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Gillamoos Beer Festival: German aversion to change and risk

Photo: Hannes Magerstaedt / Getty Images

These days, it is being debated whether Gillamoos or Berlin-Kreuzberg is Germany, as if the only meaningful answer does not necessarily have to be "both". But let's ignore for a moment the racist undertones of Friedrich Merz's remark – if you are actually opening up extremely unwise competition, then at least substantive ones. Unfortunately, I don't know anything about the beer festival called Gillamoos. But in Berlin-Kreuzberg, I know of four extremely successful start-ups that are valued at more than one billion euros, namely the banking platform Solaris, the gastronomy platform Choco, the e-commerce and brand-building platform Razor Group, and the crypto service provider Matter Labs. The insurance start-up Wefox, valued at more than four billion euros, has its office as the crow flies 50 meters from Kreuzberg, which could perhaps be counted among them. The fact that Berlin-Kreuzberg, sometimes Berlin-Mitte (at least another five billion start-ups) or even the whole of Berlin (17 billion start-ups) are nevertheless used as a negative example for Germany is as wrong as it is treacherous.

Friedrich Merz often appears as an economic expert, and as such he should actually know how important images and narratives are for the economy and society. More than 20 years ago, the economist and sociologist Richard Florida wrote a lot of clever things about this in his book "The Rise of the Creative Class". Urgently needed skilled workers, for example, prefer to settle where they suspect a pleasant attitude to life and the corresponding people – and this has a lot to do with the publicly conveyed image of places.

Focus on the most destructive slogan of German post-war politics, of course the life motto of all fax-machined folder knights: "If you have visions, you should go to the doctor." In their minds, this saying provides every reason not to change as much as possible. Incidentally, this is also a subtext of Merz's statement: Gillamoos is the oldest beer festival in Bavaria, and anyone who plays off this centuries-old party continuity against a place like Kreuzberg that stands for the transformation of the economy and society underestimates the radicality, lack of alternatives and magnitude of change. Which, by the way, can only be mastered with an easily communicable idea for the future, i.e. a vision.

More on the subject

  • Top economist on Germany's weakness: "We have become fear of change"An interview by Markus Brauck and Stefan Kaiser

  • Hubert Aiwanger:Populist is the one who replaces decency with mass gut feelingA column by Sascha Lobo

  • Artificial Intelligence:The Creativity Drop of Humans Is SuckedA Column by Sascha Lobo

The most important economic interview of the year so far was published in August in SPIEGEL and was conducted with the economist Moritz Schularick. "We have become fear of change," is the headline. Right at the beginning, the most important reasons why Germany is threatened with economic decline are outlined: bureaucracy, sluggish digitization, lack of willingness to change and take risks. All three obstacles to growth meet in a seemingly small but actually enormously important field: investment. The CEO of the above-mentioned start-up WeFox, Julian Teicke, recently referred to a study according to which outdated regulations (and bureaucratic obstacles) will result in an investment gap of up to two trillion euros within the next 15 years, i.e. 2000 billion euros.

It doesn't matter whether Teicke is perhaps a little biased or overestimates: That would be money that could, would, would have to be invested in start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises. But it won't if nothing changes. Behind this is the German aversion to risk and change (which the country has even transferred to the EU in some parts). For example, that data protection, even in its most extreme and uncompromising form, is still more important than any form of digital progress and social functioning. Or that federalism is an irreplaceable value in itself in every niche of the authorities, no matter how remote. Or that it is acceptable to be completely offline for hours on a regional express. Or, or, or.

Populist-anti-economic bigotry

In my view, the urgently needed AI transformation, the further development and change of business models through artificial intelligence, can only work at all if it is invested. And like most innovations worldwide, it will be driven by small and medium-sized enterprises, which, by the way, will be launched in far above-average numbers by people with a migration background. The Kreuzberg-based billion-dollar start-up Razor Group, also mentioned above, was founded by Tushar Ahluwalia and Shrestha Chowduhry, among others – and was co-financed by Blackrock, Potzblitz! Which, in turn, illustrates the populist-anti-economic bigotry of this whole anti-Kreuzberg quark.


Sascha Lobo

Reality Shock: Ten Lessons from the Present

Publisher: Kiepenheuer&Witsch

Number of pages: 400 pages

Publisher: Kiepenheuer&Witsch

Number of pages: 400 pages

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Germany has maneuvered itself into a damn over-bureaucratic, anti-digital, change-inverse dead end, in which, to make matters worse, misanthropic populism is rampant. Of course, these spheres belong together when highly qualified specialists do not want to move to Germany because they see themselves and their families in danger here. Or because they like cell phone reception. Or because they want to go to a place that stands for progress and prosperity, not only now, but also in 10 or 20 years. And this also applies to people who were born and raised here – because a dangerous German brain drain can be observed in the field of artificial intelligence, for example. The very people who could move the country and the continent forward are leaving en masse. This argument looks purely economic at first, but it is so much more. Personally, I really don't want to know how the debates will be conducted and which parties will be elected, what this country will look like – if it is no longer so rich and successful and, despite a shortage of skilled workers, unemployment is at 20 percent and poverty becomes a mass phenomenon.

Germany protects the old economy at almost any cost

In order for Germany to be successful again and again in 20 years' time, many and comprehensive reforms and investments must be pushed forward offensively to aggressively: digitization and (climate-friendly) infrastructure, research and economic development, debureaucratization and humane regulation. However, we have been able to observe two things in both the "Heating Act" and the currently discussed "Industrial Electricity Prize" that stand in the way of meaningful changes: Germany protects the old economy at almost any price, no matter how sensible it is – new economic potential, on the other hand, is underestimated. And necessary reforms must be communicated wisely and prudently, otherwise they will detonate and turn into their opposite. Grotesquely, 2023 will see a record number of newly installed oil and gas heating systems in Germany.

Both lead together to what is perhaps the most important shortcoming in this country: Germany urgently needs a new, thoroughly radical narrative of progress. In other words, an economic, ecological as well as societal and social vision, including the associated reforms. After all, it is not at all mutually exclusive to promote economic success, ecological sustainability and, for example, social mobility at the same time – unless you are doing politics in the beer tent.

Germany needs a vision of what kind of country it can and wants to become in the future. And must. Federal Minister of Labour Hubertus Heil has just predicted that in twelve years' time, every single job in Germany will have something to do with AI applications. However, this also means that a large part of the added value and thus the money to be distributed will flow into the applications and companies that will offer this AI software. We need a narrative of progress as soon as possible, in terms of impact and attractiveness comparable to the "economic miracle", which helps us to master the AI transformation. It must then work equally well in Kreuzberg as well as in Gillamoos.