The Third Degree: Christoph Räthke of BSA

By Conor Rushby |


This week in the Third Degree, our regular Friday feature where we chat to Berlin’s best and brightest CEOs, we spoke to Christoph Räthke of the Berlin Startup Academy about collecting guitars, being the best German ever and how much Borussia Mönchengladbach suck (at the moment).

SILICON ALLEE: If you weren’t a founder, what would you be doing?

CHRISTOPH RÄTHKE: I would probably be a diplomat for Germany because that’s what I originally studied to become. I wanted to join the German Foreign Office and bring the fun back into politics and be the best German anyone has ever seen in the world, and convince everyone to love us, and represent everything that’s true and great about Germany. I applied twice but at the time I wasn’t admitted to diplomatic school and so I had to look for something else and that’s how I ended up with the Internet.

SA: What do you like about Berlin?

CR: I like about Berlin that it’s so easy to leave the sidelines and become a protagonist. In many other cities you just marvel at the stuff there but it’s been created by other people, because other people could afford the rents or have the access to resources or the right people. Here in Berlin it only takes a little, not just to be a participant but really an actor on the stage of Berlin and make a change and show others what you’re all about.

SA: East or West Berlin?

CR: My family on my mother’s side is from West Berlin so I spent parts of my childhood in the West. Back in the day the most glamourous thing for a child was to go down to Kurfürstendamm because that was the big city. However this was in the 70s and 80s; nowadays there is really only East Berlin. If you really enjoy the urban life, if you are not looking for an excuse for urban life, and if you want to change and have others change, and be part of something that’s growing, there is only the East.

SA: When you leave Berlin, where do you like to go?

CR: I like to go to the places on Earth that have it all, not only beaches and good food, and not only cultural marvels and not only great roads to drive and not only nice people to talk to – but those places that have it all. There are not so many of those, but I’m always wondering why so many people just settle for a beach or the city. My favourite places that have all this – and ancient culture too – are Andalusia, parts of Italy, parts of Germany like Thuringia or the Baltic sea coast, South America, Peru, Argentina. So I’m really looking for those places where there’s inspiration and beauty from all angles at once.

SA: What do you like to do when you’re not working?

CR: Well, many people know that I’m a musician, and have been so my entire life. That’s how Battle of the Startup Bands came to being. I play a lot of guitar, my entire apartment is full of guitars actually. When I started making money the first things that I bought were guitars, ones I had only read about before, but there are loads more. I’m an ardent fan of, and it becomes ever worse, Borussia Mönchengladbach, which I think is the greatest football club in the world, though we suck at the moment. I enjoy travelling; I’ve come to learn a lot of languages so I love to be in foreign places where I can practice these languages. I occasionally write and publish stuff. I like to drive – I don’t have a car, but I like to hire cars that are fun to drive and go all the way to the Baltic Sea coast and pretend I’m in California. I like to eat, well, I like to discover new restaurants in Mitte. Overall I like to live in Berlin and have all these urban oppurtunities at my disposal.

SA: What is your favourite cafe, bar, and restaurant in Berlin?

CR: The cafe where I most often hang out is around the corner from where I live, Blaues Band on Alte Schönhauser Straße. It’s big and spacious, the people know me – I’ll give you this one because it’s convenient on Saturday and Sunday mornings here in Mitte, the tables outside are empty and it’s east facing, so the sun shines on the cafe. In terms of restaurants I could give you a lot of statements, Asian or local food for instance, but if there’s one place I always enjoy taking people, even if it’s not that original but the food is good and we really have a lot of fun there: Bandol sur Mer on Torstraße. They only have a few tables, and you have to book in advance, so it’s small but the food is great. As for bar, why don’t we just say it’s the bar right here that we’re sitting at the former .HBC venue? It’s a perfect location, it’s an open space, it’s an eclectic mix of people, also startup people, and I have my office here.

SA:If you could employ anybody, who would it be?

CR: Last week I was in Lüneburg where there was a startup event for the first semester students (at Leuphana University); kids straight after their school degree. They needed to sit down in groups and come up with startup ideas. These groups were pretty large because there were 1,800 students with 120 groups, so every group had 15 people, and I got to mentor four of these groups. In one there was one young woman, probably of 19 years, and she was so motivated. She had told us she had started her first business at the age of 17 and made a rousing speech to everyone in this group that it was the greatest thing she had ever done, and she implored and encouraged everyone in the group to take this idea that they were now working on and make it real, to start a company, and it was so important to her. I would employ her.

She was Persian, German of Persian origin – her name was Sadaf – she was so great I would employ her instantly. Maybe I should have come out with a celebrity, like Barack Obama, but I have been most impressed recently by this girl.

SA: What do you think the Internet will look like in ten years?

CR: I can tell you precisely what the internet will look like. It will look like how Jen showed us in the IT Crowd.