As citizens of Berlin and originators of the .berlin top-level domain, we feel a special connection with Berlin and its inhabitants. We still have vivid memories of March 18th, 2014, when we celebrated the launch of .berlin and the very first .berlin domain name (www.wohnheim.berlin) went online at exactly 11 a.m. And we still are incredibly proud every time we discover .berlin domain names in the cityscape. However, these close ties to Berlin also mean that we want to support our city beyond simply making our domain extension available to its inhabitants. For many years, our office has been located in the “Akazienkiez”, which is one of Berlin’s liveliest neighbourhoods. Helping the Akazienkiez and other neighbourhoods to remain as colourful and vibrant as they are, is a matter particularly close to our hearts. This is why we started our initiative Kiezhelden.
Online retailers are becoming more and more powerful
We founded Kiezhelden in October 2018. “Kiez” – that is a German word that refers to a city neighbourhood, a relatively small community within a larger town. It is a rather unique term, because, apart from Berlin, it is actually only used in Hamburg (here, it refers to the area around the Reeperbahn in the St. Pauli quarter, which is the city’s nightlife and red-light district). In Berlin, the term has quite a positive connotation, as its inhabitants often identify with the Kiez they live in. The second part of Kiezhelden, the word “Helden”, is the German word für “hero”.
Kiezhelden aims to strengthen the small boutiques, handcraft shops, restaurants, cafés and local service providers in Berlin’s neighbourhoods. As we have been living and working in our neighbourhood for such a long time, we know many of them personally. And many of them told us that it is becoming increasingly hard to exist as online retailers are becoming more and more powerful. We notice that, too, especially when we spend time in the outlying neighbourhoods: Many of the shops here are not attended very well. However, in almost every street delivery vans or rubbish bins full of packaging waste can be discovered. And we wanted to do something about that.
Awaken Berliners’ enthusiasm for their neighbourhoods
There are a lot of shops in Berlin with amazing products and offers that actually render excessive online shopping unnecessary. They are the ones we call Kiezhelden. We collect them on a digital map of Berlin and make it available at www.kiezhelden.berlin. It should come as no surprise that the domain name ends with .berlin. However, we did not only choose it because we are the operators of .berlin, but because Kiezhelden is a local initiative and thus has a special connection to Berlin. With the Kiezhelden website, Berliners have a local tool that helps them discover their neighbourhoods. They can get all the information they want online and then move their shopping spree into the real world.
Most Berliners are surprised at how much their neighbourhoods have to offer. We also still regularly receive messages from store owners, manufacturers, café, restaurant or service providers who would like to become part of Kiezhelden, which is why there are always new things to discover at the online platform. What we want to achieve with Kiezhelden, is to awaken – or rekindle – the Berliners’ enthusiasm for their neighbourhoods. Because the more they buy offline, the more their neighbourhoods regain their strength. Also, the Kiezhelden can not only be found online, they are also very easy to recognize in the offline world: every one of them gets a Kiezhelden label, which they can stick to their shop windows. Anyone who discovers the label will also find the link to the Kiezhelden website on it, which means that there is a direct connection between online and offline.
The effects of Kiezhelden
At the moment, there are about 2,000 Berlin retailers that are part of Kiezhelden. All of them contribute to raising awareness for the importance of local shopping and thus motivating Berliners to support their local dealers – on the one hand. On the other hand, they all help .berlin becoming an even more integral part of the streetscape, because they enhance the visibility of www.kiezhelden.berlin. We also use Facebook and Instagram to draw additional attention to our initiative and make .berlin even better known. On Instagram (@kiezhelden.berlin), we reached more than 1,500 followers within just a few months. We also attracted media attention: Since its launch in 2018, daily papers, radio and television reported on Kiezhelden several times.
However, our most important goal is not to get as much attention as possible, it is to contribute to Berlin’s attractiveness, as a place to live and shop, as a business location and tourist destination. Strong retail and thriving neighbourhoods strengthen the city’s image, which leads to its residents identifying more strongly and being more satisfied with their hometown. They can go to the local shops not only for daily errands, but also to meet other people and socialise. This is hardly possible by staying at home and staring at a computer. And who wants to live in a place where everyone has retreated into their own four walls and the city centres have degenerated into ghost towns? Another great effect is that Kiezhelden helps to reduce urban problems such as congested streets or tonnes of packaging waste, because the quantities are not as big anymore when more people buy locally.
The Kiezhelden boxes
Just last November we launched a side project of Kiezhelden that we had particularly great success with. We wanted to help Berlin’s shop owners and service providers to get through the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns as unscathed as possible. So we came up with the Kiezhelden box: each box contained great products that were made in small Berlin manufactories. Berliners could buy these boxes and either give them as a Christmas gift or use them as a treat for themselves. At a time when public life had to come to a standstill, the Kiezhelden box brought a piece of Berlin flair into the homes of every recipient. The demand for the boxes was so great that we spontaneously turned our entire office into a logistics centre. We also decided that we want to continue offering Kiezhelden boxes as they were such a great success. At the moment they can be ordered as a gift for Valentine’s Day.