April 4, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Europe

My trip to Berlin was a bit of a last minute surprise, and not altogether a good one. A week ago Friday, I learned that eRepublik had been accepted to participate in a startup pitch contest. What is that? Well, basically when a startup is in its early stages and needs money to grow, it requires lots of pitching to different investors in order to gain that money. Therefore it is really important to develop a really good pitch in order to sell yourself and your company.

Well, good news for us, we were accepted to participate in the event. Bad news, my boss/CEO couldn’t go. So guess who was next in line? Me. This was a week ago. I’d seen my boss pitch many times – whether it was giving a presentation to the press, or to actual investors last November in Silicon Valley. But this time, I needed to revise and improve his presentation and give it myself. This was no small task. I had to develop and memorize a 90 second elevator pitch as well. So I spent the last week refining the 10 minute presentation as well as the elevator pitch and committing them to memory. My boss gave his stamp of approval on the powerpoint – it was a pretty solid presentation. I practiced probably 20 times. I was as ready as I would be.

Thursday evening, Guido, my Italian colleague (new to my team and only started a couple of weeks ago), and I left for Berlin. The trip got off to a rather rocky start though as he and I both headed through security and were met by a disgruntled Easy Jet employee (the airline we were flying) who insisted that my purse and his backpack constituted as carry-ons, and therefore with our small suitcases, we had two carry-ons each. Initially, Guido’s very inspiring plan was to wear as much of our clothes as possible in order to fit our purse/backpack into our suitcases. We decided to first just try to shove everything in – which turned out to be successful. So with renewed energy and triumph we approached the Easy Jet lady again, at which point she instructed us that we had to make each of our suitcases fit in the stupid little suitcase measurer thing – you know those things you always see at the airport, but that NO one every makes you actually use. Yeah, that. And so ensued probably the most hilarious part of the trip where Guido and I basically tried to fit a square peg into a round whole for like 15 minutes. By some miracle, Guido managed to figure out just the right technique to fit my somewhat larger bag into the bizarrely small space (a useful technique that we managed to apply on our flight home as well). We passed through security and then at the gate, another disgruntled employee took the bag away from me, checked it, and all our efforts were for nothing. The trip was off to a crummy, albeit ironically hilarious start.

Arriving in Berlin, at around midnight, and starving, we quickly learned that Berlin was nothing like Madrid – that is, not a single restaurant was serving food, not even our massively large 30-something floored hotel (no, not room service either!). So we decided to journey out and find ourselves some grub. After much wandering we managed to find a fast food kebab place. I ordered myself a falafel wrap and managed to, by some sort of luck, communicate no mayonnaise-y sauces (which if you know me, you know that if it has a drop of mayo, then I won’t touch it!). That was probably the best falafel creation that I’ve had in my life – not because it was any good really, but because I was friggin starving and just desperately needed something to work out.

So the following day we gave our presentations and pitches. Let’s just say I give a far better presentation to Jacob then I do to a group of people. It’s funny – I realized that I hadn’t really given such a formal presentation since my days at UOP. Sure, I’d presented stuff at VeriSign, but not with such formality. I think after not having done it in so long, I was far more nervous than I had expected. They didn’t announce any winners or losers at this point…but I am confident that little old Erin didn’t beat any of the convincing and proud startup CEOs. I did my best though :(. All in all, it was good to get the feedback on the presentation as it will definitely be helpful for us in perfecting our pitch in the future. The whole presentation part will definitely not go down as the highlight of the trip for sure though.

So on to more interesting things. Following the workshop, which ended in the afternoon, Guido and I set out to see Berlin. Lucky for me, Guido had been a couple of times and knew the city well enough to be a very good tour guide. We first passed by the cathedral Berliner Dom – the city’s main cathedral with a stunning contrast of turquoise blue statues, gold detail and conversely, smoke stains from when the city was under seige. Next was the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate – on one side a row of the many foreign embassies and on the other, the Parliament.

We passed through to the other side of the Brandenburg Gate and on to the Holocaust Memorial – a really impressive, undulating landscape of cement blocks of different heights. When you then walk in between them, you discover that not only are the blocks different in height, but the land itself is hilly, so that when you walk inside, you feel a sense of isolation and being lost in a very cold dark place. It was interesting because at first I wondered what the symbolism was, but it was easy to understand once you entered and became lost in the the cold dark paths.

We then passed through one of the more modern parts of the city, full of shiny, glistening skyscrapers. Then it was on to the Berlin wall, where just a small stretch remained. It was thin and sad looking with all of its graffiti and thick metal reinforcement bars that, after 20 years without purpose, looked weak and powerless. It’s weird to think back on the significance of the wall – I was only eight when it came down, so the memory is vague, and certainly wasn’t tremendously significant to me at the time. It’s amazing that such profound and tragic things happened in a seemingly normal place only a small time ago.

Then it was on to Checkpoint Charlie, which was the crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. It was there that we crossed over into was used to be communist East Germany – it was like suddenly being in Romania, which I really hadn’t expected.

Tired and hungry, Guido and I headed back to the heart of the city to refuel. The weather was shockingly beautiful, so we found ourselves a restaurant outside and ordered ourself some German food (yum?). Guido got some sausages (naturally, it’s Germany, please) and I got myself some spinach filled mushrooms and salad. It absolutely hit the spot! We both ordered beers – perhaps the first time I’ve had a beer to myself since college (which probably explains some strange flashbacks). I drank about a third and promptly tasked Guido with finishing the rest. It was a nice, relaxing dinner after a very long and trying few days.

We returned to the hotel where I went into a coma for about six hours before my wake up call at 5 AM, good lord. Now I am on the plane flying back and eager to get into bed and forget that eRepublik even exists, and just enjoy my weekend.

Overall, the trip to Berlin was a really wonderful opportunity to be able to face a big challenge and to learn lots of very valuable new things. And I am of course really grateful that I was fortunate enough to visit such a charming city and witness the artifacts of its powerful history in person.

Tomorrow we will be heading to Jacob’s sister’s house where Heather and I are going to share the Easter egg coloring tradition was Jacob’s family. Should be fun.

More to come!