Our world is full of problems. And that is a good thing in a way. It is problems that make some people discover skills they didn’t know they had. They can get so passionate about the dilemma at hand, that they don’t stop until they find the solution. The predicaments that need fixing are as diverse and fascinating as the authors of their solutions. With seven questions I want to get to know the problem solvers of our times a little better.

The series starts with Ralf Steeg, engineer and founder of Spree 2011,  a technology which aims to clean Berlin’s river Spree so that humans can swim in it again.

Ralf Steeg used to be a landscape architect. One day he decided to test the quality of the river that runs through Berlin, and what he found was not amusing at all: the water tested grade 3 – 4 is the worst – and the dirt was, well, human waste! The reason: The city’s century old sewer system would regularly overflow after heavy rain and spill the sewage into the Spree. That was a problem that Steeg found challenging enough to put all is energy and might behind to solve. It has been seven years of constant struggle, of ups and downs. There were technical and scientific problems, there was the hunt for investors, and the fight for support of a hugely bureaucratic city.

The complexity of the issue not withstanding, Spree2011 had a breakthrough in 2007 when the Federal Ministry of Education & Research provided him and his team with € 2 million for the construction of their invention. A dream come true for Steeg and his fellow Berliners. The system that he invented will not only serve to contain the sewage and prevent it from flowing into the Spree, thus providing Berlin with a clean river. It will also be made of floating platforms, which double as islands for all sort of urban delights like café, open-air cinemas, camp sites, or lawns, thus enlarging the city’s attractions with one more big innovation.

1. Describe the source of your vision?
The constant observation of nature.

2. Who or what taught you to be an entrepreneur / problem solver?
I believe we are all inherently problem solvers. Each of us in our individual way. I happened to have the skills to solve this particular problem, which is one that effects so many people in a very direct way.

3. Describe your entrepreneurial / problem solver breakthrough moment.
There were various moments. For example my participation in the Venice Bienale for architects. Then this years’ EXPO in Shanghai, where we are taking part in the exhibition “300 years of science in Berlin“. However, most important for me has always been the support of friends right from the beginning of the project. That was the tail wind I needed to start the whole thing in the first place.

4. Which book has inspired you most?
Jean Genet, The Thief’s Diary

5. Which technology or invention can’t you live without?

6. Your best advice to other potential problem solvers out there?
Don’t give up. And when things go wrong, start all over again the  next day.

7. What other problem would you want to solve if you had the time?
BP, Monsanto, Dow Chemical