Today I wanted to talk about the city of Karlsruhe, Germany. If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone. Karlsruhe is a city along the Rhine River about an hour drive south of Frankfurt. It’s a beautiful little town with a population nearing 300,000. The reason I wanted to talk about it is because of the assumption (by many in the tech world) that Berlin is the Technical Capitol of Germany. As a transplant to this city, I find that extremely unlikely.
Karlsruhe is known for a couple of significant things in its history and I won’t go over all of them, but I will touch on a few. It is the home of the “Supreme court“ in Germany for both civil and criminal matters, the birthplace of Carl Benz (yes, that Benz) and also the home of KIT (The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) Which has 22,500 students. The first Computer Lab was built in 1966 and 3 years later, students had the ability to major in “informatics”. Karlsruhe was also the first to receive an email in Europe on August 2nd, 1984. (Mainly because no one else had the computing power to deal with the task.) The current KIT is modeled and built to compete with the United States top university MIT.
Karlsruhe has produced a long history of cutting edge innovation and will continue to do so with the support of former alumni (See SAP founders) and support from the community. It is also the home of the largest data center in Europe!
Now, on to Berlin. Berlin is the Capitol of Germany and has a population of about 3.4 million people. It is also at the forefront of new technologies, mainly because of the influx of large corporations looking for the very generous tax breaks that Berlin offers. Berlin is about 60 km west of the Polish border (so, the opposite side of the country from Karlsruhe). Berlin has 4 main universities with the most important for this article being Technische Universität Berlin with about 29,500 students. Berlin is a city state, which means that it has its own government and budget.
Both have great influence with Government branches located in each city. Both have great Universities that can feed the growing Start-up communities, and both have significant corporate support for the advancement of students. So…they’re even?
Not yet, Karlsruhe’s start-up community is well established and everywhere. Karlsruhe currently has over 2,500 start-ups and hosts 40% of German websites. KIT’s annual budget is still twice that of Berlin’s TUB and Bill Gates has twice spoken at KIT graduation. The student population (those most willing to try a startup) in Karlsruhe makes up 12-15% of the population!
Berlin is up and coming. They have a government that can quickly move capital into a sector to promote it (because that government is only responsible for the city itself), whereas Karlsruhe’s state government must look at the interests of the entire state. The ability to offer tax incentives to new small businesses is also there, and Berlin is decidedly more global. (Being a non-native in Karlsruhe, I can attest to the fact that most people have never heard of Karlsruhe, but definitely know Berlin.) So, in the end here is what I think….
It doesn’t matter! When I say that it doesn’t matter I mean that both are moving forward at a tremendous rate. The US equivalent would be comparing “Silicon Valley” to “Silicon Alley”. While Karlsruhe will remain the “Valley” for many years to come, it doesn’t hurt to have more cities and more people entering the sector.
Last thought: I was recently at a KIT Lacrosse practice and I heard one of the players tell the coach that he couldn’t make it to practice the following day. When the coach asked him why, He replied,”I built an iPhone App for a company in Munich and I have to drive there to make sure everything goes right. We’re launching tomorrow.” I hope the next time I’m in Berlin; I get to hear a similar exchange!
Edit: Here is another blog that I found talking about a similar topic. http://austinate.tumblr.com/post/15615544392/berlins-gain-is-hamburgs-gain