Let’s face it, the big tech companies rule the world. Everything we watch, read and scroll through is controlled by them. However, the people of Kreuzberg, Berlin were sick of it. The tipping point wasn’t the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it actually had nothing to do with technology. Google wanted to set up their German office in Kreuzberg.
To say the residents were unhappy is an understatement.
What Kreuzberg wants, Kreuzberg gets.
I recently learnt about this movement on the Changemaker Tour in Berlin. We were roaming the streets of Kreuzberg learning about social entrepreneurship and the Sustainable Development Goals when we stopped out the front of a massive warehouse-style building.
‘This was meant to be the Google headquarters. But one thing you should know about Kreuzberg is, what Kreuzberg wants, Kreuzberg gets.’ Our tour guide Natalie spoke with great enthusiasm about the movement by local residents to stop Google from setting up their campus there.
The main reason was they didn’t want ‘the Google effect’. Wherever their headquarters are it seems they drive gentrification and create unrealistic living standards for locals. The locals also didn’t want to be associated with a company that violates human rights law and negatively impacts the environment. Kreuzberg has a strong and vibrant community of social activism and it is known throughout Europe for being a hive of activity for social change. The long history of occupation, especially in the 1980s was to stop gentrification. Check out this video for a bit more about the history of Kreuzberg! So it is safe to say, Google picked a fighter when they chose Kreuzberg.
A movement was born
A movement aptly named ‘Fuck off Google’ emerged which was a decentralised network of people who wanted to teach Google a lesson. They organised petitions, marches and guerilla campaigns. Apparently, in the height of it all, people were spray painting messages on old mattresses and sheets and hanging them around the potential site.
The reason for this though is a bit deeper than just wanting to reject a global heavy-weight. Natalie explained that the locals of Kreuzberg have been advocates for social change for decades. It has been and still is a strong community that helps people to get on their feet. Today, there are plenty of cafes employing refugees, communes, social enterprises and outreach spaces. The real challenge for Google would be to integrate into THEIR robust culture rather than Google asserting their dominance as they do in other cities.
The interesting thing about this network is that there was no key leader. It was a coordinated but decentralised group of people who wanted to protect their local community. As far as I know, they didn’t work with local Government but used social media and activism to push their agenda onto Google.
Another win for Kreuzberg!
The surprising news is that Google listened! After two years of petitioning, in October last year Google retracted their plans and are looking elsewhere for a site.
It is an interesting example of how a powerful community can take on one of the biggest tech companies in the world. It seems somewhat counterintuitive to kick Google out of the region, as Berlin’s economy is not the strongest in Germany. However, it also comes down to how we assess value. If the way we look at only financial indicators to understand the health of the city, we lose the social fabric that sits underneath. Sometimes I think it can be easier to rebuild an economy that a community with a unique, powerful and genuine history.
If you want an alternative to Google…
There is also a better search engine out there that plants trees with every search. They are called Ecosia and are awesome!!! They use their profits to plant trees and planted over 57 million trees to date (with the number going up daily!) They are also carbon neutral which is a big feat because all the big tech companies spend so much energy on servers. Another great benefit is that they are completely transparent. They do not hold your data or sell it onto third parties!
Change your browser to Ecosia today. You can download a Google chrome plugin so it is super easy to get started!