Berlin Open Data strategy

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Main actors

City Government, Private Sector, Research Institutes / Universities

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Project area

Metropolitan Area

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Ongoing since 2011

In 2011, the City of Berlin engaged in the development of an Open Data platform to foster transparency in public administration and the production of smart city apps. 

The Senate Department for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises is responsible for the Open Data strategy adopted by the City of Berlin. It regularly organizes events, such as hackathons and Open Data days, to promote the potential of Open Data, connect stakeholders and foster innovation. Public administrations, universities, and the private sector are the primary stakeholders involved in the consultation, generation and dissemination of Open Data.

Developing a vibrant Open Data culture among city administrators and app developers, requires political will, regular communication with the community and practical instruments. Conceived as a decentralized tool to which all city administrators can contribute, the Berlin Open Data Portal was launched in 2011 and now has more than 1200 data sets online. The portal has supported the development of many data-based apps, such as, internet speed and the location of bathing places in the city. Efforts are being made to upscale the use of the Open Data Portal in the city administration and improve the accuracy of available (real-time) data. The development of an Open Data platform supports the emergence of a data-driven administration and contributes to open government and good governance.

Sustainable Development Goals

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Berlin, Germany

Size and population development
In 2019, the municipality of Berlin had a population of 3,669,491 inhabitants, making it the most populous city in the European Union (EU). The larger metropolitan area has about 5 million inhabitants.

Population composition
According to estimations, about one third of Berlin’s population was foreign born or has a migratory background. These inhabitants originate from other parts of the EU—such as Poland, Italy or Bulgaria—as well as from countries outside of the EU, such as Syria, Vietnam or the United States of America. The largest non-native population comes from Turkey: In 2019, more than 107,000 Turkish nationals were registered as inhabitants of Berlin.

Main functions
Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany. As a city-state it is also one of the country’s 16 Länder, as the federal states are called in Germany. Situated approximately 112 miles (180 km) south of the Baltic Sea, the city lies in the wide glacial valley of the Spree River, which runs through Berlin’s centre. The city extends over an area of 891.7 square kilometres and stands at an average altitude of 34 meters above sea level. After the reunification of Germany and East and West Berlin in 1990, the unified Berlin was re-established as the country’s capital (replacing Bonn, the former capital of West Germany). In 1999, large parts of the Federal Government and the German Bundestag finally moved back to Berlin. Berlin is a city of great historical significance, which becomes evident considering the amount of historical landmarks that visualize the city’s history. Some of the most important landmarks include the Brandenburg Gate (built in 1793), the Reichstag Building (which dates to 1884), remnants of the Berlin Wall (taken down on the 9th of November 1989) or the Holocaust memorial (inaugurated in 2003). Berlin is also a famous cultural hub, known for its world-class museums, theatres, operas and concert halls as well as its vibrant club scene and street art. Finally, the Brain City Berlin is a leading location for science and research. It is home to a number of prestigious universities such as the Freie Universität Berlin, the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the Technische Universität Berlin, with more than 35,000 students each as well as renowned research institutions and think tanks.

Main industries / business
As the fourth largest economy of the world, Germany has a wide array of prestigious industries. Berlin is home to a diverse mix of economic activities: state-owned enterprises, creative industries, automotive manufacturers, (digital) media corporations, high-tech and telecommunication companies as well as multiple digital pioneers that flourish in the city’s vibrant start-up scene. Tourism is constantly growing and brings about 14 million visitors (2019) to the city every year.

Sources for city budget
Berlin draws its budget for public expenditure largely from taxes, federal transfers, fees, fines and operating revenues. It is spent not only to provide high quality public services, but also to boost the city’s private sector, civil society engagement and cultural life.

Political structure
The city-state Berlin is governed by the Berlin Senate, which is comprised of 10 senators, and the Governing Mayor. As the capital of Germany, Berlin hosts the Bundesregierung (federal government), the Bundestag (federal parliament) and the Bundesrat (the parliamentary chamber of the 16 Länder). Each of the 16 Länder has a representation in Berlin. On many political issues, the Länder have co-legislative powers vis-à-vis the Federal government. Moreover, Berlin hosts embassies from more than 120 countries from around the world.

Administrative structure
Berlin is administrated by the Senate and its 12 districts or boroughs (Bezirke). The Senate is the city’s central administration, in charge of city planning, public policy, and the regulation of public and private spheres. The district administrations have some decentralized public functions, with reasonable differences between the various localities.

Open Data refers to data that is made freely available to the public without any restrictions for further use or dissemination. Personal data and other sensitive data (e.g. security or confidential data) are excluded from Open Data.

A city has many reasons to develop an Open Data platform: it encourages citizen participation and ensures the city administration is more transparent. It contributes to improving the exchange of information within government and encourages good governance and public debate.  Open Data fosters the emergence of new business sectors and associated applications.

The potential for running an Open Data platform in the City of Berlin was revealed in a preliminary study carried out by the Fraunhofer-Institute FOKUS in 2010. The institute presented three core recommendations:

  • Launch a platform to support the development of cloud-based Open Data
  •  Deliver a political statement for Open Government
  •  Begin with small-scale Open Data projects

Subsequently, the City administration commenced an online-voting system to define interesting data types and categories. Generally, data is relevant if easily accessible, machine-readable, non-discriminatory, complete and available in real-time.

In 2011, the project “Open Data Berlin” was launched and Open Government became part of the city government’s political guidelines. It included the definition of a legal framework as well as analyses, concepts, and an action plan. Simultaneously, an Open Data pilot portal was launched.

In the same year, the first “Berlin Open Data Day” (BODDy) was organized as a meeting between the city administration and the Open Data community. Initiated by the Senate Department for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises, the aim of the meeting was to encourage the administration to publish data and to convince the Open Data community to use the published data.

The Berlin Open Data strategy was published in 2012. During that year, the Open Data Portal was further expanded to include approximately 100 data sets online.

Germany’s portal was launched in 2013. Shortly after, the City of Berlin relaunched its own portal with about 250 data sets, including geo-data and new services. The city also strengthened the exchange of experiences with other countries.

In 2014 – 2015 -  additional Berlin Open Data Days were organized and the city also supported the “Hackdays” (Coding da Vinci, Energy Hack).

In 2016, the E-Government law was legislated. At this time the open-data portal comprised more than 1200 data sets, 50 applications and 22 categories, e.g. labor market, demography, tourism, health, etc. Decentralized data provision ensures more up-to-date information and less effort for data supervisors. Data providers include District Offices, Senate Administrations, Statistical Office, Berlin Partner for Business and Technology GmbH, Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems FOKUS, VBB Verkehrsverbund Berlin-Brandenburg GmbH, Robert Koch Institute, and Stromnetz Berlin GmbH.

The Open Data "ecosystem" includes many stakeholders who contribute their expertise to the strategy:

  • Berlin city administration as data publisher;
  • Technologiestiftung Berlin;
  • Stiftung Neue Verantwortung;
  • Open Knowledge Foundation;
  • OK-Labs;
  • private companies working with data;
  • activists and hobbyists.

The development of the Open Data Portal is entirely financed by the Senate Departement for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises in Berlin.

The combination of high-quality data, a successful public-relations campaign and community commitment have facilitated many “success stories” of startups and other developers. Successful app services include:

Berlin Christmas markets: overview of 80 Christmas markets on a map with detailed information.

Berlin bathing places: various bathing facilities (natural bathing places, swimming pools, indoor swimming pools, dog bathing, etc.) are presented on a map and made easy to find.

City Cleaning: interactive map application showcasing cleaning frequency of every street in Berlin.

Broadband expansion: interactive visualization of internet speed offered in Berlin at house block level.

FlatMatch “virtual housing inspection”: offers a three-dimensional view of an apartment and its surroundings. Textures, geometries and sun exposure are reconstituted. 

Extending the database: Since Launching, the Berlin Open Data Portal has grown steadily in terms of available data. Deficits are due mainly to limited knowledge and lack of incentives to publish data within some authorities. The establishment of a central information and training center, comparable to the London Open Data Institute, could help to create more opportunities for the Data Portal.

Improving the currency of data: Different pilot projects already take place in Berlin to record data by sensors, such as, traffic or environmental data. The expansion of the availability of real-time data in the database would represent an incentive for the development of new innovative applications.

Improving data accessibility: The provision of easy-to-use tools and the preparation of administrative data in interactive graphs or "data dashboards" should be increased in the future.

Mainstreaming Open Data in the city administration: The employment of an Open Data representative in each Senate Department, the establishment of an Open Data working group, and the organization of Open Data training courses for the staff will upscale the use of the Open Data Portal in the city administration.

The Open Data landscape is diverse, with start-ups, hobbyists and public administrators representing different interests and working cultures. Regular communication helps them to better know each other and to understand their respective needs and limits. In Berlin, events like hackathons, meetups and regular development meetings in the "OK Labs" of the Open Knowledge Foundation contribute to strengthen the local network of stakeholders.

Successful community projects such as the OpenStreetMap or the WikiData project developed by Wikimedia in Berlin demonstrate that Open Data does not necessarily have to originate from public sources. On the contrary, "Citizen Science" ( exemplifies how data collection by citizens can make a valuable contribution to scientific research. In regards to the importance of data protection, voluntary sharing of information is also an important aspect for building a comprehensive Open Data culture.

While public institutions can sometimes lack the foresight to maximize innovations derived from their own data, Open Data inspires many entrepreneurs to develop new applications. Targeted start-up support from the city government can trigger the development of a creative idea beyond its initial stages. Public administration also benefits from an open data culture where a data-driven administration is characterized by an enhanced exchange of information, a more efficient allocation of resources and evidence-based decision making processes.

- Open Data Berlin -, 

- Fraunhofer FOKUS im Auftrag der Senatsverwaltung für Wirtschaft, Technologie und Forschung in Berlin, Dr. Wolfgang Both (Hrsg.) Prof. Dr. Ina Schieferdecker (Hrsg.) Kurzfassung der Studie Berliner Open Data-Strategie, Berlin, Januar 2012, 

- Open Data in der Praxis, Bereitsteller und Anwender offener Daten in Berlin, Benjamin Seibel, Januar 2016, 

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Sebastian Askar
Berlin, Germany

Sebastian Askar

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