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Insider’s Guide to Berlin for Successful Business Travel

Written by on 14th July 2020
Category: City guides

Berlin is a key travel destination in Europe, and in fact tourism in the city has been growing at nearly twice the rate as it has in surrounding Germany. But not all visitors to Berlin are simply holiday makers. Since 2004, Berlin has been in the top 5 most important cities for association conventions, and in 2016 Berlin saw an increase of around 239 % in terms of overnight business stays compared with 2001. Responding to this demand, our portfolio of serviced apartments in Berlin is extensive, with many excellent options available to corporate travellers. The city has a strong appeal to both new businesses and existing corporations seeking to maintain or develop their presence in the European market. With business trips to Berlin becoming a regular occurrence for many companies, knowing how to optimise your stay for success is crucial in this increasingly competitive city. Our insider’s guide to Berlin will provide you with those crucial bits of know how that will get your corporate stay in the city off to the very best start.

Communication and Culture

insider's guide to Berlin culture
Communication in Germany, particularly when it comes to business, is considerably different from other North European styles

Whatever country you find yourself in on business travel, ensuring that you adhere to the appropriate local customs will smooth your journey to success. When visiting Berlin on business, you should be mindful of the national culture surrounding business etiquette. The first thing you need to know is that Germany has a ‘low-context culture’; this means that communication in Germany is often direct and precise – not relying on assumptions or contextual variants. In business dealings, therefore, you should aim to be efficient and explicit in your communication style. Indeed, you may find the communication style abrupt at first if you are accustomed to niceties and elongated discussion, but rest assured, this is merely the preferred style in Berlin. Similarly, you should avoid misplaced humour in any of your business correspondence in the city – humour is not typically appreciated and isn’t considered an ‘ice breaker’ in the same way it is in other cultures (such as in the UK).  

Similarly, Germans are not overly complimentary. Whereas excellent performance may be readily celebrated between business representatives elsewhere, in Germany it is perceived to be an expectation that should not require praise. That is not to say you cannot express satisfaction with how an arrangement has transpired – but a casual compliment may backfire, suggesting that you are either pleased with mediocrity, or simply don’t recognise the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Furthermore, admitting fault is also a rare occurrence. Whether positive or negative, it is always best to deal with facts. Avoid making personal or subjective statements; instead rely on statistical data which indicates a positive or negative outcome efficiently. Taking these first tips from our insider’s guide to Berlin will stand you in good stead with your partners and colleagues in the city.

Top tip – Make a good impression by knowing some key German phrases. Provide a firm handshake, and say guten tag, which means ‘good day,’ preferable above the slightly-less-formal hallo.

Virtues and Principles

Beyond your direct communication with colleagues and representatives in Berlin, there are some fundamental principles you should be sensitive to as to present yourself in the best light in all business dealings.

Green Germany

Insider's Guide to Berlin
Some roads in Berlin fall within the environmental zone, in which only ‘green’ vehicles with low emissions can travel

It is no secret that Germany considers itself an environmental leader on the global stage; the country has a target of cutting emissions to 80 to 95 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. Consequently, green thinking is now an integral part of German business ethics; demonstrating your awareness of this to your Berlin counterparts via your pitch or proposition will show you are ethical, insightful and considerate of Berlin’s values and its future. But there are more nuanced considerations to bear in mind that only a true insider’s guide to Berlin could shed light on – notably structure and status.

A Structured Society

Insider's guide to Berlin roads
Berlin’s ordered roads and city structure mirror the national societal structure

German life is often considered to be orderly and structured, and this certainly applies to German businesses. Regulations and procedures may seem excessive, even compared with other Western states (although in recent years attempts have been made to reduce the number of stifling business regulations in the country), but being respectful of these policies and maintaining a consistent and serious attitude regarding them is crucial to earn trust and respect. This also applies to business relationships; ensuring that you remain consistent in your manner, and adhere to all agreed rules and policies (no matter how insignificant they may appear) is similarly important. Punctuality, for example, is very important when conducting business and every effort should be made to ensure agreed appointments go ahead without a hitch.  

This structured approach to business also affects how Germans separate their business and personal life. Whereas in the UK and USA, for example, there is a drive towards personalising businesses and their staff, in Germany the public and private spheres are very much kept separate. The focus of work in Berlin is very much the task at hand – not building friendships, and certainly not letting friendships affect working life. Again, this may strike foreigners as unusual or even unfriendly, but in fact simply reflects the high value placed on efficiency and structure within the German business landscape.

Status is Important

Insider's Guide to Berlin CEO status
Recognising position and status in German business is essential for forming good business relationships

Whereas hierarchy is something that is often downplayed in many Western countries, Germany is very open about hierarchy and its importance within business. Recognising the status of both yourself and others in business helps to clarify understanding and relationships. Titles are deemed to be very important in Berlin businesses – therefore being able to properly and clearly justify your title with relevant qualifications or educational background is appreciated. Your title will likely be used in greetings indefinitely, so understanding where your footing is both within your own business and others will help you make the right contacts and connections.

Now that you’ve read our insider’s guide to Berlin, you can further develop your knowledge of the city by reading our Berlin guide and being completely prepared for your business trip to the city. Planning on conducting more business in Germany? Explore our selection of excellent corporate apartments in Germany today.