Berlin – A Global City?

Under Controversy, you will read about Berlin electing last September a Red Red Green coalition government, which many wonder and many fear if this is a preview of the federal elections in September 2017. I find it unimaginable partly based on my cynical view of Berlin’s dysfunctional economy, which is very uncharacteristic of the Germany economy. Berlin has become Europe’s Capital of Cool which is attracting quite a bit of talent esp. in technology start-ups and disruptive innovations. Berlin is an ideal location for disruption as it is both a victim and beneficiary of it. Victim, as in its occupied status during the Cold War, an island in the red sea of communism as many regarded it and as a result, West Berlin being very dependent on subsidies and now trying to gain knowledge of trade and competition in order to become economically viable and independent. Since unification, Berlin is benefitting from its unique transformation. Berlin has become rather 3 parts, the West, the East and the new Middle. The new Middle is the merger of 3 districts, Kreuzberg (of the former West), Mitte (former East and both the federal and Berlin government district, and Prenzlauerberg, fashionable/hipster living district in the former East).

The new Middle is a hub for outsiders moving to Berlin to start up a new business, to participate in the disruptive culture. The new Middle is where many government officials from the rest of Germany plus lobbyists and professionals have settled benefitting from the new dynamic.

On April 4, I attended a presentation on Smart Cities by Greg Clark, the author of “Global Cities, A Short History” (Brookings Institution Press). Berlin is an aspiring Smart City and the debate is how to maintain an attractive and affordable living environment while encouraging growth and embracing technological change with positive disruption. Established global cities are London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, Chicago, etc. Their challenge is fighting complacency and London will be esp. challenged by Brexit. Then there are the new Smart Cities which Global Cities will also embrace. Smart Cities are environmentally friendly with efficient and logistically resilient transportation systems, accommodative living centers, and transformative .

Cities are a concentration of people in a place designed to synchronize lives, systematically combining governments + a mesh of cultures + a specific DNA + visitors. Cities evolve from trade which leads to innovation gathering people in public discourse (cities) which leads to further innovation,  more trade and connectivity. Cities are also challenged by technological disruption which introduces new competitive possibilities and advantages. Berlin has become an experimental center with all the makings of becoming a Smart City.

Greg Clark has another category: emerging global cities which is where I would classify Berlin, but he disagreed to a large extent, because Berlin is not in an emerging economy. But Berlin is an emerging city and because of its experimental nature, Berlin has become competitively attractive for talent, not just tourists. Berlin has the makings of a Smart City if it can get the proper leadership in influencing its development and market. Will the Red Red Green coalition be able to deliver?

Will Berlin be a feeder city for Silicon Valley or actually become the beneficiary for attracting Silicon Valley talent?

Here is a link to NYC’s persistent transformation from, taking on a European flavor–who is copying whom?



2 Replies to “Berlin – A Global City?”

  1. […] Berlin will be the place to experiment as in Smart City (Please also see IAV’s Berlin – A Global City? from April 17, […]

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