Why Twitter Chose Berlin

The city's affordability and edgy culture is helping turn it into a world-class high-tech center.

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Berlin will become the new German headquarters of Twitter, according to recent reports. The city is a long-established center of arts and culture, and in recent years has emerged as an attractive center for both German and expatriates members of the creative class. 

But it has, until recently, struggled as a center of high-tech industry.  A least one urban economist casts Berlin as the exemplar of a culturally creative city which has failed to stimulate a vibrant high-tech cluster and knowledge economy.

That appears to be changing. Twitter selected Berlin over Frankfurt, the country's industrial and financial hub, Hamburg (home to Facebook and Google), and Munich, where Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are based.

Twitter has traditionally eschewed suburban "nerdistan" locations for urban centers. The company is headquartered in downtown San Francisco (not Silicon Valley) and it has offices in New York, London, and Dublin. Co-founder Jack Dorsey has a life-long passion for cities, telling Vanity Fair that his "ultimate aspiration" is to "become Mayor of New York."

"What gets me really energized," he told the magazine, "is thinking about activity within a city."

Berlin is a magnet for talent, with more than 40 percent of its workforce in the creative class. It has long been a center for bohemian and gay culture; Berlin's current mayor is gay. And it affords vibrant arts, culture, and food scenes while offering neighborhoods with still affordable rent.

It's home to a budding high-tech scene as well. After a recent visit, Om Malik, writing for Gigaom, speculated that the city "is poised to be Europe's new tech hub." He writes:

The lack of classical German industries means it is a city with fewer jobs than other parts of Germany. It also means the city has lower wages compared to the rest of Germany and much of Europe. The sprawling nature of the city means that Berlin has lots of real estate. And that means low rents – catnip for artists, musicians and yes, the start-up community.

The entrepreneurship is rampant in this city. Some say there are somewhere between 100 to 400 startups in Berlin. I was in Berlin for about 70 hours and I met with over 40. I am pretty sure – if I stuck around for another week — I would have met many more. The central Mitte district that is home to many of these is called Silicon Allee (aka Silicon Avenue.)  Cafe St. Oberholz is a favorite gathering place of the Internet types.

Not to mention, Berlin leads Germany in Twitter activity according to this detailed analysis, besting Munich and Hamburg. That couldn't have hurt.

Photo credit: Berlin Pictures/Shutterstock

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here