The recently-ended, annual meeting of HamburgAmbassadors in the city (May 8-10, 2017) saw them tour the smartPORT, the Hochbahn’s modern traffic control centre, “Germany’s most intelligent house” and visit SLM Solutions, a producer of 3D printers in Lübeck. Olaf Scholz, Mayor of Hamburg, also welcomed the envoys, who were given insider views of Hamburg’s digital strategy. The honorary representatives of Hamburg live permanently abroad e.g. in London, Paris, New York, Tokio or Singapur where they often have outstanding positions in commerce, culture or society. These are representative offices to which the mayor appoints candidates.
“Digital city” – focus of annual meeting
The senate honoured the ambassadors in City Hall for their important work. This year’s meeting was held under the theme “Digital City”. The ambassadors all noted the “clearly palpable” mood of departure, which the city has prioritised. Now, the chance for a new beginning must be seized.
Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle, the Hamburg Ambassador in Bogota, hailed his “sensational” time in Hamburg – a city with which he falls in love repeatedly. The ambassador termed the MLOVE Future City campus a “world-class innovation” which had particularly impressed him. Ursula Schulz, who is based in Prague, pointed to “the great enthusiasm palpable among the actors.” Angela Reverdin Gabriel, the Hamburg Ambassador in Marseille, said her mind was still on the Apartimentum – “Germany’s most intelligent house” located on the banks of the Alster Lake. The house features doors that react to residents and contains all kinds of forward-looking technology in the vein of Internet of Things. “The future is fascinating! However, I don’t want to live like that,” she laughed, adding that although Marseille considers itself an intelligent harbour, the city has not yet achieved progress similar to that of Hamburg.
Most media were keen to interview Christoph Lampert, the Hamburg Ambassador based in London, and especially about possible effects of Brexit on Hamburg and any emerging opportunities. However, Hamburg is better known in Britain as a cruise ship location or as a launching pad for the Beatles and the Reeperbahn rather than for its aspiring, fledgling digital sector, Lampert pointed out. Hamburg’s digital response to contemporary challenges and diverse initiatives for supporting the start-up scene all met with his praise. Lampert, who works in the financial sector and has spent over 30 years in Britain, said it was important to turn digital ideas into innovations and business models.
Present state of affairs
Leif H. Sjöström, the Hamburg Ambassador in Stockholm, pointed out: “We have seen many examples of how digital theory can become everyday for people,” and said he was particularly impressed by Hamburg’s urban transport system. A return visit to Hamburg this year with urban planners to take another look at the system is definitely on his agenda. Sven Oehme, the Hamburg Ambassador in New York, said: “It’s important that people use digital offers. LifeTime’s business model, a Hamburg-based medical start-up, was really exciting, he said, adding, “that could work in the USA.” Ralf Schmidt, the Hamburg Ambassador in Singapore, wanted to put the Jetlite start-up and their innovative aviation technology in contact with Singapore Airlines. Both start-ups had earlier presented their companies to the ambassadors.
Stirring up people’s enthusiasm for digitalisation was the biggest challenge facing cities, said Nils Blunck, the Hamburg Ambassador in Budapest. He noted: “That is a question of mentality in Germany. The administration should not put obstacles in its own path and thwart innovation with rules and regulations.” Ultimately, digital transformation is above all a challenge facing generations, “even if many ideas are driven mainly by young people,” he added.
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Michalski, the Hamburg Ambassador in Paris, said he had been most impressed by the visit to SLM Solutions, a producer of 3D printers. The visit showed that regional, industrial companies are among world leaders. In reference to Hamburg and wherever sensible, it’s important to highlight the metropolitan region. “A city with 1.8 million inhabitants does not play a role in the world. But a metropolitan region with 5.5 million inhabitants certainly does. Hamburg needs the metropolitan region to gain more world attention – both as an economic location and as a market. And the region needs Hamburg as a centre of commerce and culture.“
Optimism and enthusiasm are palpable in Hamburg. The city and its ambassadors look towards the future and are pressing ahead in a team spirit. Hamburg’s soft location factors proved a recurring theme in many of the ambassadors’ talks. The high quality of life in Hamburg is due mainly to the many verdant areas in the city. And culture is essential in an innovative economic location. The Elbphilharmonie has boosted the image and renown of the city enormously, they all agreed. Further action should definitely be taken here.
Petra Vorsteher, Hamburg Ambassador and co-founder of Smaato, a digital company in Hamburg with branches in San Francisco, New York and Singapore, said there is no end to the enthusiasm. “Many things in Hamburg, which is a city of start-ups, are similar to Silicon Valley. “Hamburg is a modern, international, cosmopolitan city that attracts talented people from all over the world. Smaato employs 120 staff from 30 nations whose working language is only English in the Emporio building.” The Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg (TUHH) offers International M.A. courses taught through English and attracts students from all over the globe, Vorsteher added: “The networking events in Hamburg are also highly diverse. Hamburg@work and NextMedia, for instance, hold many interesting events for start-ups and established firms in various sectors. Hamburg is a ‘global city of innovation’ and I’m honoured to represent the city in San Francisco.”
Learning from London means a more confident self-presentation, said Lampert. And there are plenty of reasons to do so. Flying the flag for Hamburg or launching a Hamburg app would be entirely in keeping with the spirit of the times. Hamburg should seize the opportunity and use the assistance of the ambassadors.
Dr. Rolf Strittmatter, Chairman of Hamburg Marketing, commented: “The digitalisation of products, services, methods and processes is key to the Hamburg Metropolitan Region’s ability to remain forward-looking and is crucial to the competitiveness of a location. The ambassadors are important partners for positioning our city as an innovative and internationally digital place.“ The meeting of the Hamburg Ambassadors certainly showed the reliability of their support.
By Karolin Köcher