How Freiburg, Germany Is Like New York City

This is Freiburg, where clean water streams through mini-canals in the sidewalks.
This is Freiburg, where clean water streams through mini-canals in the sidewalks.

The city of Freiburg, at the edge of Germany’s Black Forest, is a bucolic place with cobbled streets, the warmest climate in Germany, and students — lots of students. This town of  230K is home to Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, which attracts about 25K students each year, a good amount of them from abroad.*

In most ways, Freiburg does not resemble the megalopolis of New York, NY, whose citizens consider it, somewhat justifiably, to be the center of the world, where every culture on the planet seems to mingle.

Freiburg might not seem like the most similar place to Manhattan, but in one sense, it’s the closest place to it. Based on how they listened to music in the last two weeks of October, no other city resembles New York than Freiburg, in terms of the acoustic attributes of the music its Spotify users disproportionately streamed.

In Manhattan, the streets run thick with bike messengers.
In Manhattan, the streets run thick with bike messengers.

Glenn McDonald, data alchemist for The Echo Nest at Spotify, identified the 100 songs most distinct to each city in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America.

Then he calculated the sonic “sister cities” for all of these cities, based on the similarity of their acoustic attributes as calculated by The Echo Nest: Acousticness, Bounciness, Danceability, Energy level, Loudness, Mechanism, Organicness, Tempo, Valence, Instrumentalness (songs without lyrics), and three more internal attributes.

The most similar city in the world to Manhattan in these 13 dimensions is none other than Freiburg, Germany. Chalk it up to the city’s high student population, the associated influx of international listeners, or any other mix of factors that might make it listen like New York, but it does.

Manhattan is a unique place, listening-wise — so much so that while Freiburg is the most similar city to Manhattan, Manhattan is only the ninth-most-similar city to Freiburg (after Düsseldorf, Mannheim, Dresden, Cologne, Karlsruhe, Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Tempe, Arizona).

It’s not that Manhattan and Freiburg are listening to the similar songs — it’s that they’re listening to the similar sounds. Listen for yourself; here are the 100 songs that are currently distinctive to Manhattan vs. other cities in Europe, Latin America, and the US:


And here are Freiburg’s distinct songs, which are the closest thing sonically to Manhattan’s distinct songs:


We plan to look more at how other cities listen in the future, as part of our ongoing investigation into music and how people listen to it on, so check back if you are into this kind of thing.

(Freiburg photo courtesy of Flickr/Peter Burgess; Manhattan photo courtesy of Flickr/FaceMePLS)


*The author, from New York, studied in Freiburg for a year.