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The Germans of DLD Throw a Gemütlichkeit-Full Silicon Valley Lunch

"Schmoozefest! It is a schmoozefest!"

Nellie Bowles

A Volkstümliche Musik band was playing in lederhosen, which was odd for Palo Alto.

Even odder: It was 11 am, and not only were servers passing around drinks, but guests were well into their second glasses — a veritable rave for the abstemious, health-tracking leaders of Silicon Valley.

The Germans were in town, and apparently all bets were off.

At the annual DLD (Digital Life Design) power lunch yesterday at MacArthur Park restaurant, DLD founder Steffi Czerny and chairman Yossi Vardi invited all their favorite characters: Silicon Valley players like venture-capitalist-separatist Tim Draper, entrepreneur-and-husband-to-Marissa-Mayer Zack Bogue, virtual-reality-pioneer Jaron Lanier, cable-TV-inventor Kay Koplowitz and local intellectuals like UCSF professor Dean Ornish. Even Lady Gaga’s social media strategist, Matt Michelsen, was there.

Europe’s most influential innovation event, the DLD conference, which happens once a year in Munich but now has various smaller iterations, is part of media conglomerate Burda Digital, run by billionaire Hubert Burda, who has an estimated wealth of $2.3 billion and is married to the former actress Maria Furtwängler-Burda.

The conference is, by all accounts, a celebrity-filled pub crawl. The Palo Alto lunch is DLD’s annual community-building exercise among the tech folk.

 Steffi reacts to having her photo taken
Steffi reacts to having her photo taken
Nellie Bowles

“Schmoozefest! It is a schmoozefest!” shouted Vardi, in a thick Israeli accent, as his toast to welcome the crew of several hundred Valley power players.

As the center of gravity in the tech world slowly moves out from Silicon Valley, new international figures emerge and fascinate local technologists.

The star of the afternoon was founder Steffi Czerny, a petite woman in a bright outfit, who hopped around telling people to “come, come” while she made introductions.

“The trick is to make it a salon,” Czerny said. “I’m not a VC. I’m not a startup-ist. I’m just friends.”

The next DLD conference is in January. What will that be like?

“The next conference is called ‘It’s Only the Beginning,'” Czerny said. “To mix the geysers and the geeks, the Internet as we know it is over. Sometimes I feel we live in the ’80s right now — we know something’s coming, but we don’t know what yet.”

A receiving line had formed for her, and she had to turn her attention to new arrivals.

“DLD is not a transactional network, it’s a network of spirit and soul,” said Nora Abousteit, founder of DIY community Kollabora, and part of the first DLD conference in 2005. “And Steffi, she’s from Bavaria, she’s gemütlichkeit.”

“Gemütlichkeit,” an entrepreneur next to her agreed, reiterating the ambiguous German term for “good food, good wine, good company.”

A young Polish entrepreneur, wearing what looked like opaque ski goggles around his neck, was looking for his name tag.

 A demonstration at the DLD lunch
A demonstration at the DLD lunch
Nellie Bowles

“It measures my melatonin and body temperature and circadian rhythm,” said Kamil Adamczyk, who said the device was called a NeuroOn. “It measures brainwaves with three electrodes attached to your forehead.”

Czerny found me. “Come, come,” she said, fluttering her hands.

She introduced me to the band, which she had flown in from the tiny Bavarian town of Tegernsee.

“The trick is, I’m independent. My purpose in life is to mesh people,” she said, as she started walking toward the decidedly American buffet (poached salmon, green beans, pumpkin cheesecake), where she ran into Jacqueline Emerson, the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Berlin. Czerny suddenly reappeared on the other side of the buffet. “Come, come,” she said.

When I got to Czerny, she was already talking with venture capitalist Tim Draper, who towered head and shoulders above her.

“They’re awesome, and they drive this excitement, this fun-loving thing,” Draper said, describing Czerny and her partner Vardi. He also said that his Six Californias proposal is “not over.”

The lunch had none of the panicky edge of a normal tech event, noted several attendees.

“It’s very different from a tech conference, which is all pitch and testosterone,” said tech blogger and conference regular Peter Hirschberg. “It’s more like fun.”

I lost Czerny in the crowd. The Volkstümliche Musik band played in the back garden for a lunch afterparty. Outside, it was another sunny day in the office parks of Palo Alto, and the valet was ready with someone’s custom-painted matte-black Tesla.

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