by Simon Black
Travel is one of those things that rarely goes according to plan… at least for me.
A few weeks ago I told you about how my taxi in Istanbul got lost, and I accidentally ended up in Asia.
Not long after, I was denied boarding while trying to fly from Mallorca to Portugal because the Covid-19 rules had suddenly changed earlier that day.
And now, this morning, I was politely asked to leave the airport in Berlin during a connection here, because my wait time was longer than two hours.
Apparently under their Covid rules, you’re not allowed to wait in the airport if your connection time is longer than two hours.
I tried talking my way into staying… but Germans really love following the rules. So, I was kicked out of the airport and asked to come back later for my connecting flight.
No big deal; I decided to go on a little adventure and explore the city.
I’ve always loved Berlin; it’s such a unique place because it has transformed itself so many times.
Just think about it– this used to be the capital of Nazi Germany, the place where Hitler made decisions to exterminate millions of people.
After World War II, the city was split between East and West for decades.
The grip of communism was so severe that over 100,000 risked their lives trying to climb over the Berlin Wall, some in the most creative ways imaginable.
One guy stole a tank and tried breaking through the Wall. Another escaped by building a makeshift zip line.
Two families escaped together by sailing over the wall in a hot air balloon. Another literally walked a tightrope.
It is incredible how far people will go for their freedom.
And finally, when the Wall came down, Berlin kept reinventing itself.
Today this city is probably the most prominent technology hub in Europe.
Berlin has a startup-friendly environment, which has attracted talent and entrepreneurship from all over the world.
But unlike Silicon Valley that has endless wealth, Berlin smacks of a Bohemian culture and art scene.
In fact a former Mayor of Berlin once described his city as “poor, but sexy”.
It’s not exactly poor anymore; some of the most valuable startups in the world are based here now. But the city has maintained its gritty culture.
It’s interesting to be here at a time when the new ‘Covid normal’ is threatening many large cosmopolitan cities.
And it’s true, a lot of cities are in trouble.
We’ve already started seeing a mass exodus from big cities to suburban and rural areas, all over the world.
And this has led many pundits to declare the big city DEAD.
Simon and I both disagree.
Sure, there will continue to be a lot of people who move out of the city; plenty of companies have already moved to online work arrangements, so employees can now live anywhere within reason and work remotely.
We’ve both been writing about this extensively and think that it’s great for people to have the freedom to move wherever they want.
Countless employees are no longer tethered to a place where they HAVE to be. Now they have the freedom to move where they WANT to be.
But that’s exactly the point: while millions of people around the world want to move away from the city, there will be plenty of people who want to move TO the city.
Younger people in particular used to be priced out of big city life. Rent was simply too high.
Not anymore. Rents have fallen at a dizzying pace. And for the first time in their lives, a lot of young people can actually afford to live in the city.
And they want to be there for the social engagement that they just can’t get online, or in rural areas.
Now, not all large cities are the same. Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities may certainly suffer.
But the world’s truly GREAT cities, like London, Hong Kong, and here in Berlin for example, will likely continue to thrive.
Again, Berlin has reinvented itself so many times. Covid will just be one more reinvention.
And this is a really interesting opportunity; talented, creative people can play a major role in driving the next urban transformation.
Think about it– real estate prices will clearly have to fall… which means that someone is going to make a ton of money figuring out the best way to re-purpose all of that unused office space.
The world’s truly great cities will emerge from this urban crisis cheaper, more resilient, more creative than they have been in decades.
The great cities of the world aren’t dead. They’re brimming with opportunity.