People from the Saarland are used to jokes about their state’s portable size. Ironically, it is they who are now setting the benchmark for the future. All from their state’s capital, Saarbrücken.

With its 180,000 inhabitants, Saarbrücken is the only major city in the Saarland and it lies secluded on Germany’s south-west border. Out in the sticks. At least on first glance. Take a step back and you’ll notice that the Saarland and its capital city actually lie in the bustling heart of Europe. Strasbourg and then Paris are just around the corner and it’s only an hour to Luxembourg, so it comes as no surprise that the area is very influenced by France—from kisses on the cheek to their hospitality and an affinity for good food. It’s a raft of rich influences that make the city what it is. At one end, there’s an idyllic, medieval town with a collegiate church and at its other an industrial hub, with a university town tucked away to its east. And in the middle of it all, there’s the bustling old town by the banks of the river Saar, where everyone meets up on the weekend to enjoy themselves. This goes especially well in the Nauwieser quarter with its Wilhelmian style architecture and creatively-designed pubs, around St. John’s marketplace, where there’s action all through the night or the possibility to stroll across the old bridge and into the historic Schlossplatz. Lose yourself in the city, drift around and take your time. Saarbrücken is a trailblazer when it comes to slow living.

And speaking of the future...

...despite its relaxed attitude, the Saarland is an industrial state—and very flexible, when it comes to change. The state’s industry changed drastically in the sixties and seventies due to the recession in the coal and steel industry. While the city used to be overcrowded by smoking chimneys, nowadays, you will find that these have been replaced by modern infrastructure for sales, services and trade. This can be seen very well in Burbach, where the old iron huts in the west of the city were replaced by the Saarterrassen and the InnovationsCampus Saar, where plenty of IT companies have set up shop. Speaking of IT—it’s a big thing in Saarbrücken, with all of its many aspects. Information technology has been read at Saarland University for over 50 years, and its ranked in the top four across Germany (CHE Ranking 2018). Right next door to the university there’s the CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security and the DFKI German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence conducting research on the future-oriented topics of cybersecurity, privacy and AI. And since 2021, the Federal Office for Information Security also has its own branch in the city.

It’s in this ecosphere—the university environment—in which each year around 20 to 30 start-ups are founded, all of which benefit from the short distances between institutions, the low rents and the excellent work-life balance the Saarland has to offer. One example of this is Seawater Cubes, located in a decommissioned railway workshop in Burbach and which develops fully-automated systems for sustainable fish farming. The idea behind it is to enable complete novices to get a foothold in AI-based aquaculture. In a back-alley building in the city’s centre the start-up Fenomena is busy developing its Eventbaxx software , which can be used to build microsites tailored to the needs of their users. Companies can use these at exhibitions or events to directly reach prospects with tailored content. One of their first customers was the Austrian Group Red Bull that used the Eventbaxx app for its charity event Wings for Life World Run. So there’s no question that the start-up scene is really blossoming, it’s just like the Saarlandic philosophy says—Great things can grow from small beginnings.

Bechtle in Saarbrücken.

Another great thing that has grown from humble beginnings is Bechtle Saarbrücken. It was in 2015 that the youngest Bechtle Group System House  was founded as a subsidiary of Bechtle Mannheim. Since 2022, Saarbrücken has been an independent location and the initial team of 4 has grown to 38. The team around Managing Director Christian Walter has its sights set on industry and SMEs as well as the special requirements of the public sector. For example, Bechtle Saarbrücken supplies all pupils and teachers in the Saarland with mobile devices and supports them with comprehensive services and training. At the beginning of the Corona pandemic, they managed to set up a collaboration solution for the government of the Saarland within just a few hours.

One reason that this team is so on the ball could be quite simple—its foosball table. Table football is a serious sport in the Saarland with some 2,100 players across 60 clubs—making the nation’s smallest state a giant at this. They've even developed their own type of table, and one of these, painted in Bechtle Green, is waiting for employees after stressful meetings, providing relaxation, community spirit and a source for new inspiration and ambition. The latter of which is  After all, the aim of Project Saarland is to grow and increase the state’s footprint. The managing director, quite the local, has a very optimistic outlook on things: “Our region never fails to confront us with exciting and challenging potential. Harnessing it requires modern structures, a strong network and highly motivated teams. And these are things we excel at like no one else around here.

Picture: © Kristina Steigüber