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EXBERLINER MAGAZINE

CULTURE

The Best of Berlin in January

This month Exberliner, Berlin's leading English-language magazine, hits the catwalk for Fashion Week, uncovers the art of being tacky and helps you brush up your German skills.

The Best of Berlin in January
Photo: DPA

Back in fashion

It’s that time of year again, style lovers, so start polishing your Louboutins and plumping your pelts for Fashion Week (January 20-23). Mercedes Benz will be holding court in Bebelplatz again, where a veritable smorgasbord of burgeoning local talent (Marcel Ostertag, Mongrels in Common), big names (Hugo Boss, JOOP) and some international visitors (CUSTO Barcelona) will be on display. Invitations are strictly for people in the biz, but chat up the right folks and you might be able to squeeze your way into a show, or at least one of the crazy after-parties. This season’s top ticket is newcomers No Ifs, but the show most likely to shock and amaze is Patrick Mohr’s. Last year he sent homeless people down the runway for his debut; this time around, he is planning a transgender-themed extravaganza to show off his unisex jeans. In Berlin, Fashion Week also triggers tradeshow mania. Bread and Butter is still the big boy in town: for the second season in a row, it will exhibit the largest collection of urban streetwear brands in its new Tempelhof home. Premium is also back; among the new tradeshows, Spirit of Fashion and Jam will be worth a visit. Jam, which just made the all-important move from Cologne to Berlin, focuses on denim, so jeans lovers should elbow their way onto the shuttle service to the Rathenauhallen to check it out./JS

Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, Jan 20-23 | Bebelplatz 1, Unter den Linden, Mitte, U-Bhf Französische Str., www.mercedes-benzfashionweek.com

Jam, Jan 20-22 | Rathenauhallen, Wilhelminenhofstr. 83- 85, Oberschöneweide, S-Bhf Berlin-Schöneweide, www.jamberlin.com

Premium, Jan 20-23 | Luckenwalder Str. 4-6 , Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Gleisdreieck, www.premiumexhibitions.com

Spirit of Fashion, Jan 20-22 | Karl-Marx-Allee 131A, Friedrichshain, U-Bhf Frankfurter Tor, www.spirit-offashion.com

Bread & Butter, Jan 20-22 | Flughafen Tempelhof, Platz der Luftbrücke 5, U-Bhf Platz der Luftbrücke, www.breadandbutter.com

There’s no accounting for taste

At the beginning of the 1900s, the Czech art historian Gustav E. Pazaurek devised a complex classification system that sorted the most tasteless daily objects into categories of “design crime”. This led to the opening, at the Landesmuseum in Stuttgart, of the first “Cabinet of Bad Taste”. One hundred years later, the Werkbundarchive (an institution that, in the Bauhaus tradition, studies the design and functionality of everyday objects) has picked up where Pazaurek left off by creating a “design torture chamber” for our times. This horror show takes 50 of the 900 original “crimes” and builds on them. There are sneakers with Obama’s face on them, a swan-shaped porcelain vase, pink Dior crocodile-skin loafers made out of china… Is it art or a total aberration? Kitsch or trendy? Nowadays anything goes, so each artifact comes helpfully labelled as Violated Materials, Functional Lies, Cheap Originality, Manic Ornamentation/Wasteful Decoration or Art Atonement. Following Christmastime, all this might feel a little too familiar – for who among us has not been the victim of a tacky gift? You could, of course, donate yours to the collection. If it’s awful enough, you might even be written into (bad) design history in the soon-to-be-published 21st century edition of the Encyclopedia of Bad Taste!/SF

Böse Dinge: Eine Enzyklopädie des Ungeschmacks | Museum der Dinge, Oranienstr. 25, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Kottbuser Tor, Fri-Mon 12-19, www.museumderdinge.de. Through Jan 11

Deutsch for beginners…and Berliners

You’ve tried it all. The Rosetta Stone iPhone app, the German course promising breakthrough language acquisition methodology, the personal tutor – hell, you’ve even tried sitting in a café and eavesdropping, in the desperate hope that German can be passed on through osmosis. And the language textbooks haven’t helped: phrases describing the asinine qualities of the everyday lives of Günther and Greta stick in the recesses of your memory like incantations from a lost time, occasionally inspiring the panic of the unprepared before a modal verb quiz. Luckily, if you’re looking for a brush-up or just a good satirical laugh (or both), there is a Deutsch als Fremdsprache book like no other to add to the pile: Florian Lamp and Heldrich Johannes’ Deutsch für den Ausländer. Hold on to your Lederhosen, though, because this book is not for the faint of heart (but then again, is German ever?) Günther and Greta have been replaced by the Familie Schmidt – close relations to that down-and-out couple with the scary dog on the U8 who sport accoutrements à la Pimkie and nurse a Frühstück of Berliner Kindl. For inspiration, author Lamp and illustrator Johannes spent their evenings scouting out Eckkneipen in Kreuzberg and Neukölln. They credit Berlin, “the center of arty-ugliness”, as the only setting in all of Germany that could lend itself to the creation of such a volume; Johannes’ work on the illustrations was “a long process to give each (character) its special type of sadness”. The creators want their book to be fun, but provocative at the same time. Its crass humor, which makes fun of everybody and anybody, is part of a greater therapy – to help Germans learn to laugh at themselves. And as Ausländer, we should have no qualms about laughing right along./EP

Deutsch für den Ausländer | Florian Lamp and Heldrich Johannes, Der Grosskonzern, 2009, 254 pages, €19.89 For more information, visit www.der-grosskonzern.de

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WORKING IN GERMANY

‘Lack of diversity is a problem’: What it’s like to work at a Berlin tech startup

Many foreigners dream of finding a job in Germany's growing startup scene. But aside from promises of free pizza, what's the culture like, is the pay good - and do you need to speak German? We spoke to two foreigners working at tech startups in Berlin to find out.

'Lack of diversity is a problem': What it's like to work at a Berlin tech startup

With over €5.1 billion in venture capital fund investments raised last year, the startup industry in Germany’s capital is booming. Startups are the fastest-growing job sector in Berlin, and more than 78,000 people are now employed in the sector.

The sector attracts highly qualified, ambitious people from all over the globe. But what is it really like to work for a Berlin startup?

We spoke to two insiders to find out. Gabriela, 36, is originally from Poland and has been a Business-to-Business Manager in a tech startup in Berlin since October last year. Giuseppe, also 36, is originally from Italy and has been working as a Human Resources Manager in various tech startups for the last seven years. 

Most important question first – do you actually get free pizza and office table tennis?

Giuseppe: These kinds of benefits have become a bit of a cliche that doesn’t really reflect the reality anymore. Yoga, soft drinks, and fruit baskets are nothing special. The real benefits are now to do with remote working and flexible working schedules. 

Gabriela: We haven’t really had many of these kinds of ‘incentives’ because we’ve been mainly working from home since I started. Only in the last month or so we’ve been going to the office at least once a week, and we do get free pizza and drinks once a month when the CEO’s give us their monthly update on how the business is going.

READ ALSO: The German regions attracting startups

Would you say that your work environment is diverse?

Gabriela: My team is a complete mix of people from different European countries. But the number of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) people on board is not very high and there is definitely a problem with the lack of female leadership, which the company is trying to address. The CEOs are all white Germans.

Giuseppe: (Lack of) diversity is still a big problem. Most of the CEOs and the highest earners are white – usually German – guys. Women and BAME people tend to occupy lower-paid jobs. It’s a systemic issue – and there is competition among a lot of startups that are trying to show who is more diverse. 

How much German is spoken in your company?

Gabriela: Hardly any. We speak all the time in English with each other and all of our meetings are in English.

Giuseppe: It’s the same with us. I’m hearing German less and less. 

READ ALSO: How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

Is there anything then that indicates that the company you’re working for is German?

Gabriela: I think the presence of a strong labour law reminds you that you’re in Germany. In our company, there’s an employees representation group and certain clear rules. You know that you won’t be suddenly dismissed once you’ve passed your probation time.

Giuseppe: Yes, the labour law is what I would point to. It’s not easy to get rid of employees in Germany – there is a more robust framework that affects the environment and culture. 

What is the salary like?

Gabriela: I think it’s competitive. My company does salary benchmarking every summer to see what the standard is across the industry and adjusts its pay accordingly.

Giuseppe: Salaries have gone up a lot in the last few years and you could even say they are booming now. A ‘normal’ engineer can expect to earn at least €85,000 per year, and if you are in a serious leadership position, you can expect to earn up to €180,000.

READ ALSO: Do internationals face discrimination in the workplace

A woman working from home throws money in the air. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Would you say that it’s a high-pressure environment to work in?

Gabriela: For me, there isn’t the kind of pressure that if you don’t perform you won’t get the money you should be getting. Instead, my company is trying to get you to think that your own success is intertwined with the success of the company. There are good incentives to work hard and we have also a certain amount of shares in the company, so if it does well we benefit too.

Giuseppe: I personally feel pressure, but I love what I do, so for me it’s fine. But I have seen a lot of cases of people burning out – especially young people. I think because there are a lot of young managers, who get into leadership roles without having the tools or strength to resist the pressure.

How do you find the work-life balance? 

Giuseppe: I feel like I’m working all the time, but again, that’s because I love my job and I want to, it’s not necessarily the expectation, it’s not like in the US. In Berlin tech startups, there is a tendency to slow down around 6pm.

Gabriela: For me, the work-life balance compared to previous jobs is very good. Telecommuting is great, there are flexible starting times and last-minute holiday requests are usually approved. I think it’s very good for people with children and more complex schedules. 

How many days holiday do you get?

Gabriela: We get 28 days holiday per year.

Giuseppe: We get between 23 and 30 days holiday per year, depending on how long you’ve been working in the company.

What are the career progression opportunities like?

Gabriela: Very dynamic. For myself, I don’t see a clear career path at the moment, but I see a lot of movement happening and people moving to different roles. There is a feeling of being in a constant state of change. 

Giuseppe: If you join a startup at the right time, you can very easily become a manager very quickly.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to boost your career chances in Germany

What was different about working for a Berlin start-up than you expected?

Gabriela: I thought that working from home would be easier, because I hadn’t done that much before, but I find it much harder to be engaged than I expected. I think a lot of startups (in Berlin) are struggling now to find the right balance between the competing interests of their employees – some of whom want to be fully remote and others who want to come more regularly to the office.

Giuseppe: Before I started working for tech startups I had this romantic image that they were all led by geniuses with big ideas who started in their garages. But in reality, I’ve found this emotional, big-dreaming side to be lacking. There are a lot of people who work for startups who just see it like any other job.

A work team exchanging ideas with notes on a whiteboard.

A work team exchanging ideas with notes on a whiteboard. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

What are the best things about working for a Berlin tech start-up?

Giuseppe: You can make an impact with what you do, to build a product and say it’s mine. There is also creativity and freshness in the team dynamics. I was deeply unhappy in the years I spent working for big corporations because I didn’t know what the goal was. In startups, the objectives are clear.

Gabriela: You can grow with the company, and there are a lot of positions opening all the time, and it’s very common for startups to promote internal talent.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The German regions attracting startups

What are the worst things about working for a Berlin tech start-up?

Gabriela: Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with the pace of change. It sometimes feels like we are constantly onboarding new people or people are changing roles and there is a slightly chaotic feel to things. The buzzword “agility” is used and abused, and sometimes means staff is expected to go along with anything and everything.

Giuseppe: In the tech start-up world here there seem to be a lot of people who get into the top jobs because they speak a lot, not necessarily because they are the most competent. There is a lot of networking and self-promotion required to push yourself forward. It’s also not a good environment for people who don’t like change, because things change a lot. 

Do you think Berlin is a good place for foreigners to work?

Gabriela: Yes, definitely. You have a lot of choice when it comes to places to work – so it’s unlikely you’ll have to stick at a job which
you don’t like. It’s also a big help for foreigners that most startups in Berlin don’t require German language skills.

Giuseppe: Definitely. For me, the mix of cultures and ideas in the workplace is really inspiring and motivating. And, of course, the city of Berlin itself is full of cultural events and has a great night life – so it’s a great place to live for when you want to detach from work too.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about joining a tech start-up in Berlin?

Giuseppe: Try to develop an entrepreneurial mindset instead of an employee mindset as soon as possible. Always look for opportunities, don’t take things personally, don’t think about what happened yesterday, and focus on the now. 

Gabriela: Be open-minded and be prepared for change. 

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