The city that knows music

Mannheim is a UNESCO City of Music – and Rainer Kern is bringing it to the global forefront

Since 2014 Mannheim is a UNESCO City of Music. The application process was managed by Rainer Kern, who has experience as a founder in the regional music scene from creating the Enjoy Jazz festival. We met the man in Mannheim for an espresso, between two international key note speeches he was giving to present Mannheim as a music and startup city.


Rainer, you just got back from Korea where you visited the UCLG Culture Summit, the most relevant international conference on culture. You were there to represent Mannheim as a UNESCO City of Music. How were the reactions?

Very positive! In Korea and also the world in general one is interested to learn how Mannheim made music into a relevant economic factor. In the end this, amongst other aims, is what we are going for: to use the title UNESCO City of Music to create new jobs in the music industry in Mannheim. And to attract companies to the region and generate business contracts and networks. So if someone approaches us and wants to access international contacts in the music or cultural sphere we’ll try to make it happen.



In 2014 Mannheim became part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. What has the title „City of Music“ done for Mannheim?

It’s hard to put a number on it. You don’t get any funding for the title. The case is quite the contrary: you have to put a lot of work into making the title known nationally and globally, and one must commit to taking an active role in the worldwide network of music cities. The title is symbolic — and as a city one must make the most of it. And as it is with most networks you have to actively bring your part. Both internally and towards the outside world. This way things can happen. Also ever since we became a part of the network things have been in a phase of change. Many aspects are being actively and controversially discussed among the whole of the UNESCO. Mannheim, together with the Belgian city Ghent, represents the music network in the supervisory group of all the UNESCO networks. To coordinate these positions internationally is of course quite time consuming and complex.

As a representative of Mannheim as a music city you are frequently abroad. How do people around the world see Mannheim? 

I’ve been representing Mannheim internationally for ten years now. The way the city is seen hast vastly changed compared to the past. In recent times – no matter where I was – I didn’t need to clarify where Mannheim is located or what it stands for. Mannheim is increasingly seen as a music city, and also as a start-up city. Therefore I try to represent both of these aspects in my lectures.


What are the linkages between music and business start-up?

The business incubator Musik Park, the Popakademie and the current Clustermanagement Musik are central parts of Mannheims unique infrastructure for start-ups in the music industry – be it for labels or agencies, but also for musicians and studios. When meeting other cultural decision-makers, entrepreneurs, scientists or representatives of foundations and large institutions such as the UN and UNESCO in Korea at the UCLG Culture Summit, I chose a mix of topics to describe the intersections between music, creative economy and the issues of business start-ups and sustainable urban development, at the „Local Cultural Industries and Sustainability“ session.

Always welcome at Enjoy Jazz: Joshua Redman.


You’re experienced in the field of starting up. Tell us about it!

Originally I had studied chemistry in Heidelberg, but my real passion was always music. During my studies I would drive up to Frankfurt to go to concerts. I was very lucky to have a big brother that would take me to jazz concerts. Meeting musicians such as Don Cherry or the Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen were key to my development. The beauty and power of this music hit me full on and changed my life. In the end I decided to dive into culture full-time. Though chemistry still interests me to this day as well.

How did creating the Enjoy Jazz festival come about?

Bringing the festival to life was one of the best ideas of my life. During my assistantship at the Heidelberg university I had organized several jazz concerts in the Karlstorbahnhof. The idea of a festival was still new and seemed slightly abstruse to some. I was sure of it though and founded it in 1999 and a few years later I founded the limited company of the same name with my two partners.

Did you receive advice during the founding phase?

Yes. We were advised by a lawyer. Start-up advice as we know it today did not exist back then. As legal mistakes are the biggest fear whilst founding something I am very pleased to see one can receive the proper council in the eight start-up centers in Mannheim today. „Trial and Error“ is good and well, but why make mistakes that could be easily be prevented.

Joshua Redman – live at Alte Feuerwache Mannheim.


What was your biggest mistake?

Germany sadly still revels in a culture that deems mistakes as negative. I find the opposite is true: you can make a mistake once – just don’t make the same mistake again. In the beginnings of being a programme planner I made the mistake to make a programme that was too much about me. Though one quickly learns that the programme is not for you as much as it is about the audience. And one should never underestimate the audience. Say you were a maker of chocolate and liked chocolate with a nice garlic taste. This does not mean everyone else will like it as well. It would most probably be a big mistake to produce the garlic chocolate, unless you may set off a trend in the end. Finding a certain balance in things is the secret. A good curator must understand the audience, that shares a passion with them, and still give them something to chew on. In the end everyone will enjoy something new and exciting.

Your tip for young founders?

Be courageous and try to see things from different points of view! In my studies of chemistry I learned to patiently approach a problem from different angles to find a solution.

How important is Work-Life-Balance?

It’s a real feat to find a balance in life! Sometimes I can do it – sometimes not so much. I’m involved in several endeavors that may seem very heterogeneous on the surface: there is Enjoy Jazz, UNESCO City of Music and also the Global Parliament of Mayors, which was founded in Mannheim to create a global network for mayors to tackle tough future problems in a sustainable way. All these efforts are about networking, and all these efforts are closely interlocked – as sometimes action is required simultaneously on many different fronts to win the game.

Are you a workaholic?

I don’t feel to be one – I just try to reach my fullest potential.

What do you like to do aside from networking?

I listen to music. Which is a part of my job. I really listen to loads of music. And not just jazz – I like almost everything aside from German Schlager. I read every day – fiction and non-fiction alike. And I also love spending time with my family.

You were born in Mannheim and live in Heidelberg – and commute back and forth between the two. Do you see these two cities intertwined culturally? 

Historically and culturally they are very different places. Though I am happy to be able to enjoy both cities as they are. I studied in Heidelberg and lived in Mannheim. Then I moved to Heidelberg and work in Mannheim. All things considered I see the two cities as part of the Rhine-Neckar cultural region – which is the way young founders see Mannheim: a part of a flourishing and multifaceted region.



So you see Mannheim as an inspiring place for startups?

I get around a lot. But personally I can’t imagine a place I would rather work and live – except maybe in the Provence! But seriously: we can still make many great things happen here, but many things are already running a lot more smoothly here, as say in other traditional start-up cities such as Berlin.

What are the next steps for Mannheim as a UNESCO City of Music?

I’m used to making the best of a small budget. Sadly though we don’t have the funds we require to really make the most of this title. At the moment I function as a one-man show, while other cities in the Creative City Network, such as Kattowitz in Polen, have a 1,5 million Euro budget and a team of four. As part of the steering commitee of the City of Music network I will have to really go the extra mile to bring Mannheim to the front of things. And I hope we will be able to create a fundraising position to further push things along.

And aside from everything UNESCO: you probably have one or two things in the pipeline for the future?

I actually do have some things on my list, though I won’t get into that, as I am a bit superstitious.


Wir verstehen Musik

Interview: Ralf Laubscher / LA.MAG

Pictures: Daniel Lukac

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