Karlsruhe as Digital Pioneer

Thriving Digital Industry

While many cities have only discovered digitalization in recent years, Karlsruhe was an early pioneer in this area: the term „informatics“ was coined here as early as 1957; and in 1972 the University of Karlsruhe (TH) founded the country’s first Faculty of Computer Science, where Germany’s first email was received twelve years later.

From that point on, digitalization took on a central role within the Karlsruhe region, which is now one of the world’s leading centres of innovation. With over 4,800 companies and more than 30,000 employees, the digital industry is one of the strongest economic factors in the region – and generates over 45 percent of the city of Karlsruhe’s business tax revenue. Regardless of whether you are a mobility start-up, a medium-sized cyber security provider or a listed communications group – Karlsruhe offers ideal conditions for companies of all sizes. In recent years, the region has in particular made a name for itself internationally, in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) – as one of the few places where not only basic research and development takes place, but where new technologies are also used in everyday life.

Karlsruhe is a place of opportunities. The networking of business, science, culture and public administration, which has grown over the years – and is unique in Germany – has made a decisive contribution to this. This model of the initiative karlsruhe.digital, known as the “Karlsruhe principle of short distances”, guarantees a regular exchange between all those who are jointly pursuing the same goal: to further develop Karlsruhe as the driving force of digitalization.

For many years, Karlsruhe has been bringing together stakeholders, institutions and facilities that are active across industries in the areas of start-up advice and support. The renowned universities and non-university research institutions that are based in the region give rise to young talents who either found start-ups or bring their know-how to local companies. Strong regional networks connect trainees and students with experienced managers.

Against this background, a number of leading European providers of software solutions, data centers and IT services have emerged in Karlsruhe over the past few decades. Many of the start-ups founded in the local IT ecosystem are now among the big players in their respective industries.

Exzellenz in Bildung und Forschung

Even in the age of digitalization, pioneering innovations do not arise overnight, but are the product of an outstanding university and research landscape. And therefore, the former University of Karlsruhe (TH), where the first Faculty of Computer Science was founded, together with the Karlsruhe Research Center, has become one of the world’s most renowned research universities: the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), where over half of the students in Karlsruhe are enrolled. As one of eleven “Universities of Excellence” in Germany, it offers young talents access to courses in the fields of Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Industrial Engineering. The HKA – Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences also regularly occupies top positions in the university rankings of ZEIT and WirtschaftsWoche.

Overall, the region is home to more than 25 leading universities and non-university research institutions, including the FZI Research Center for Information Technology, several Fraunhofer institutes, the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University and the Karlshochschule International University. As a result, Karlsruhe has earned a high reputation as a city of science on a national and international level, which attracts thousands of students (around 15 percent of the city’s population) year after year. The prominent role of Computer Science and Digitialization repeatedly plays its part.

For this reason, in 2020 the KIT became the National Centre for High-performance Computing. In 2021, HoreKA, one of the 15 fastest supercomputers in Europe, went into operation in Karlsruhe. In addition, future-oriented courses and research projects – such as the Test Area for Autonomous Driving Baden-Württemberg – are shaping digital change. In this living lab, new mobility concepts for public and private transport are tested. The Karlsruher Research Factory for AI-integrated Production is meanwhile – like the Smart Production Park – working on practical research into the global challenge of intelligent production.

Students can acquire the necessary know-how, among others, in the “Data Science” courses at the HKA – Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences or “Mobility and Infrastructure” at KIT. And even classical disciplines such as Musicology cannot escape IT in Karlsruhe: the University of Music has had a computer studio since 1994 and teaches Music Informatics.

Smart City

Regardless of whether it is in the field of mobility, public administration, infrastructure or energy – as a digital, networked city, Karlsruhe is always at the forefront. In 2020, Karlsruhe took first place in Germany in the “Digital Administration” category of the Bitkom Smart City Index and proved itself to be the city with Europe’s smartest cultural tourism in the “Cultural Heritage and Creativity“ category of the “Capital of Smart Tourism 2020” competition. Furthermore, Karlsruhe was the only city in Germany to be selected by the World Economic Forum as a Pioneer City of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance. The core idea of this alliance is to reconcile sustainability and growth in the world’s major cities through smart solutions.

And that is exactly what Karlsruhe does. To this end, the city is pursuing a number of holistic development concepts in order to make the region more efficient, more technologically advanced and greener. It starts with topics such as smart traffic control and parking space organization. In addition, Karlsruhe’s citizens have access to the services of the city administration at the self-service terminals of the digital citizens’ office – easily, quickly and with the highest level of data security. And those who visit the fan-shaped city can use the digital tourist information to virtually explore cultural attraction and excursion destinations.

Fast, public internet access isn’t an issue in large parts of the city because the public Wi-Fi KA-WLAN can be used free of charge, unlimited and encrypted after a one-time registration. In addition, Karlsruhe is constantly expanding the broadband and fiber optic network in the region in order to meet the rapidly increasing demand for data bandwidth.

Another milestone on the way to becoming a Smart City is the multifunctional Karlsruhe.App for citizens. It combines municipal citizen services and services from commercial providers – for example from the mobility sector – in a single, customizable application.

UNESCO City of Media Arts

As a booming IT location, Karlsruhe naturally has a flourishing cultural and creative economy. After all, it is culture and creativity that shape global challenges such as digitalization and enable innovations.

In 2019, Karlsruhe was the first and only German city to be named “UNESCO City of Media Arts“ and regularly promotes innovative, cooperative and interdisciplinary media art projects in the international city network “Creative Cities”. The decisive factor here: the cultural and creative industries do not act separately from other areas, but work hand in hand with institutions from science, public administration and business – in order to make the city as a whole a more attractive living space, characterized by cultural diversity.

As early as 1984, the Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of Karlsruhe had the idea of founding an institution that would combine artistic concepts with future-oriented technologies. A few years later a unique cultural institution emerged from this: the ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe. In the current ranking of the world’s largest art database “ArtFacts.net”, the ZKM comes fourth – after the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York, the Biennale di Venezia and the Center Pompidou in Paris.

The Karlsruhe Light Festival Schlosslichtspiele, which has been taking place since 2015, is among the most impressive projects that the ZKM has produced in the field of media art. Year after year, hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world marvel at the imposing projections on the facade of the castle, which marks the center of the radial floor plan of the fan-shaped city.

While the Schlosslichtspiele use state-of-the-art video mapping, Karlsruhe’s museums are also working on multimedia concepts. The Staatliche Kunsthalle makes use of the capabilities of digital technologies for the “Museum 2.0”. The Badisches Landesmuseum makes closed-off areas areas accessible to visitors with virtual 360-degree tours.