Observations about coworking in Berlin and Ghent

At first glance, the two cities of Ghent and Berlin do not have much in common. When Kati and I visited the Coworking Space LikeBirds this week, Vicky Persyn, the founder, and I got into conversation. It turned out that we see the same developments in both places at the moment. At least when it comes to the coworking market.

Vicky and I had known each other since 2015 when Kati and I were in Ghent and visited her in her coworking space. Since then we’ve been meeting at conferences from time to time. LikeBirds had to leave the old location, a former gas factory, two years ago. The site was developed, and a large new building was erected there.

Tobias Kremkau and Vicky Persyn (Image: Kati Kremkau, Ghent 2019)
Tobias Kremkau and Vicky Persyn (Image: Kati Kremkau, Ghent 2019)

Coworking Spaces often trigger a development, of which they can become the first victims. They go where they can find space and afford it. If the literally former factory building and the neighborhood have become a hip place, luxury lofts are created. That is undoubtedly somewhat dramatized, but it shows the mechanisms that work here.

But the new LikeBirds is in no way inferior to the old location. It is located in a former textile factory that almost everyone in Ghent knows. After the production was relocated away from here, the party scene found a home here. In the meantime, many companies from the creative industries have settled in the former factory halls.

The real estate market is running hot.

In Berlin, betahaus had to move at the end of last year. The building that nobody wanted before betahaus had now become interesting for a hot real estate market. Just a few years ago nobody wanted to be around Moritzplatz, now real estate companies are building huge office buildings with several thousand square meters there.

betahaus has left the building (Image: Tobias Kremkau, Berlin 2018)
betahaus has left the building (Image: Tobias Kremkau, Berlin 2018)

The same developments can be observed in Ghent as in Berlin. There, too, business centers have been built for a lot of money, which call themselves coworking and are pushing into the shared workspace market. The sums invested in this way sound unworldly to coworking space operators. A coworking space does not earn this money back.

Similar observations have been made by coworking spaces in Amsterdam, Innsbruck, or Copenhagen, which I visited last year. The real estate industry is currently running hot when it is about coworking. I have no idea whether this development is still healthy, but the end of the flagpole does not seem to have been reached yet.

It is interesting that no coworking space perceives these shared workspace providers as a threat. The marketing does not hide the fact that they are not about community, but mostly about costly glass cells. If a coworking space has its philosophy and sets an example in its community, people notice that. The others cannot buy authenticity.

Header Image: Tobias Kremkau, Ghent 2015