Throughout the ages, the ideals of freedom and responsibility have been held paramount by the world’s greatest thinkers. Today, these ideals are very much the representative characteristics of the city of Berlin. Much like a two-sided coin, freedom and responsibility are the city’s best practices.
During Berlin’s emergence from its divided past, an attitude of tolerance and acceptance became the city’s defining vibe. Free thinking and creative individuals from Berlin and beyond have found this environment ideal for pursuing their respective visions. In keeping with professor Richard Florida’s prediction that the three T’s of tolerance, technology, and talent lead to innovation, Berlin has become exactly that — a dynamic and booming European hub for innovation, irrespective of sector. That is the freedom side of the coin.
Turning over that coin to the notion of responsibility, it is equally inspiring. Consider, for a moment, that according to the May 26 edition of Business Insider, Berlin ranked No. 14 among all global cities for quality of life, particularly with regard to the reasonable cost of living and high-quality health care.
Though the city continues to grow, there is a strong emphasis on maintaining green spaces. This is best exemplified by the May 2014 referendum in which over 64% of Berliners voted to maintain the Tempelhof Airfield as a public park, now aptly named Freedom Field.
Just a few years later, when the European refugee crisis hit its peak, the hangars of this defunct airport became the Germany’s largest shelter, with capacity for 7,000 people.
The interplay between freedom and responsibility is also aptly illustrated by the endeavors of entrepreneur Ekkehard Streletzki, the creator and owner of both the Estrel Berlin and the Ellington Hotel Berlin. The freedom afforded by the city of Berlin has enabled Streletzki to become a local visionary.
Beginning back in the early ’90s, he spotted real estate in an underdeveloped section of the Berlin district Neukölln. Recognizing that the city was in need of a sizable hotel and convention facility, he created the Estrel Berlin, which opened in 1994 as Germany’s largest hotel. Since that time, Streletzki has enjoyed the freedom to further expand the property, making it Europe’s largest hotel, congress, and entertainment complex. His creative vision continues with the recently completed, 7.2-million-euro renovation of the Estrel Atrium, as well as the addition of the Estrel Auditorium & Meeting Center in September 2020. On the horizon for 2023 is the Estrel Tower, which will be Berlin’s tallest residential structure. Home to upward of 1,800 events a year, including such important programs as the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Conference and the World Money Fair Expo, the Estrel Berlin has become Europe’s premier event location and a testimonial to freedom enabling creation.
In keeping with the notion of a two-sided coin, Streletzki takes his responsibility for the local community and his employees very seriously. For example, for over 20 years and counting, the Estrel partners with Frank Zander in hosting the annual Christmas Dinner for the Homeless and Needy. On this special day, 2,800 homeless and needy individuals from the Berlin community are invited into the warmth of one of the Estrel Convention Halls for a plated goose dinner. When the refugee crisis in Europe peaked a few years back, he felt it was important that the Estrel be proactive in promoting successful integration. As a result, the Estrel Job Fair for Refugees and Migrants was born. Since 2016, 4,000-plus job-seeking individuals come to the Estrel on a February day to engage with potential employers from the Berlin/Brandenburg areas.
Whether throughout the community at large or at the Estrel Berlin, best practices of freedom and responsibility are very much alive in the German capital. The great thinkers of the past would surely be impressed.