up from your sofa to open an account. A laptop with a camera does the job. And in Germany, it’s still true that Nur Bares ist Wahres – cash is king. There are more and more supermarkets and clothing stores that accept Apple- or Google Pay. But you should always have a few euros in your pocket, because kiosks, bars, and cafés rarely accept cards of any kind.
such an option, Techniker Krankenkasse, HEK, and AOK are all respected public health insurers. One out of ten Germans is privately insured. If you want to be, too, you’ll need to gross at least 5,213 euros per month. Under these plans, you pay your medical bills upfront and get them reimbursed later. Especially for young, healthy people, the contributions are lower under private insurance plans. But beware: private health insurance can become a cost trap in later years. Ottonova, a Munich-based startup, offers digital private health insurance with special rates for expats who are in Germany for up to five years. It’s worth a look. Premiums start at 150 euros per month.
You’re in the home stretch. If you aren’t an EU citizen, you still have to obtain a residence permit and a work permit. Apply for these at the local Ausländerbehörde, the foreigners’ registration office. Depending on which country you come from, what your education level is, and whether you already have a job, there are different Aufenthaltstitel and requirements. All those papers you have taken care of so far are needed now. What you need to bring along is your passport, a biometric passport photo, the Wohnungsgeberbescheinigung, the tenancy agreement, proof of health insurance, confirmation of registration, a form called Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels, which you can download online, and 110 euros in cash. If you have already found a job, bring your employment contract and an additional form called Angaben zum Betrieb und zur Beschäftigung, which your employer needs to fill out. And
If you haven’t thought about it yet, the personnel department of your employer certainly will. You need health insurance in this country! If you are not from the European Union and therefore cannot take advantage of your insurance policy back home, you’ll need to sign up either for public or private insurance in Germany. With public health insurance, it costs you around 7.3 percent of your salary, your employer pays about the same, and the rest is covered by social security contributions. Like taxes, the contribution is immediately deducted from your salary, which is transferred to your account. Public health insurance is sufficient in most cases, so that medication and hospital stays are covered. But often there’s a substantial deductible for dental visits under this insurance plan. Many larger employers, like Audi or Deutsche Bank, have their own company health insurance plans called Betriebskrankenkasse. If your employer doesn’t have
GET YOUR PERMITS
SFIC TEMPOREPERUM FACIMOL ORIBUSAE NUMQUISQUO BLANDAE LIT OFFICAT OCCUM EUM REST VOLORENDI DEL INUS TO ENSURE A SAFE LANDING, GET SOME INSURANCE FOR YOU AND YOUR PETS
remember: you must reapply for your residence permit before it expires. If you are self-employed, you will also need to bring your CV and a business plan showing how you intend to build your business financially. What business experience do you already have? Which customers are you able to list? What positive effects will your business have on the local economy? These documents should also show how you intend to make a living in Germany. For people with a university degree,
it’s possible to stay in Germany for up to six months to look for a job in a company or to become gainfully self-employed. But again, you’ll need proof that you can pay your own way. IDIOSYNCRASIES
A few weeks after you move in, just when you think all the red tape has been cut, an envelope will arrive in your mailbox from an organization called the GEZ. It’s a bill for contributions to public television and radio, which everyone who moves into a flat in
Germany has to pay. Contributions amount to 210 euros per year, and can be paid annually, quarterly, or monthly. If Fido’s coming, too, you'll have to register your dog – but not your cat. You must register your dog with the tax office within four weeks of entering the country for the Hundesteuer. The amount of this literal dog tax varies from city to city – from 90 euros per year in Hamburg to 156 euros in Cologne, for instance. Insuring your dog with a dog liability insurance will cost around 40 euros per year.
And not surprisingly, you’ll need some personal insurance, too. After all, you never know. What if you drop a colleague’s smartphone? Or what if you forget to turn off the tap on the bathtub and the neighbors suffer from the water damage? For these eventualities, you should consider purchasing a Haftpflichtversicherung, which starts at about 30 euros per year for individuals and 50 euros for a family. It’s worth comparing prices of these policies on check24. 49
I LOVE THE IMMIGRATION OFFICE Who’s afraid of German bureaucracy? Not Brigitte Schärfe. The Hamburg-based freelance relocator takes care of all that red tape for new arrivals BY K ATHARINA HECKENDORF
What do young professionals from abroad need to consider when moving to Germany? Can’t they just arrive and figure it all out when they land? Sometimes one might think, “Oh my God, why are so many stumbling blocks put in the way of highly qualified people with two university degrees?” If you move to Germany from a country such as India, and bring family members with you, you need to present a rental agreement at the Ausländerbehörde, the immigration authority. It states the number of square meters of the apartment. The officials will decide whether your salary can finance it. If you want to bring your spouse, be aware that he or she will also be required to take a language course. 62 50
That sounds like a hassle … It took me several years to organize all the tasks involved efficiently. By now I can do them in just one day. I accompany my clients to the local Meldebehörde for registration. Then, we visit a bank and the local tax office to apply for that important tax identification number. And then we head to the Ausländerbehörde, for our appointment to get the crucial foreigner’s residence permit. Those are the important first steps.
with a basic rent (Kaltmiete) of 1,500 euros. The actual monthly amount will be much higher.
In a tight housing market like Hamburg’s, where do you find apartments for your clients? WG-Gesucht, Facebook, Ebay Kleinanzeigen, Immoscout – I look everywhere. I even ask neighbors, and I’ve developed a network of landlords who call me when something is available. Sometimes my customers look for apartments themselves. But many don’t realize that, in addition to basic rent, there are other costs to consider, like fees for utilities and heating. If someone earns 4,000 euros in gross income per month, he or she won’t be able to afford an apartment
What could run more smoothly in Germany? Unfortunately, I have also had the experience that landlords do not easily refund the security deposit on an apartment when my clients move away again. That’s because very few of my expat clients speak German well enough to stick to their guns – or know their rights. Since the renter is leaving town anyway, landlords are obviously interested in using the deposit to finance the complete renovation of the flat. So it helps if renters precisely record and photograph the condition of an apartment when they move in.
What do most newcomers to Germany struggle with? Our bureaucratic aberrations. My clients are irritated when they have to insure their dogs and pay taxes for them. Many don’t think about GEZ (the public agency that collects fees for German public broadcasting), and they don’t consider liability insurance, either.
How much do you charge for your services? The fees for my services start at about 2,000 euros – that should cover all the initial paperwork required for a single new arrival as well as finding a place to live. For families with children, it’s more complicated and therefore more expensive. Right now, mainly software developers are relocating to Germany. And in most cases, the companies that new arrivals work for cover the costs of such services. Some individuals hire me, too. Why do you like your job? I can’t plan a day completely, which means that I have to be spontaneous. And that’s what I like about it. If an appointment frees up at short notice at the immigration office, I have to accept it. It may surprise you, but I really love going to the immigration office or the tax office and exchanging the latest jokes with the officials. I deal well with people. Sometimes, people also call me late at night. Some would say I act like a mom would act and can take care of everything.
Translation: Deepl, Katharina Heckendorf
Ms. Schärfe, you support immigrants with their first steps in Germany. Where do your clients come from? Actually, from everywhere. Most come from India, China, the United States, and South America. But I have also had clients from Azerbaijan and even from Madagascar.
Daniel Hincapié, Research Engineer at Fraunhofer Institute, Munich
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WO RLD O F D IFFE RE N C E Staff at a Berlin startup discuss the delights and dangers of working in a multicultural environment BY CATHRIN SCHAER ILLUSTRATION SEB AGRESTI
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Sascha Kohnke says in that deadpan, straightforward manner for which Germans are so well known. Everyone else in the room laughs at what the German software engineer has just said. What’s so funny? Eight of Kohnke’s fellow team members sitting in the conference room of Berlin startup Caterwings have just been talking about exactly this – German directness – and how they had to get used to it when they first started working in the country. And Kohnke has just inadvertently proven the point. Such are the joys and cultural complexities of communication at a multinational, multilingual startup in the middle of Berlin. The team at Caterwings, a company that matches businesses with potential caterers, is as diverse as the meals it provides to workplaces in seven countries. The business currently employs about seventy staff members from 11 different countries at its four European offices. They come from all over, including Egypt, India, Australia, New Zealand, Lithuania, Poland, and Switzerland. Through various mergers and buyouts, the business has expanded well beyond Germany and is on its way to becoming a European leader in its sector. The company really needs international staff to pull it off, says chief executive officer Adrian Frenzel. “We do less than 20 percent of our overall business in Germany, and if you want to be global, you can’t just have German speakers,” he explains. “So we really like to bring in other nationalities.” On this particular morning, members of the Berlin team have gathered in the conference room to discuss what that policy means for everyday office life. The table around which they’re gathered is loaded with tasty snacks. They all agree that the most obvious roadblock for many foreign staffers is language. That’s even though the company’s official language is English. Still, German-speaking staff have to be careful, says Sidney Francois, global head of product. “We have to pay more attention than the others to make sure we don’t switch back into our native tongue,” says the Swiss national. Otherwise, colleagues who aren’t fluent in German “can get frustrated,” he explains. There are more subtle cultural differences, too, such as that German penchant for directness. “It’s good to get to the point,” says Tiahn Wetzler, the startup’s senior content manager, who is originally from Sydney, Australia. “But sometimes I think it might be positive to have a slightly softer touch.” Wetzler gives a concrete example: “In Australia, if you want to criticize the work somebody did, you might
“WE WILL ONLY BE SUCCESSFUL IF WE ARE INTERNATIONAL” ADRIAN FRENZEL
blanket that by saying something like, ‘Hey, I know you’ve been working really hard lately, but …’ Germans tend to be more direct about it. They don’t realize you might be offended.” English speakers tend to be less earnest in their conversations, Francois notes. Like when people casually ask how you are. “Well, why should I ask somebody how they are when I don’t even know them?” counters Kohnke, once again demonstrating that German directness his colleagues have been laughing about. “It could lead to a conversation I don’t want to have.” What about that other, often problematic intra-office challenge: humor? This time, an Italian staff member makes everyone laugh. “I feel like I spend a lot of my time making bad jokes,” confesses senior product designer Consuelo Longhi. “I worry that they are misunderstood. Afterward, I think, ‘Did that person even understand I was just joking?,’” she admits. “I often have to explain.” There’s no specific training in “the Way of the German” for foreigners. Caterwings team members agree that diversity is to be expected at a business like theirs. “I feel like a startup here in
Berlin actually has more in common with a startup in Australia than with traditional German businesses,” explains Moritz Hoffmann, a recent hire who’s done stints in South Korea and Australia. “People tend to have similar attitudes and are already a bit more open-minded because of the startup environment.” If there are any cultural differences that upset or offend, CEO Frenzel notes, colleagues tend to work them out one-on-one, informally. Frenzel recalls one day when he had invited some Italian team members to lunch. He was running late, and by the time he got there, the Italians had ordered a bottle of wine. “I said to the guys that, in Germany, if the boss invites you out to lunch, you don’t order wine. It was just a cultural difference they were not aware of.” Even if more formal forms of dispute resolution become necessary, Frenzel explains, it’s still important to start with an assumption of innocence. Despite some occasional pitfalls, cultural diversity ultimately brings advantages, Frenzel believes. The Hamburg native, who used to run North American operations for the meal kit provider Hello Fresh, has picked up on some general differences between German and American working styles. “Germans really value planning, while people in the United States tend to value execution,” he says. Bringing the two together is “a really strong combination.” And there are other examples, too. “We just bought a company in France,” Frenzel says. “Some of our sales guys here are very numbers focused, which is obviously really good. But the French guys have this amazing passion for food. If we put these different strengths together, that’s inspiring,” he says. “We will only be successful if we are international.” Francois, the Swiss head of global product, feels that having international colleagues makes the team more competitive. He cites the example of a Tunisian staffer who was able to contribute innovative ideas from his homeland: “He was aware of certain food products from the Middle East and told us how the user experience could work there, and we thought, ‘Hey, that could be something we can use.’” Working in an international team even brings personal benefits, as Longhi, the Italian product designer, points out. “The mixture of cultures challenges you,” she says. “Usually, you surround yourself with people who have similar opinions and backgrounds; they often reflect your own values back at you. But when you throw yourself into a context like this, with completely different people, you get a different reality reflected,” she says. “It forces you to behave in another way, and it’s a real chance to learn something about yourself.” 53
Photos: André Wedemann, Jakob Börner
Left: Hamburgâ€™s Alster lake. Right: The Elbe river is home to a sprawling port and the shiny Elbphilharmonie concert hall
How coworking culture is turning Hamburg into a decidedly startup-friendly city BY DEBOR AH STEINBORN
The first thing Felix Brüggemann liked about Mindspace, the global coworking boutique, was the comfortable leather sofa he sank into after climbing up the grand staircase from the ground floor. The second thing he liked about it was right outside: downtown Hamburg. He could see it through the big industrial windows of the 1904 building. The heart of the city was within easy reach here, literally a five-minute walk away. It was just across the street from the commuter rail, not very far from the airport, and less than a kilometer away from a vast, bustling port along the Elbe river. That was back in 2017, on an initial visit to the Mindspace quarters in Hamburg’s Altes Klöpperhaus. The Tel Aviv-based group had just opened its first location outside of Israel in the historic building, and Brüggemann and his colleagues were scouting for a central, affordable workspace for jetlite, their burgeoning aviation startup. Today, the 34-year-old chief financial officer is a model Mindspace citizen. He can brainstorm with his team in a dedicated workspace on the third floor and network in the communal kitchen one floor down – with everybody from single-person startups to managers of the largest German corporations. 56
He even DJs at Mindspace in his free time. (The biggest gig was the Christmas party last December, with almost 600 guests.) All the while, he’s helping one of Hamburg’s hottest startups grow even hotter. Hamburg? Yes! The city is shedding its reputation as the exclusive realm of sobersided businessmen and bankers in blue blazers, yellow ties, and tassel leather shoes – and the wood-paneled boardrooms that served as their native habitat. After all, the port city of 1.8 million has street cred, too. Back in the early 1960s, the Beatles played from nightclub to nightclub in the rough-and-tumble St. Pauli district before taking the world by storm. Today, that spirit is helping Hamburg reinvent itself yet again. Brüggemann and his team are just part of a growing group of young professionals bringing a new vibe to the city as it innovates and evolves. Hamburg is shifting away from its traditional mercantile, Hanseatic roots to embrace its future as an innovation hub with global connections. In many ways, coworking is to thank for this development. Over the past decade, offerings have sprung up all around town, allowing small, new companies to set up shop on a budget right in the middle of it all – despite the astronomical cost of
real estate in one of Germany’s richest cities. This trend has been driven by digitization, which makes it possible to work anywhere as long as the Wi-Fi is reliable. Early on, coworking spaces were simply a contact point for freelancers working in fields like design, copywriting, and IT. But more and more companies are booking them in order to network with and profit from the know-how of young hipsters. Niche establishments are sprouting up across the country, too. There are spaces solely for lawyers and solely for fintechs; other centers cater to members of the LGBTQ community. All of these spaces make a common promise to members: You will meet people here, and they will be useful to you. Hamburg has 40 major spaces, according to coworking guide, a
Photos: Mindspace, Daria Pimpkina, Juwelier
Mindspace takes a studied approach to its interior design. At its Hamburg location, some vintage furniture comes from flea markets
comparison platform for coworking spaces in Germany. Five new spaces have opened in the past year alone. So Hamburg’s particular appeal is no longer a well-kept secret. When Dan Zakai, Mindspace’s managing director and co-founder, was scouting for the group’s first-ever location outside of Israel, he didn’t choose a coworking hotspot like New York or San Francisco. He chose Hamburg. Berlin followed soon after, and today Mindspace is in 15 cities throughout Israel, Europe, and the United States. In market research, Zakai and his colleagues sensed a groundswell change in Hamburg. “We saw a wider move toward innovation and the desire to build something new,” he explains. This spark was coming just as much from big business as it was from the startup world. Even the city’s mayor contributed to that spirit of change, encouraging the foundation of the Hamburgische Investitions- und Förderbank to assist innovation with financing and other support programs. All this worked in Mindspace’s favor. “A lot of businesses, large companies, innovative companies came right in” after the opening in 2017, Zakai recalls. Mindspace, like many other young companies today, is all about community. In Hamburg, its clients, called “members,” range from the Austrian energy drink producer Redbull to Strandperle, a hip beach café on the banks of the Elbe. Some of the company’s success has to do with the look, feel, and location. When they saw it, “we knew we had to have that space,” says Zakai. High ceilings, big windows, old-industrial ambiance. It didn’t hurt to be close to the German headquarters of Google and Facebook, either, or to the fintech companies that cluster in the city’s center.
Hamburg’s Schanzenviertel is dotted with cafes. It’s also home to betahaus, the first coworking space the city ever saw
The location fits the mission. Mindspace was founded in 2014 and offers coworking in “boutique” style. Its design sense is spot on. In Hamburg, some of the vintage furniture comes straight from local flea markets, and the artwork brightening the walls is by artists who live in the area.
The company’s “all-inclusive package” offers the same service for each member – fully furnished private offices, open space seating, exclusive, multi-room suites for larger companies, and meeting rooms. Mindspace also hosts community and networking events and provides IT services and free 57
COWORKING ALL AROUND DARNA BERLIN
This LGBTQ coworking space is in the heart of Berlin’s Schöneberg district. “You can even show up as a drag queen here,” founder Sharif Altwal said in an interview with ze.tt. “Everyone as they like.” A monthly membership costs 250 euros COCONAT
BAD BEL ZIG
It sounds almost too good to be true: a work retreat. In the small town of Bad Belzig in Brandenburg, population 11,000, members can work while swinging in a hammock. A month of rest, relaxation, and work runs from 700 euros for a shared room to 1,200 euros for a private single room JOCON
Lawyers, attorneys, and tax advisors are all welcome here, but really no one else. The space’s website emphasizes its focus on data protection and confidentiality. Spots here start at 280 euros per month The Dancing Towers were designed by Hamburg architect Hadi Teherani and include office space, a radio station, and a nightclub
coffee, tea, and soda. So the Israeli group and the northern German city turned out to be a match. With roughly 700 members coming and going, “it is one of our most successful locations,” Zakai says. In such clusters, connections are easily fostered. And that’s key, says jetlite’s CFO Brüggemann. Until 58
they established their second base at Mindspace, the jetlite staff worked at the ZAL Centre for Applied Aviation Research (dubbed the TechCenter) on the sprawling campus of airliner manufacturer Airbus, 19 kilometers down the Elbe river. And they still do. Jetlite’s product team maintains a small space
Startups from the mobility and logistics sectors are given free space here for the first six months, and sometimes even longer. In return, they’re expected to participate in regular pitch meetings and workshops
Photo: Emma Rahmani; Sidebar: Katharina Heckendorf
at TechCenter. It’s crucial to stay close to the aircraft-cabin industry, which is based largely in Finkenwerder. That location also remains jetlite’s official address. But startups there all have an aerospace focus, he admits. And it’s a bit off the beaten path. Once, the team missed the last evening ferry back to Hamburg after staying late. Getting back across the river that night was a bit of a mess, and that collective memory stuck. Jetlite’s product line has expanded quickly. Its innovative lighting scenarios for long-haul flights – the right light can help combat jet lag – range from algorithm-based aircraft cabin lighting to an app that coaches passengers on how to reduce jet lag. Lufthansa has integrated jetlite’s lighting solutions into its Airbus A350 fleet. And supermodel Toni
Garrn, a frequent flier and native of Hamburg, has collaborated with the company on product development and recently joined as a co-founder. Being part of the Mindspace community simply expands that horizon. Recently, Brüggemann was chatting there with some staffers from the digital unit of Deutsche Bahn and they encouraged him: “You should do this lighting on trains!” An idea for a potential new market was born right there. All sorts of business ideas trace their roots to Hamburg’s coworking-space community. Diana Knodel, an IT professional, was part of the coworking evolution early on. In 2013, on leave from her job at a software company after the birth of her first child, she searched for space to pursue her own projects. “At first, it was just about having some creative space with a network, where it wasn’t always about Baby,” she recalls. So she bought a few day passes to betahaus and got to work. Based in the city’s edgy Schanzenviertel, betahaus had been the first coworking space ever to open in the city back in 2010. Soon, her husband starting writing his doctorate there too, and things evolved. Then one of Knodel’s project ideas – teach-
ing coding to elementary and high school students in low-income neighborhoods – took off. She and her husband went into business together and booked a full-fledged office at betahaus; it took a while before one of the coveted spaces became free. Back then, private offices within coworking spaces were in short supply, so they were waitlisted. The App Camps team has since expanded nationwide to teach young and old how to program apps. The social business has grown, and with it a need for more space. Last fall, the team moved into its own offices. But they still return to betahaus for occasional events; and its community has been invaluable over the years, Knodel says. Economists have a term for today’s mixture of workplace cooperation and competition. They call it coopetition. Companies connect, share ideas, build common platforms – and then they fight each other fiercely on a daily basis to grow. Hamburg, it seems, has figured out how to combine coopetition with a communal sense of direction and belonging. And because of it, the “gateway to the world,” as the port city is dubbed, may just have opened quite a bit more.
Emma Koster came to Berlin on vacation back in 2008. The Australian liked it so much that she ended up staying and working in the tech sector. By 2015, after starting as a digital producer at Zalando, she assumed that Berlin would become her permanent home. That same year, however, global social and political movements had an unexpected impact on Koster’s professional life. Germany witnessed a large influx of Syrians fleeing war in their homeland, and Koster ended up doing some work with Berlin’s refugee communities. She had observed the social impact of Twitter during the Arab Spring and also took note of how phones were being used by refugees as they fled their home countries and settled abroad. “There were massive problems getting critical, sensitive messages to people when they needed it,” she recalls. That was the seed of her idea to develop a chatbot that could help deliver sensitive information in a safe, discreet way in such situations. Hello Cass, the chatbot she later built, provides information and support pathways to people in Victoria, Australia, affected by family or sexual violence. Koster, now 34, began working on a similiar idea when she was still living in Berlin. She hoped to help either local social services or those working with refugees in the German capital. But she quickly ran into language barriers. “My German is pretty child-like and my Arabic non60
BY CATHRIN SCHAER
Emma Koster moved back to Melbourne to develop a chatbot
existent,” she laughs, conceding that she might have flown “a bit close to the sun” trying to develop a communications-based product in two languages she didn’t speak fluently. Another hurdle, she learned, was convincing potential German project partners just how pervasive family and sexual violence are. This was before the #MeToo Movement had gained global traction, Koster recalls. Back in Australia, though, and especially in her home state of Victoria, things were different. “We had just had the Royal Commission into Family Violence in Victoria,” she says. “People had accepted it as a huge issue.” “When you’re trying to do community work, you have to understand the community you’re trying to serve, and deeply,” Koster continues. “The first rule in this sector is ‘do no harm,’ and the biggest cause of harm is ignorance.” And, Koster admits, she worried that she didn’t understand the German social services system well enough.
Koster didn’t want to give up on the idea altogether, so she applied for an innovation fellowship with the Myer Foundation, a major Australian philanthropic organization. “I always joke that the only thing I’d ever won before was Miss Personality 1996 at the local fair in Nowra,” she jokes. “But I ended up getting it.” That fellowship in hand, a move back home became inevitable. Koster admits she was reluctant to leave Berlin. “I had a great life in Germany and great friends. But I was absolutely convinced the idea would work.” That was in 2017. In May 2019, Koster launched Hello Cass in her home state, Victoria. She’s now looking for a partner to help scale the project and is working on a nationwide pilot. It hasn’t been easy at times since returning to Melbourne, especially financially, Koster says. But Hello Cass was never about making money. Rather, it was about having an impact on society and finding innovative solutions. That said, the lower cost of living in Berlin had allowed her time to explore the idea, and that’s one thing she misses. She also misses the German capital’s inspiring creativity and talent. Working at Zalando taught her valuable lessons about crosscultural differences in startups. “I realized that just because my management strategy worked in Australia, where people think I’m affable and funny, doesn’t mean it will work elsewhere ... and that made me grow as an operator.”
Illustration: Seb Agresti; Photos: private, GetYourGuide
WHY I´VE LEFT
WHY I´M BACK Nils Chrestin could give lessons in suitcase packing. Born in Bremen, a small northern German city, he first tasted life abroad during a high-school academic exchange in the United States. And his first job after finishing university in Munich was at Morgan Stanley in London. Since then, he has worked in executive posts “pretty much everywhere,” he says: Russia, India, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. He’s traveled and moved so often in the past decade, he says, that he no longer suffers from jet lag. Last year, Chrestin’s world tour came full circle when he accepted a job as chief financial officer of the successful Berlin startup GetYourGuide. The move wasn’t spur-of-themoment. Chrestin and his wife had their first child a couple of years ago and were mulling a change suitable to family life. Berlin appealed to him and his wife, who is Italian. The multicultural couple now live with their two toddlers in the city center. “The international environment was very important,” he says of Berlin. “There’s obviously a great entrepreneurial scene here, a great arts scene, a great music scene, and it’s an extremely kidfriendly city.” Leaving his executive post at the Rocket Internet-backed Global Fashion Group (GFG), where he’d most recently worked, wasn’t easy. GFG was doing well and about to go public. But “sometimes Lady Luck helps,” Chrestin says. He
BY JILL PETZINGER
Nils Chrestin returned to Germany as CFO of a Berlin unicorn
met and liked GetYourGuide’s founders and felt he could thrive within the company’s culture. Launched in 2008, GetYourGuide is an online platform where travellers can book tours, experiences, and attractions all over the world. In May 2019, it achieved unicorn status, which is a valuation of one billion dollars or more. Many things had changed in the years Chrestin was abroad. Within Europe today, “Berlin is the most interesting and relevant hub for tech and growth companies,” he says, and that’s in turn a boon for startups. That’s because international employees bring multiple perspectives and experiences, which feed into company culture and strategy. Indeed, about 85 percent of GetYourGuide’s staff is non-German. An inclusive business community in Berlin was another positive surprise that Chrestin found upon his return. Elsewhere, executives sometimes can be cagey about sharing experiences, Chrestin says. But in Berlin, CFOs regularly meet to chat about their work.
And they are “far more open to knowledge-sharing and less precious about perceived competitive advantages,” he says. This is a big help when it comes to designing compelling financial offers to attract top global talent, or even when discussing team structure or fundraising. Even though Chrestin says moving to Berlin was probably the best decision he made last year, there have been some frustrations. Germany’s cash culture, for one. “I’ve lived the past 10 years without cash in my pocket,” he says. But on a taxi ride from the Berlin airport soon after his move, the driver wouldn’t accept cards. Now, Chrestin always has pocket money on hand. The country’s clunky bureaucracy hadn’t gone away either. “Germany abroad has this reputation of being highly organized and efficient. I actually don’t think that’s the case,” Chrestin says. “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so much paper post. They don’t let you pay at the doctor’s but insist on sending you an invoice; you get a bill and in the same envelope you get a copy of the bill.” And while he enjoys the local emphasis on work-life balance, German and European attitudes toward work itself take some getting used to. The approach to business in growth markets he has worked in is “very different than it is in Europe,” he says. “The hunger, drive, and passion of wanting to really change things is something I’ve seen more in other markets.” 61
MAKE NO MISTAKE BY MARTIN GIESE FOTOS XXXX
A top German business angel and author of a recent book on startup financing outlines the most common mistakes founders make when seeking funding in Germany BY MARTIN GIESE PHOTOS MAX SIEDENTOPF
They underestimate the time and effort needed to complete a funding round
Don’t expect to find an investor who funds your startup after meeting for a single lunch 62
Funding rounds in Germany take a lot of time – typically, three to four months for a business-angel round and six to eight months for a round with venture capital (VC) funds. Some Silicon Valley business angels, by contrast, do deals over a single lunch. Regardless of where they live, startup founders tend to make decisions swiftly. So they underestimate the time it takes busy investors to respond to introductions, meet, review information, negotiate conditions, and finally agree to a signing. In Germany, this process takes even longer since that final signing requires a notary’s validation. Even your target investor’s summer break – which can be especially long in this social market economy – may add extra weeks to the process. Founders also may underestimate the time and effort that they need to put into the process. They
may think, for one, that a funding round will involve just a single investor. Juggling many leads at the same time is common, which can make fundraising a full-time job for founders. As André Schwämmlein, founder of mobility unicorn Flixbus, explains in the book Startup Finanzierung: “Your alternatives determine the outcome of your negotiations.” The more time you take to systematically reach out to various potential investors, the better your prospects. #2
They stumble into the funding process Fundraising needs to be managed professionally, yet surprisingly often, startup founders just let it happen. They happen to run into a potential investor who shows interest in their company at a conference or another networking event, and then they hurriedly try to assemble answers to that single investor’s inquiries. Simply put, that haphazard approach is a really bad idea. Even if founders get funding this way, they might have found a better deal elsewhere. Perhaps waiting to achieve an important milestone would have led to a better company valuation? Now, they’ll never know ... Hanno Renner, CEO of human-resources startup Personio, approached fundraising just as a professional salesperson would approach client-building. For each funding round, he input all relevant investor information into a customer-relationship management system. He ranked and pursued each potential investor according to desirability. And then he successfully used the demonstrated interest of each of those investors as leverage in negotiations.
If only we had used our connections at that Berlin-based catering hub! #3
They ask for too little money Too little money? You heard right. A funding round should always be large enough to cover operations for at least 12 months; ideally, it should cover the next year and a half. Asking for lower sums in the hopes of getting to “yes” faster is pointless. A reluctance to ask for sufficient money can get founders stuck in an endless funding cycle. If you
ask for too little money, the invested sum may last for only six months. You’ll need to start another round the day the first one is completed. And it’s nearly impossible to get work done and achieve milestones if you’re in perpetual funding negotiations. Investing more money makes sense to investors, too. For a startup, 1.5 million euros rather than one million euros will make a big difference. But from the perspective of a VC fund with a 100-millioneuro budget, that difference of half a million euros 63
is really no more than a rounding error. So for venture capitalists, the bottleneck comes in the amount of deals they can execute and follow up on in the next round and not in the initial investment. #4
They chase VC money too early Sure, startups are a risky business. But is it really true that only VCs will invest in them? Don’t let Hollywood films or media buzz around big startups fool you. VC funds’ doors aren’t the first that entrepreneurs knock on. In Germany, the typical VC fund invests at a very specific point in the life of a startup; it steps in after the company has already achieved significant and relevant milestones, such as a solid team, a prototype, first users, as well as growing recurring revenues. But a startup shouldn’t be too far along, either. Most German VC funds are smaller than their peers in the United States and prefer committing to early-stage startups rather than established companies that ask for double-digit millions of euros or more. And more often than not, founders in Germany are better off seeking other financial sources, especially at early stages. They can start by bootstrapping and asking friends and family for small sums of money to bridge the divide. German business angels may be harder to find. This has to do with the broad er culture, which still frowns on flashing significant wealth. Many investors are reluctant to admit a financial hobby that implies significant affluence. A first step could be to talk to a network of business angels. These networks, which essentially bundle the expertise and money of several angels, can be found in most larger German cities. 64
Approaching funding haphazardly could get you burned. Take some time to prepare instead #5
They neglect public funding programs Many startups are in a bind: they need money to build a prototype, the lack of which in turn prevents them from raising money. In Germany, public funding is available at local, regional, national, and European-Union levels to bridge this so-called Valley of Death. But identifying and applying for the right programs can be confusing even for founders
who grew up in the country, speak the language, and understand all the red tape. Calling on startup advice centers at universities or the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry can help you navigate this complex system. Hiring a specialized consultant is an option, too. However, warns Alexander Franke, founder of software startup UPCUE: “Public funding consultants are great to structure your applications, but they can’t tell your startup’s story for you.”
M AS TH E A D
And public funding is never money for free. It takes a lot of paperwork and patience for that grant or credit to come through. Pedro Gómez, founder of AI startup ORBEM, explains: “Our application was 200 pages long. And our startup was a great fit with the program, but we only managed to fulfil the specific grant requirements the second time around.”
Publisher Dr. Uwe Jean Heuser Editor-in-Chief Deborah Steinborn (fr.) Art and Photo Director Julia Steinbrecher Assistant Editor Katharina Heckendorf (fr.) Editorial Assistant Andrea Capita
They think crowdfunding isn’t a viable option
Contributing Writers Adam Fletcher, Martin Giese, Katharina Heckendorf, Sarah Karacs, Jill Petzinger, Cathrin Schaer, Eva von Schaper, Ellen Sellwood, Deborah Steinborn, Jens Tönnesmann, Gerrit Wiesmann
Finding an investor or getting a grant aren’t the only ways to fund a startup. Especially for international founders with networks in several countries, crowdfunding – raising money from a large number of people who each contribute a relatively small amount – is a viable alternative. Ever since market leader Kickstarter entered Germany from the US five years ago, crowdfunding has become a way to raise capital for fun, easy-todemonstrate business-to-consumer products. It can prove that an idea has customer demand. And founders can hold on to their company shares as well. Take Munich-based startup Spyra. In the summer of 2018, the team raised almost half a million euros in pre-sales for its Spyra One, a high-tech water gun for grown-ups. The approach does require a lot of work, as Spyra’s co-founder Rike Brand explains: “To get ready for the campaign, we began our preparations more than a year before launch day.”
Contributing Photographers Roderick Aichinger, Charles-Henry Bédué, Daniel Blum, Jakob Börner, Evelyn Dragan, Stephanie Füssenich, Franz Grünewald, Thomas Pirot, Christian Protte, Emma Rahmani, Robert Rieger, Michael Paul Romstöck, Julia Sellmann, Max Siedentopf, Christina Stohn, Alex Cretey Systermans, André Wedemann Contributing Illustrator Seb Agresti Copy Editor Miranda Robbins (fr.)
They act too German when contacting investors Not all aspects of the local business culture are worth adopting. International founders should steer clear of German founders’ typical mistakes. Many are simply too shy about networking to fully leverage their contacts and get in touch with their dream investor. Don’t be like them! Investors are busy people. To get a foot in the door, a personal introduction is crucial. Use all your connections and all your charm. Jeff Burton, Electronic Arts founder and consultant, warns against being too cautious. “I’ve met many German founders who keep their intellectual property top secret out of fear that the investor would steal or share it,” he says. “But if investors don’t get information about the business, they won’t waste time. They’ll move on to the next investment opportunity.”
Managing Director Dr. Rainer Esser Publishing Director Sandra Kreft Publishing Managers Malte Riken (in charge), Lina Göttsch Marketing and Distribution Nils von der Kall Corporate Communications Silvie Rundel Production Torsten Bastian (in charge), Tim Paulsen, Pascal Struckmann Head of Sales Akí Hardarson Printing Mohn Media Mohndruck GmbH, Gütersloh Repro 4mat media, Hamburg Publishing House ZEIT Germany Zeitverlag Gerd Bucerius GmbH & Co. KG Buceriusstrasse, Entrance Speersort 1 20095 Hamburg Tel.: +49 40 32 80-493 Fax: +49 40 32 71 11 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Martin Giese, managing director of Xpreneurs, a leading incubator in Munich, is a business angel and author of the 2020 book “Startup Finanzierung” 65
WORK SCRABBLE Business terms can be baffling in a foreign language. Try your hand at this bilingual crossword puzzle before your first day at work BY DEBOR AH STEINBORN ILLUSTRATION SEB AGRESTI
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ACROSS 5. MEETING 8. EUROPEAN CURRENCY 10. RESUMÉ 11. MEAL TIME 13. JOB APPLICATION 14. OFFICE CAFETERIA 16. PAYDAY 18. CASH 19. EMPLOYEE (MALE)
DOWN 1. COMP DAY FOR OVERTIME 2. END OF THE WORKDAY 3. WORKERS’ COUNCIL 4. BOSS (FEMALE) 6. BALANCE SHEET 7. PROBATION 9. CONFERENCE CALL (ABBREVIATION) 12. INVOICE 15. OFFICE 17. FLEXIBLE WORKING HOURS
ANSWER KEY ACROSS 5. BESPRECHUNG 8. EURO 10. LEBENSL AUF 11. MAHL ZEIT 13. BEWERBUNG 14. K ANTINE 16. Z AHLTAG 18. BARGELD 19. ANGESTELLTER DOWN 1. AUSGLEICHSTAG 2. FEIER ABEND 3. BETRIEBSR AT 4. CHEFIN 6. BIL ANZ 7. PROBE ZEIT 9. TELKO 12. RECHNUNG 15. BÜRO 17. GLEITZEIT
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The magazine for international university graduates, young professionals and entrepreneurs who whant to learn first-hand about the German ec...
Published on Mar 20, 2020
The magazine for international university graduates, young professionals and entrepreneurs who whant to learn first-hand about the German ec...