As a renowned pro-democracy campaigner in the dying days of the GDR, Joachim Gauck played a part in bringing about the collapse of the Communist regime and the reunification of Germany. His efforts in the late 1980s – as well as his work with the Stasi archives in later years – made him a popular choice for President of Germany when he took office earlier this year.
And the 72-year-old was provided with a glimpse into the country’s future on Monday when he was given a tour of the half-built Factory – and there was also a reminder of the past, with the course of the Berlin Wall running immediately adjacent to the building.
President Gauck was accompanied on his visit by Klaus Wowereit, the Mayor of Berlin, and they were shown a finely detailed model of what the startup hub will look like when it is finished next year, with Simon Schaefer from JMES Investments explaining the project to them.
Later, they were introduced to three of the startups which are based in the already-open phase one of the Factory; Views, Toast and VERSUS IO. It was a great chance for them to make an impact on the President, whose role is mainly ceremonial and supervisory.
And he certainly left a positive impression on the young founders, with more than one describing him as “like a grandpa” in his approach. Benedikt Bingler of Toast told Silicon Allee: “He is pretty open; he’s really listening to you as a person. He wasn’t there to talk about technical stuff, but rather to give the tech industry some exposure.”
Seeing two such high-profile people make a visit is a major coup for the Factory – and indeed, it was the Mayor’s office who first floated the idea – and it will help the project gain some mainstream recognition as building work plows on. While there is still plenty of work to do to convince some decision makers in Berlin of the significance of the recent upswell in the tech ecosystem, having the authorities onside should be a positive.
But the previous lack of interest in the startup scene on the part of local and state governments has left some wary of their growing involvement. Hermann Frank of Views said: “We talked [with President Gauck] about the importance of tech hubs like the Factory for Berlin and about providing the right infrastructure for startups in terms of tax reliefs and investment taxation, and to make it easier for talent to come to Berlin from outside the EU, without them interfering too much with the startup world.”
And their reaction seemed to put his fears at ease. He added: “It is something that they like a lot – an industry that doesn’t need a lot of interference or taking care of; they don’t need to put so much resources into it as it self-sustaining. From their reaction, we saw that they conform with what we said about not wanting a lot of interference – they just need to take the right steps to make this infrastructure happen.”
Hopefully, seeing the physical work going on to bring to life the idea of a startup epicentre will help persuade the President of Germany and the Mayor of Berlin of the importance of such steps.
Disclaimer: JMES is also an investor in Silicon Allee, and our editorial staff are currently based in phase one of the Factory.