Photo: Dan Taylor

Jan Böhmermann at Bits & Pretzels: “There’s nothing to gain from the economy except money”

After opening on Sunday morning, the startup festival Bits & Pretzels had a whole series of famous speakers to offer. Jan Böhmermann questioned the meaning of entrepreneurship. Nico Rosberg demonstrated his expertise in the mobility industry and answered a long-standing question among Formula 1 fans.

Böhmermann began by playing up his reputation for being a troublemaker, which he earned for his “abusive criticism” of Turkish President Erdogan. Right from the start, the man from the German TV channel ZDF emphasized his desire not to cause a national crisis for a change. Then, as was expected, he indeed took a more aggressive approach: He talked about Bavaria as an “authoritarian ethnic community” and made jokes about the age of ZDF viewers, startup jargon and the poor working conditions in delivery startups.

“There’s nothing to gain from the economy except money”

Böhmermann mentioned two products you can buy on board a budget airline to tie his talk into the topic of startups: chocolate balls and smoothies. The bottom line: What’s the point of investing your energy in entrepreneurship if what comes out in the end is such a mundane product. Regardless of whether you consider this thought interesting or pretentious, Böhmermann already had an alternative to offer:

“Wouldn’t these young people and all their energy be better off in local politics, for example, or in national politics, somewhere where you can fulfill your wishes and dreams without being subject to the dictate of profit maximization?”

According to Böhmermann, entrepreneurship isn’t suitable at all for the quest for meaning:

“Could it possibly be that the relevance of the economy to finding personal fulfillment has come to an end? There’s actually nothing to gain from the economy except money. No one will probably ever build a monument for an app.”

From race car driver to mobility investor

On Monday morning, the audience ultimately did get the impression that technology and entrepreneurship perhaps do have some kind of impact on the world. The former Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg spoke with Britta Weddeling, Handelsblatt’s correspondent in Silicon Valley, about his view of the mobility industry and proved to be a well-informed industry insider. He said he was through with his life as a race driver. His own startup is currently in the making, but he was not able to give any details apart from it having to do with sustainable technology.

Rosberg, who is in close contact with the German automotive industry and transport politics, sees the European mobility industry in a dangerous position where it might be demoted to a mere hardware supplier by American and Chinese digital companies.

He is fascinated by how open Americans are to all things new. For example if the legal situation is uncertain, US startups put their products on the road first and then policy makers try to make the business possible. In Germany, by contrast, people only see that it is illegal.

Yet as an investor in Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, Rosberg also had to mention an unfortunate consequence of technological optimism: during an autonomous drive in a Tesla on a public road, the software misinterpreted the entrance to a tunnel and its reaction in avoidance was life threatening.

“Progress equals happiness”

After his interview partner Britta Weddeling reported that people in Silicon Valley — herself included — work constantly and long hours without vacation, Rosberg surprised by professing his support of structured workdays: He prefers exactly the opposite and feels a happy personal life is important. After all, living a good life improves your performance. He also mentioned that routines are important to him and that he reads a lot:

“Progress equals happiness.”

After his talk, there was some time left for a question from the audience. One listener wanted to know Rosberg’s answer to an old topic of discussion in the world of Formula 1: Which is more important; the driver or the car? Rosberg provided a surprisingly concrete answer: A driver’s skills can make a difference in terms of tenths of a second, a car, in contrast, can make a difference in a matter of entire seconds. Well there you have it.

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