Berliner Gazette A Paperless Paper

The Berliner Gazette is one of the oldest edited websites in the German-speaking area.
The Berliner Gazette is one of the oldest edited websites in the German-speaking area. | Photo (detail): Focus Studio © iStockphoto

The online magazine “Berliner Gazette” began in 1999. Originally conceived as an email newsletter, it now sees itself as a “networked newspaper”.

The backyard office in the Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg is just big enough for an editing table, a few computer workplaces, bookshelves and seats. Here, and at the desks in the homes of the seven members of its editorial team and of its three publishers, an online magazine is made. It is 13 years old, which probably puts it among the oldest edited websites in the German-speaking area still in operation that began as an exclusively online medium.

Shaking Up the Cultural Industries

Krystian Woznicki, founder of the features platform Berliner Gazette, its long-time editor-in-chief and now its co-publisher, recalls how the Gazette initially caused irritation when it was launched as an e-mail newsletter in Berlin, a city undergoing not only political, historical and social transformation, but also transformation in the media. Woznicki, who was born in Poland in 1972, came to the new German capital in the late nineties from hi-tech Tokyo, where he had been working for the German music magazine SPEX. While he did find a network culture in Berlin, with its community networks and mailing lists such as the Internationale Stadt, the PrenzlNet or The Thing ensuring the growth of an actively interconnected scene, there was no “purely” journalistic tabloid-style newsletter, as Woznicki called the early Berliner Gazette, which took an equal interest in both local and international themes.

Inspired by the discursive form of documenta X (1997) and Abfall für Alle (1998-99), a blog by writer Rainald Goetz, Woznicki launched a weekly German-language newsletter featuring commentaries, news coverage and notices of events. He wrote the first 52 issues himself and then opened up the Gazette to other writers. In a book entitled Vernetzt, published to mark the Gazette’s tenth anniversary, Woznicki describes his initial project as an “initiative that aimed to shake up the cultural industries using the publishing opportunities offered by the Internet.” It contains selected Gazette texts from the period, ranging from a commentary on the names of Berlin hairdressers to a philosophical text about water as the principle of life.

Between the freedom to publish and economic necessity

The unsettling effect on readers of the Berliner Gazette features platform, which was usually sent unsolicited at a time when there was relatively little e-mail correspondence and which is still available on subscription, was entirely intentional. It may have been this that guaranteed the survival in the publishing market of the newsletter that Woznicki dispatched personally every week for the first ten years of its existence. Another key factor here was the decision to go online in 2002 as a web magazine with what it claimed was Germany’s first edited blog. That enabled it to operate in the publishing market on its own established website. Today, the Gazette defines itself as a “networked newspaper”, and the newsletter is now simply lifted from the website. The website itself contains hundreds of edited features, videos and audio material from past years, mostly on subjects based on an annual motto. This year, the Year of Oikonomia, the theme is the economy.

One reason why this publishing model has worked for such a long time on a purely voluntary basis “without the financial backing of a publishing house” is that it is a pleasure to have the freedom to experiment. The Berliner Gazette is also a publication that attracts funding for other projects besides its editorial work. In turn, this ensures the magazine’s survival and also brings in new contents and writers.

The association

The founding of the Berliner Gazette registered association in 2005 was the first step towards its involvement in fundraising, enabling it to organise civic and cultural education workshops with the team as well as seminars, symposia and series of events. Ideally, such events also lead to the publication of a book, as in the case of McDeutsch, which was launched in 2006 and received funding from the Federal Cultural Foundation. At that time, cultural workers from more than 20 countries reflected online and at events on the German language as a “national identity implant” and on multilingualism as a phenomenon of globalisation. The Berliner Gazette was involved in the project at local level in many countries on different continents. Its latest project, organised once a week in Berlin in May and June 2012 with support from the Berlin Capital City Cultural Fund, is the BQV, the Büro für Qualifikation und Vermögen (Office for Qualification and Assets), which discussed how to ensure the livelihood of creative workers.

Woznick declines to confirm what appears to be the case: that the Gazette’s themes are increasingly targeted at a mainly younger audience. “We address everybody,” he underlines, pointing to its wide range of topics and to the fact that “reconstructing the offline world” commented on online is a subject of general interest.

In summer 2012, the Berliner Gazette was distinguished as “Selected Landmark 2012” in the contest “365 Landmarks in the Land of Ideas”.