Betahaus, Berlin, July 2013

I ended up working out of Betahaus twice.  Why?  IT’S FREAKING AWESOME.  I’ve never seen a coworking space like this before.  There are tons of different types of meeting rooms, open working spaces, wood working studios, there’s a 3-D printing room, conference space, startup offices, a cafe, outdoor benches for drinking beer, car parking, bike parking, and who knows what else.  It’s the biggest coworking space I’ve seen and obvious core home of the Berlin tech scene.  (I understand the high rollers are found in the private area of St Oberholtz)

The culture in this space is extremely mixed.  You’ll hear people speaking all of the European languages and there are many Americans, Canadians, Brits and Australians walking around as well.  Many are regulars, but many others were coworking tourists like I was.

The first time I went, I sat up in the individual coworking area and listened to a female-owned company talk about various fixes they needed to make in their pitch for the pitch competition that was happening the weekend after.   

After a while, though, I got hungry so I wandered down to the cafe and sat there.  This seems to be the liveliest area and the best place to meet new people.  My lunch was an expertly prepared pasta and my first desk mate was a friendly Italian who was happy to share his corner with me (at least he seemed happy about it).  Since I got such a good vibe off of this area, I sat here again the second time I came to the space when I was coworking with fellow-New Yorker, Jake (you can see him peaking behind his laptop and my Club Mate above).

I understand that this is where General Assembly Berlin is operating out of, so you can take many classes there.  They are constantly organizing their own events for the Berlin Tech and Maker Community as well.

The drawback, though, is that you can only get a full tour of the space twice a week.  (they seem to really work their front desk staff, so they just don’t have capacity to give more tours of this MASSIVE space).  They do, however, give you paperwork explaining the space.

My suggestion: get there at around 10am, pick a space in the cafe, eat some breakfast, get some work done, chat with some folks at the next table, get some lunch, work some more, take a tour if it’s Tuesday, then grab a beer with your new friends at the front benches.

If I lived in Kreuzberg, I’d very likely be a member of this place.

marthadenton Posted by marthadenton

Berlin coworking, through Martha’s NYC-er eyes

I spent July 2013 in Berlin, checking out the city and wondering what it’d be like to live there full time.  So, in addition to checking out the line policies at Berghain (they seem totally random), I also checked out some coworking spaces.  Like NYC, Berlin has a very clear coworking culture and it’s certainly a bit different.  In some ways, more civilized than the workaholic mindset that so many New Yorkers have.

Here’s a list of Berlin features:

Hours are more sane.  The work-life balance in Berlin is quite even, especially in summer when the sun is only down for 4-5 hours a night. It’s more common for people to role between 9-10am and to really stop working for the day between 5 and 6.  Some people leave then, and others stay and get a beer from the cafe.  This is of course a bit different for those in private offices for startups.  But from what I could tell, everyone was following German laws around how many hours could be worked a week (in an office at least, but again this is a casual observation so who knows?)

Cafes are common.  All of the coworking spaces I saw had cafes for buying coffee, Club Mate (the standard coffee alternative that is oddly addicting), lunch options (typically just one or two a day, changing each day), and beer for after hours.  Some spaces like Betahaus and St. Oberholtz have cafe only spaces that you can go to instead of paying a day rate in the main space.

Service is German.  Which means that there are specific processes to follow and that you’ve got to be a bit more patient with whoever is providing said service.  People may speak with you a bit more direct than they would in the States.  And they’ve be VERY thorough about it. But this is true of well, anything in Germany.

Eye for detail.  Every space I went to was very well designed.  But why wouldn’t it be?  Everything else in Berlin has a clear design sense as well.  This is different than some of the US spaces, which are more varied when it comes to design.

Community is important.  Some spaces even encourage members to join a weekly group dinner to meet other members.

Spaces have a variety of workspaces available.  Some may just have different types of seating areas if you’re just eating, having a meeting, or need silence.  Others have a wide variety of conference spaces, conversation spaces or workshops with 3D printing or woodworking materials.

Spaces are all over.  In NYC, the better coworking tends to be in Manhattan or one of the Brooklyn neighborhoods with more offices (not that there aren’t some really cute and nice neighboorhood coworking spaces, but they’re not really focused on bringing in the dough).  That’s not the case in Berlin.  There are major coworking spaces in all of the big neighborhoods, and each one reflects the neighborhood that they are in (edgier in the East, more traditional in the West, posher in more expensive neighborhoods, edgiest in the edgiest neighborhoods).  So, if there’s a specific industry you want to work with or neighborhood you want to spend all your time in, your coworking space can really help support those goals.

In conclusion, I found the coworking culture in Berlin vibrant yet homey.  And I really really wise I could bring their cafes back to NYC.  Adding a layer of food culture would really make our spaces homier.

marthadenton Posted by marthadenton

Mobile Suites, Prenzlauer Berg

This is from a visit I made to this very lovely neighborhood coworking space in July 2013.  I decided to visit this space for 2 reasons:  1) it came up in multiple Berlin Coworking Top Ten lists and 2) it is close to my friend Jaina’s apartment and she also needed to get some work done.

From the first email, I got a really good vibe about this space.  They’re VERY responsive by email, which isn’t a given in Berlin.  When we got there, we had to wait a minute or two for the receptionist to get back because she was helping someone quite intensely (also a good sign).  She was quite helpful when she was back, though, showing us free copies of The Economist to pick up, giving us little pieces of paper with the internet password, an explanation of where everything is, and how to pay for our day (at a big discount because it was our first time there).

We looked around and settled into one of the working booths.  Our other options could have been:  Standing desks looking out onto the street, cafe tables, traditional desks in a quieter area, standard desks in the back room, couches, or at a large wooden communal table.   We found that dynamic-wise that the booths seemed to be ideal for those who wanted to work together, the communal table for those who wanted to make new friends, the cafe tables for meetings, or the desks for those needing to get a lot done in a quiet space.  Oddly enough, no one used the standing desks.

Members have access to a cafe where they can get food, coffee, or Club Mate for a fee.  They can reserve one of two lovely bright conference rooms, that can also be joined together if needed. There are also 2 phone booths for those wanting more privacy as they speak on the phone.  And on nicer days, there’s a back area to sit outside and enjoy the sun.  Being Berlin, there was plenty of bike parking in front and very easy UBahn, bus and trolly access.

It took a little while to get a coffee since the person running the cafe also sets up the conference rooms.  But that seems to be the norm in Berlin.  

What struck me about this space was how bright it was.  LOTS of natural light.  LOTS of regulars who seemed to know each other and were likely more friendly than some of the other spaces I went to.  On the day we went, we weren’t the only native English speakers, but there were more Germans than in other places.

Furniture was really good quality, as was the design (which one can pretty much expect in Berlin).  I am a HUGE fan of the various areas, which can be helpful for a busy freelancer/startup employee having various needs.

From what I saw, they hold various events here for meeting others and are eager for member input (which you can give in an antique German post box).  

Energy-wise, people were chatting with each other, but no so loudly that it was distracting.  Unlike New York coworking spaces, most people took their calls at their laptops, which is something I definitely prefer to do!

If I lived in Berlin, I’d seriously consider joining this space.

marthadenton Posted by marthadenton

Room shot Room shot Laurea and Sandhya

Martha’s take on Hive at 55 on November 3

I had been part of a couple of meetings here with Live with Design, so I had already had a sense of the space at night and for giving classes (pretty smooth in the back room, a really great venue for group work in the big space, btw).  BUT, I had no idea what it was like to work there during the day.  So, this was a fun treat to see a new angle on a place I’d been to already.

First off, it’s in the Financial District which makes it a bit more difficult to find, but is still pretty convenient from my part of Brooklyn (I live on the 2/3, among other trains).  So, if you’re not an expert on the Financial District, be sure to bring your favorite mapping app (FourSquare, Google Maps, HopStop, etc).  Hive at 55 is located on the 13th Floor of a build owned by the city and is part of the Alliance for Downtown NYC.  So, the entire building is a fun mishmash of mostly non-financial companies (including the Reputation Institute, which is a name we are intrigued by.  If you work there, do email us and tell us about your work.)  Unlike most of the co-working spaces we’ve seen, Hive at 55 is only part of a floor.  (Co-working spaces seem to take entire floors of big and small buildings on the norm)

Daria, who mans the front, was quite friendly and gave me the tour (which she’s done many times considering that this space is 2 years old).  She gave me the password and told me how to pay the $25 drop-in rate on their website (quite easy).  

When I walked in, the first 2 things that stood out to me instantly were:  This space is unusual because there are private offices right off of the main space and it’s smaller than other spaces.    There’s coffee, coffee mugs, 3 conference rooms, a more casual couch area for phone calls, and a table in the kitchen.  People works in a variety of industries.  I overheard conversations in tech, real estate, development, beauty and design.

We found that the smaller size had 2 big affects on the community:  People are a lot friendlier with each other (they can clearly hear each other’s conversations)  AND  it felt cozier.  Being physically close to others was nicer than we originally thought it might be.  The one draw back to the smaller space is a bit of a battle for the best spots, not that it isn’t hard to be close to windows, but there does seem to be a bit of strategizing by the more experienced folks to get their favorite spots.  Since this is the day that our lovely friend Sandhya joined us, I was a bit nervous about being able to get us all together (luckily we did that just fine, phew!)

Lunch and Happy Hour options all seem to be best on Stone Street.  There is a strip of bars and restaurants that are well frequented by the financial community (aka men in blue button down shirts and women in suits).  We didn’t find them to be our people, but if you are comfortable with those types and overhearing conversations about derivatives and the like gets you excited, this is a good part of town for you.  If you’re starved for creative folks, this probably isn’t your best part of town to be spending time in.  Hive at 55 is also fairly close to Battery Park, could be a good outdoor lunch option as well.

OK, now for the silly Martha points:

  • There are more men than women (it was roughly 1/3 female), 1/2 of the men were wearing button down shirts, most of those being blue.  Seems to be a uniform for this part of town.
  • People are in their 20s-50s, so a nice range of experience in the room
  • There are fun little coin snack machines for your inner 8 year old, who doesn’t like that?
  • Overall feeling is pretty casual and friendly.  Not sure it’s ideal for all client, but certainly fine for some
  • Decor is very yellow and green, couch is modern, plug-ins at table easy
  • My friend Nathalie Molina has a private office there, how fun!  I didn’t know until I was there :)  Oh the fun-ness you find! 
  • Internet is generally super fast (certainly compared to my home network)

We liked Hive at 55.  Not so sure we’re huge fans of the part of town it’s in, but we liked the space and it felt homey.  Certainly worth checking out!

marthadenton Posted by marthadenton