Sunday, September 18, 2011

Goodbye Hello Etsy

This weekend I went to the Hello Etsy Summit on Small Business and Sustainability here in Berlin. I really had no excuse not to go, considering the conference was a ten minute bike ride from my apartment and I've also been selling in Curious Knopf and Augenblick Photo since Spring/Fall 2010 and in Schaufenster (for which this blog is named) before that.

I'm also thinking seriously these days about expanding both of my shops and (perhaps) even combining them with an actual Brick and Mortar shop here in Berlin. In the past few weeks I've been taking a workshop on Existenzgr├╝ndung, i.e. how to go into business for yourself in Germany. Needless to say the bureaucracy, etc. is rather mind-boggling and worthy of a blog post all to itself, so I won't get into much detail here.

The conference was held at the eWerk in Berlin Mitte just around the corner from Postsdamer Platz. A former energy plant in gorgeous 1920s style, the building is now a conference center where they've apparently also hosted techno parties (or at least it looked like it from some of the images I found on google....) The plant was owned by AEG. I happen to know from a recent translation I did for the Visual History Archive on Forced Labor that AEG had a particularly shady past with forced Jewish and Polish Labor during the second world war, something that makes the topic of the summit all the more ironic.

The conference was split up in the main room (mainly for eating, chatting, networking, etc.), two rooftop rooms and the control room. I never went to anything in the control room, but it looked a lot like the one in Chernobyl pictured above. I know this because I went up their with my camera in hand no knowing that a) the elevator opens up into the middle of the room and b) a workshop was going on. Though I felt like I had landed in the middle of the "real world" in the Matrix, I was just too damn shy to snap a picture.

Speaking of too damn shy, that's one of the reasons I didn't get as much out of the conference as I might have since it definitely would have been a good chance to network. Although I am far from being painfully shy like I was as a teenager, I am still definitely introverted. Sometimes it really is a pain in the ass. I know a) that I am interested in people and like getting to know them and b) that once a conversation gets going everything is fine. But still, getting those conversations started of my own volition is just not that easy.

Then again, that's one of the reasons I decided to settle down in Berlin. In the US you're often seen as a freak if you are too introverted whereas in Berlin true extroverts are often seen as a pain in the ass. German (at least Northern German) culture is definitely introverted, so much so that, when with a group Germans, I am sometimes the biggest extrovert among them which is absolutely ridiculous.

The conference was basically split between the nuts and bolts side (PR, marketing, google and branding tips, etc.) and the inspirational, new economy side (but unfortunately not much "seller success" talks and workshops which would have been great.) On Saturday I did the nuts and bolts workshops which were interesting and helpful, albeit somewhat overwhelming. On Sunday I stayed downstairs for the inspirational stuff mainly because it was cold and rainy and I had come late and was too lazy to wait for the very slow elevator to take me up to the rooftop rooms.

I found Michiel Schwarz's talk on the Culture of Sustainism very inspiring and Biba Schoenmaker's talk about the Bread Fund, a trust based insurance for the self-employed in the Netherlands to be a brilliant idea I hope they soon implement in Germany, especially if I do go into business for myself full-time.

However, I found Douglas Rushkoff's talk a little over the top or maybe just too, well, American. Yes, it is important to know what the new social media is and how it defines us and yes, there are new possibilities for us to define ourselves and the new global economy in a different way but why does it have to be so big, so mind-boggling, so revolutionary? Maybe I've just become European enough to be turned off by this larger-than-life American presentation.

There is a reason I sell on Etsy and not on Ebay and that reason is I do like the personal, aesthetic and community aspect of it. I think a lot of buyers are drawn to this too. The concept definitely was new and is global-yet-local in a way that simply wasn't possible before. But why does it have to be life-changing, a whole new way of being, a revolution in how business is done? Etsy isn't going to change the world and I hope to god they don't think they are going to. If so, they will only be swallowed up by their own hype and fall into cynicism once the bubble bursts. Yes, the world can change and yes, you should live in a way that supports what you believe. But what the significance will be can only be seen once the events have already happened. To pump them up to the level of grandiosity as Rushkoff to a certain extent did seems ultimately hollow and destined for disillusionment.

Before I headed for home I went up the roof to take some pictures, at the time virtually deserted since everyone was downstairs drinking tea and staying out of the chill. I looked down at the hot air balloon I went to recently with Miss Mia and Little Li. Mia had wanted to go on it forever so finally we did. It was ridiculously expensive (6 Euros for each kid but 20 Euros for me for a 15 minute ride) and they played cheesy canned music at the top, but Mia loved every second of it.

I looked down on Trabi Safari reminding me I was on a rooftop of a building in the former East incredibly close to where the wall once stood.

And I looked down on this empty, over-grown lot, one of many hundreds in Berlin. Berlin may be changing. It may gradually be getting more expensive i.e. from dirt cheap to moderately affordable. But the city still has so much green. It has its problems, but it holds so much promise and possibility. We've got it good.

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