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Feeling Entrepreneurial at Sankt Oberholz

In the July 28th issue of The Economist, there was a brief about European Entrepreneurs, which started, oddly enough, at the St. Oberholz café in “eastern” Berlin.

THE St Oberholz café in eastern Berlin is as hip as any of the area’s bars: graffiti-covered doors, in-your-face art, edgy fashion and the Beastie Boys in the background. It is not at first blush the sort of place to look for magnates in the making. But their presence makes a lot of sense. Europe’s culture is deeply inhospitable to entrepreneurs; wanting to grow a start-up into a behemoth is quite as countercultural as piercings and performance art.

With this kind of review, I was immediately interested in visiting because I’m looking for a hang-outable coffee shop or café here in Berlin. There are a couple of cafes in my neighborhood, but none have really given me the right vibe, if you know what I mean.

The Oberholz has become a centre for Berlin’s young start-up scene, which has enterprising types flocking to the city from all over the world. The clientele starts out on the first floor, where computer programmers mingle with potential bosses over coffee in the “ko-work-ing” area. Once they attract capital, they move upstairs, where the café rents out office space cheaply. A business taking off may move into one of the café’s apartments, often using the beds as desks. SoundCloud, a five-year-old audio-sharing website, spent its early days at the Oberholz, as did Brands4friends, an online private-shopping club. Txtr, a fast-expanding e-book platform, still has programmers in one of the apartments.

St. Oberholz Bar

St. Oberholz’s work space — for their own employee (front) and for customers (back).

So I popped into the café just before going to see Deliverance, and I was impressed. It had a fantastic vibe: busy with lots of tables, people using laptops, and friendly baristas behind the counter. I only ordered a mint tea, which was just what the doctor ordered. My South African friend had arrived before me and ordered lunch – she said the food was excellent.

It is an enticing place to begin a business. Which is all to the good, because Berlin’s fresh-faced hopefuls will get little enough enticement and encouragement elsewhere.

Honestly, at first glance, it’s a winner – even though it’s a 40-45 minute trip from my home to get there. I want – need – a place where I can hang out, drink tea, read books, write on my laptop, and not feel like I’m an oddball. I’ll even fit in computer wise—the vast majority of young entrepreneurs are using Apple computers!

St. Oberholz from Upstairs

The cafe is spread across two floors — at 3 in the afternoon both floors were busy.

At the same time, I highly recommend taking a gander at the article in the Economist because it provides some interesting insights as to why it is so difficult to start a business in Europe.

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