As an American expat living in Europe, I’m constantly amazed at how prevalent the culture around technology here is; not just pertaining to business, but society and personal life as well. Back in the US (on average), when you aren’t working in IT or particularly obsessed with certain products, brands, or activities, tech-oriented events and conferences won’t be on your radar. In other words, normal people don’t go to conferences for fun.
Of course, in recent years, there has been an exponential increase in mass media’s attention to the topic – just look at SXSW, CES, or Apple’s WWDC. Still, a handful of elite events cannot compare to the ever-growing agenda of accessible and widely-acknowledged conferences, trade shows, meetups, and festivals (yes – festivals) focused solely on technology that exist on this side of the Atlantic. Especially in Germany, where we have huge week-long messen, single day city fairs, and everything in between. And everyone attends – executives, students, tourists, techies, and party people. Which brings us to a prime example: Tech Open Air Berlin.
TOA 2019 was held at the start of the month, and if you were in the German capital, there was nowhere you could go in the city to avoid it. Self-proclaimed as “Europe’s Leading Technology Festival”, it manages to bring together the most diverse (and seemingly incompatible) groups imaginable in quite harmonious fashion. By focusing on “the future of tech, work, and life”, TOA truly offers something for everyone: thought leadership, activism, networking, culture, free stuff (!) and more. As a business, it’s a unique environment to discover, promote, and engage; as a ‘civilian’, there are few comparable opportunities to connect with experts, try out innovative products and services, and get insider perspectives on so many topics. SAP was a headline sponsor again this year, which meant I had a packed schedule! Be sure to check out the gallery at the end, and read on some of my personal highlights:
Open Circle Kickoff & Closing Parties
TOA partners put their trendiest, most Instagram-able aspects on display when it comes to big ticket events.
For the opening celebration sponsored by Mercedes Benz EQ, this included a panel on the future of mobility with Daimler futurist Marianne Reed, an oxygen bar, progressive art installations (including the Stress Inversion Transformer and interactive 3D pen and AR stations), a temporary tattoo salon, plenty of EQ cars to check out (and climb in), plus great food and music. At the Closing Party with Samsung NEXT, the expansive lakeside lounge was lit with colorful lights and populated by stands to play mini golf, visit a fortune teller’s tent, and mingle with flashy roving performers.
“Smashing Through the Startup Ceiling: Create Real Change for Women”
Susan Danzinger is a woman of many talents – founder & CEO of ziggeo (and SAP.iO Foundry NY alum), entrepreneurship expert and mentor, and excellent moderator!
During her packed workshop, five female founders gave insightful personal anecdotes in lightning-round mode. Breaking out into small groups afterwards, everyone could take part in deeper discussions and share with the whole collective at the end.
“Think new. Transform now.”
Christian Wehner, SAP colleague and Experience Management Ambassador, led an interesting workshop on how to cultivate innovative ways of thinking. More than just a lecture, he touched upon high level themes and circumstances affecting modern decision makers, while leaving plenty of room for the audience to interact and take his thought leadership to heart.
As a finale, Philippe Souidi, head of SAP.iO Foundry Munich, addressed the room with a call-to-collaborate with our global startup accelerator network.
Haus of Tech
The Haus of Tech is pretty much a remix of the traditional exhibition hall; made lively with DJs, games and giveaways, gadgets to try out, and quintessential zones to meet with new contacts or catchup on work.
Representatives from companies big and small demoed cool solutions, most of which seemed to be of the something-as-a-service variety. Mobility, Blockchain, Wellness, New Work, AI & ML, and Corporate/Startup collaboration were popular topics at the booths and on the mini stages.
“How to Create a Future-Ready Organization”
Jürgen Müller, SAP CTO and Board member, was interviewed about a variety of topics related to innovation and his experiences as a corporate leader. A key takeaway was how, in these roles, is important to not only provide what is needed and demanded, but to know your customers well enough to discover, design, and deliver (as Steve Jobs famously put it) the things they never knew they wanted but would realize they cannot live without.
Lightning Talk and Ask Me Anything (AMA) Sessions at Google Beach
Sun, sand, and soundbites: next to their paddleboats on the Spree, Google set up an impressively chill stage and lounge area to lure experts into the hot seat.
In 20-minute rounds, the audience was free to pose any (appropriate) questions to company experts, like Annette Kroeber-Riel, the European Head of Government Affairs & Public Policy, and star Creative Technologists Gene Brutty and Tim Seddon. TOA had several venues for AMAs, but this was the obvious favorite…who can resist a hammock?
The Great Outdoors
Beyond the Haus of Tech, plenty of exhibitions and performances kept attendees in the open air. Red Bull brought out collaborative games, art, and the RBMA20: the world’s largest sequencer. Here, everyone was free to press a few buttons and jam with the live DJs.
Up-and-coming companies were also set up to show off what they’re doing. I got my free caffeine fix for the entire conference from Urban Coffee Club, tried a spicy-delicious shot of MexiLove, gathered intel on different gig economy solutions for my freelancer friends, and bravely signed up for the e-scooter service Coup (although I haven’t had the courage to try it out yet).
Sound & The Science of Emotional Wellbeing
On the Forest Stage, Lauri Poldre spoke about various techniques and benefits of sound therapy for promoting mindfulness and mitigating stress and anxiety. Sharing his personal journey which led him to learning and performing crystal sound baths, he emphasized the importance of being present, open, and receptive to internal feedback. He then led a short meditation exercise and played his bowls, which, despite the bustling conference, provided a graciously calming experience.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Data Space
Last year, our Labs team contributed to what was the deemed the best satellite event at TOA, so it was mandatory to check out what SAP had in store this year. Many others felt the same way, as the oasis at Rosenthaler Strasse filled up from the very beginning.
After a rousing introduction, the crowd was treated to live musical performances, innovative showcases, delicious BBQ, and a never-ending happy hour under the stars. Like all of TOA, it was an appreciated opportunity to learn, meet new people, experience the many aspects of technology and (in atypical conference fashion) to have fun!