Berlin’s machines

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

First a WW2 Bunker 2, then a pre-Berghain club, now an art gallery


The hungry tech scene in Germany’s hipster capital is at odds with a data-mining culture.  In a predominately cash-based, privacy conscious, offline society: is there room for technology to thrive? It’s understandable for Germany to be sensitive to controlling surveillance systems.

“German concern for privacy rights, a powerful force in a country where folk memories of the Gestapo and Stasi are still strong, against the onward march of modern technology. ” No pixels, please, we’re German, The Economist

In my day-to-day activities I find my peers avoiding tech services that to me seem like the basics: paypal, online shopping, sharing your given name on Facebook. But many of the big Berlin startups seem like copies of existing American companies:

  • MyTaxi like Uber
  • Zalando like Amazon
  • Foodora like Postmates
  • Dawanda like Etsy
  • EyeEm like 500px

I can’t make much sense of making local copies of companies going global. I’m a bit confused how these digital services are will thrive and see great adoption with what seems like the current generations aversion to technology. Programmer turned fashion designed and cofounder of ElektroCouture, Lisa Lang, inspired me to think beyond digital services. She showed me one of her projects that included reprogramming old sewing machines with software, to produce remarkable new materials.

Of course then I realized, the answer isn’t software, it’s machines! I would love to see more innovators building software and digital systems into where Germans already excel: mechanical hardware. All the machines and old tools are not obsolete, they’re available for what Berlin has done better than anyone: renovation.

The 90s brought Berliners the belief of possibility. The wall came down and I hear again and again, “everything was possible then”. Before this whole spirit gets lost, instead of copying something American, Berlin should be Berlin. Then it was repurposing empty warehouses and vacant parking garages. Today it’s making something new with vacant machines. They can make something new, relevant, meaningful, and most importantly their own.

Nina Mehta is a writer and product designer in Brooklyn, New York. She started writing online in the 90s and began her career design career in the journalism industry. Nina is from outside Chicago has since lived and worked in San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Tokyo.

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