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Berlin to go, english edition, 01/2017

  • Text
  • Berlin
  • Digital
  • Startup
  • Startups
  • Digitization
  • Mobility
  • Innovation
  • Innovative

LOCATION WHERE

LOCATION WHERE BERLIN’S START- UP SCENE HANGS OUT St. Oberholz has grown from the most popular café in the German startup scene and the home of the digital Bohème into a multifunctional co-working space In the summer of 2005, when Ansgar Oberholz and his wife Koulla Louca opened St. Oberholz in a former Burger King on Rosenthaler Platz, their concept marked a new phase in the digitization of services and thus the beginning of an innovative era of creative work in the digital environment. As late as twelve years ago, the foodservice industry had hardly any digital interfaces: order lists to suppliers usually had to be faxed or discussed by phone, and weekly lunch menus were either faxed or distributed by hand. Even employee shifts were managed by hand rather than electronically. So it was a small sensation in café and restaurant circles when Oberholz and Louca started sending out their weekly menu via e-mail newsletter. Their groundbreaking concept was embodied even more concretely in the design of the café. Louca and Oberholz broke with the prevailing café custom – which involved many small tables next to one another – and installed long tables instead. Not only were guests forced to sit together, they were also encouraged to actually work together, especially seeing as St. Oberholz offered free access to electricity and WiFi. While other cafés didn’t look fondly on people “working” at their tables, here it was expressly encouraged. “My wife and I wanted to create an entirely new, urban café concept at this historic site. That’s why the idea of working in a café where you have electricity and WiFi was important for us; but we also wanted different seating arrangements, space for meetings and great views over Rosenthaler Platz. It was an experiment from the very beginning, and we were eager to see if the concept would be accepted and what guests would do with it,” explains Oberholz. Suffice it to say, the concept worked; the café has been a major hub in Berlin’s startup and cultural scene for over ten years. In fact, shortly after opening, it was rare to see a guest who wasn’t working at a laptop. When St. Oberholz first opened its doors, it was home to “digital natives” in particular. Today, however, the nature of the guests has changed. Oberholz notes that you’ll see freelancers – such as journalists, photographers and graphic designers – sitting next to people from the startup scene. This is indeed a café where work is done differently, but it’s also a place where many companies are founded. For example, the unique St. Oberholz environment inspired the founders of SoundCloud, Zalando and Betahaus. While audio designer Alexander Ljung and musician Eric Wahlforss indeed got their start in Stockholm, the music sharing company SoundCloud enjoyed its decisive breakthrough in Berlin. In fact, the two founders had their unofficial “office” at St. Oberholz. On the first floor of the café, the founders of Zalando met with their first investors. It’s also where the founders of Betahaus mused on spaces that went beyond laptop cafés where creatives could meet and work on projects and ideas. Today, Betahaus is a leading co-working space that offers short-term office space and ideal meeting points for founders and investors. St. Oberholz also took up the idea of common work spaces and professional atmospheres and 26

Photo: St. Oberholz / Berlin Partner now offers a co-working space alongside team rooms and meeting rooms just above the café. For Oberholz himself, this was a logical step in the development of coffeehouse culture. In fact, he argues that co-working spaces were born out of coffeehouse culture rather than from office culture. Indeed, co-working is an evolutionary step in this tradition; it unites elements of cafés, offices and private-life spaces in a perfect semi-public symbiosis. While cafés can get full and loud, co-working spaces are environments in which people can focus entirely on their work. Many thinkers and founders also like to work with their teams for longer periods of time, which is why St. Oberholz has also offered apartments since 2009. Established companies are increasingly using the St. Oberholz infrastructure, sending teams there to work in co-working spaces; for example, a team of innovators from Berlin’s public transport authority, the BVG, developed an app here for bike riders. The building that houses St. Oberholz is certainly making history today, but it was also influencing the Zeitgeist at the turn of the last century, when it was home to Gasthaus Aschinger. The Aschinger locales were designed to look like bourgeois restaurants, however they served quick meals at highly reasonable prices, thus filling a gap in the market made up by the ever-increasing number of workers in the city. Today, St. Oberholz is indeed the nucleus of many digital enterprises. But the theme of digitization also plays a role in the gastronomical sphere as well. According to Oberholz, there is tremendous potential particularly in the iPad point-of-sale system managed via the internet. Interestingly, the largest change for restaurant and café operators comes in the form of other digital developments, that is, the many online-based delivery services, such as Foodora and Delivery Hero. Text: Anke Templiner 27

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