"Settle in, the drinks are here, it's going to start in a few minutes!"
No time to hang out this Friday afternoon on the third floor landing of Berlin's "Build Station". The building is swarming with people. After weeks of work, the participants of the hackathon organized by the Solana protocol teams will present their new products and innovations.
The atmosphere is festive. Between techno music and noise of bottle openers 🍻, the last start-uppers polish their presentation, until the intervention of "Chris", the master of clocks.
"Come on, it's over, let's go, let's get to the part you've all been waiting for, the pitches!"
Chris is the head of SuperTeam Deutschland, the Solana ecosystem support initiative in Germany, supported by the Solana Foundation.
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About ten projects are scheduled to take place this snowy afternoon. There is everything: decentralized finance applications, collections of NFTs, (non-custodial) wallets, etc.
Each one has about ten minutes on stage, with a question and answer sequence.
The projects follow one another.
Apart from Daniel Kelleher's (pictured below) Sunrise Stake, which proposes a system in the ReFi, for "regenerative finance", related to the climate, the projects are not stunning.
You can feel it in the room.
"No other questions? Are you sure?", Chris tries on stage to try and keep the attention of the small crowd of 100 or so on hand. "Okkkk, I ask for a round of applause for Daniel." That will be some (big) applause.
As the presentations go on, the attention inexorably wanes, until the cocktail hour when everyone wakes up. 😅
"This kind of event is important, people are together, they see each other, they work, but nothing extraordinary ever comes out of it," admits Dan, a beer in hand. "That's kind of the problem," he adds.
This observation is made by other participants on site. "There's a lot of energy, it's great, but how many of these projects are really going to emerge," wonders Tilo, who is working on a collection of NFTs based on Solana. "Honestly? I don't think there will be many."
It's hard to prove him wrong, as some projects may seem like a gimmick...
An ecosystem in search of a solution
This mixed atmosphere, between euphoria and realism, is a bit like the Berlin ecosystem that The Big Whale discovered during several days (this is only a first trip).
As in most of the big European cities, there are a lot of initiatives, projects that are launched (there are more than 100 Web3 start-ups in Berlin alone), but there is a slight sense of disillusionment, and not because of the Bear Market that has plunged the markets.
To understand this feeling, which is not felt in Neuchâtel, Paris or London (read our report 👋), we have to go back a little bit and to what Berlin represented just a few years ago in crypto.
Because if some people have forgotten, the German capital is the birthplace of several unavoidable projects, such as Ethereum, which is now the second most important blockchain on the planet. A real pride for the local ecosystem.
"Berlin is a city that is a little bit apart in the crypto world. There's a different culture and history," says Barnabé Monnot, who works for the Ethereum Foundation and has been living in Berlin for nearly two years.
"The vast majority of people who work here are more developers than business specialists. We have less of that marketing culture," he adds. An understatement.
In Berlin, one should indeed not expect to see well-known crypto companies with well-identified figures. "Here, it's not like Paris where you have Ledger and Sorare who are stars," confirms Jonathan Nute, one of the co-founders of the investment fund W3Fund, which has invested in a dozen crypto projects (Pile, Senken, Spirals, etc.).
The ecosystem is less structured and more fragmented. "The dynamics come from the protocols, not the companies, so there are sort of chapels. You're in one community or another," says Jonathan Nute.
Part of the fully decentralized Ethereum Foundation team is based in Berlin. As of this writing, we still haven't been able to visit their office 😅. "It's a bit of a mess, and we like to work quietly, out of sight," a team member tells us.
According to legend, the Berlin offices still have the mattress that Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Ethereum, slept on for months in 2016... Quite a relic!
Ethereum is not the only protocol to have been developed in Berlin. This is also partly the case for Polkadot, Cosmos or Solana, which has large teams on site and organizes numerous events, such as the hackathon mentioned above, to try to get projects off the ground.
But which projects stand out in Berlin today?
"There aren't that many," says Paul Bramas, head of "ecosystem" at Kyve, a decentralized blockchain data storage solution. The Berlin-based company raised $9 million in 2022 and is among the projects to watch.
Most German Web3 companies, like Bison, are more focused on Munich, Cologne or Stuttgart where there is this business approach. "Frankfurt is the city where you find a lot of projects related to decentralized finance," explains Jonathan Nute.
Focus on Tech
In fact, Berlin's great strength lies in Tech.
It's no coincidence that the funds present there, such as Greenfield One, are betting heavily on it. "It's important to have applications in Web3, but you also have to create a solid foundation, and that goes through the protocols," explains a member of the fund, which has raised a $160 million vehicle in 2021 and has invested in the Near and 1Inch protocols.
Some people in Berlin believe that the center of gravity of the European ecosystem could gradually shift back to the German capital. At least in part.
"With the Bear market, there is less money and we are back to the fundamentals of the sector, i.e. protocols and technology, which is a strong point of Berlin," explains Paul Bramas.
"The projects without much interest are not financed," adds Jonathan Nute, who also counts on the arrival of several heavyweight players from the traditional economy to "bridge the gap" at the time when the markets will take off again.Berlin can thus count on the arrival of some heavyweight players in the Web3 ecosystem.
This is particularly true of N26 and Trade Republic. "Cryptocurrencies have become a must-have topic for our customers," says Thanasis Noulas, head of data and engineering at German investment app Trade Republic (find his interview below).
Enough to give it a second wind? That's what some people hope.