Kristina Weise recently quit her job to work as the U.S. public relations manager at SoundCloud, a Germany-based social audio-sharing platform with more than 6 million users. After traversing Europe for several weeks, she will be based in San Francisco. Here’s her take on loving and leaving the Big Apple, and her initial thoughts on Berlin’s tech culture.
On a recent solar boat tour through the city, a guide stated, “The only thing slow in Berlin is the Spree River.” He is right. There are four hundred miles of bike routes in Berlin and it seems like everyone is on one of them–zipping by you with grace and ease–not taking the lazier mass transit options. If there is one thing the Berlin tech scene has taught me so far, it’s to be even more grateful to New York City for preparing me for this pace. For this challenge.
In all my years in New York City, I had never flagged down a Mercedes taxi. But there I was at Tegel Airport, trying not to laugh as I climbed over the leather seats, the new car smell captivating my senses. During the ride, I reflected on what happened the day before, when I was busy packing and writing my thank you/borderline love letter to New York City.
Upon exiting the cab, determine not to be intimidated by Berlin, a new job, a language barrier, graffiti-coated apartments or the fact that I knew not one single person in all of Deutschland, I marched up seven flights of stairs to my temporary apartment and unpacked. It took me back to my first studio in Tudor City and the total emptiness of unpacking my life and having no one in a 50-mile radius to with whom to celebrate the accomplishment.
Barely taking a moment to be impressed by the ultra-modern, eat-your-heart-out-Ikea-furniture, I immediately went to the office.
The SoundCloud office was in the middle of a finely-orchestrated developer dance with the sound of people swigging Fritz-Kola and Club Mate popping in the background. My new colleagues, all wearing oversize earmuff headphones, stabilized themselves on yoga balls and flew in and out of conference rooms toting Mac laptops. No one stopped to ask who I was. Everyone smiled and a few said hello, but always as they rushed past me to continue focusing on some unspoken goal. I wouldn’t describe it as a maddening urgency, but rather one of complete focus and drive. There was a definite plan, I could see that, an intoxicating “if it’s to be, it’s up to me” current running through every single person who politely brushed by me. In fact, I almost felt guilty asking for the office manager for fear of provoking the beehive. (She was, by the way, busy coordinating plans for the second office space in order to accommodate the influx of new hires.) And this was only in the first five minutes upon my arrival at SoundCloud.
I am no expert. But in the Berlin tech scene, vivaciousness and ambition are so ingrained in their subconscious that they don’t even realize when someone new is in their domain. It’s this immediate assumption that because you’re at the office, you’ve been hired to get something accomplished for the greater good–an unspoken trust. And in Berlin, it’s a trust that most of your colleagues could explain to you in at least two languages, one of which will mostly likely be English.
The Big Apple has been one of the toughest 7-year training programs that has conditioned me to take on Berlin’s tenaciousness, to adjust to this city in a mere two weeks, and to start a new life path without needing to be handled. But mostly, it’s becoming increasingly evident to me that Berlin’s tech artisans are toiling to get ahead of most U.S. and European cities–and not just in the time difference.