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Ina Remmers: The networker next door

© Maximilian Gödecke

22 October 2020

Neighbours: almost everyone has them, but not everyone knows them. Especially in cities, having neighbours who talk to one another is often the exception rather than the rule. Ina Remmers wants to change all that. In 2015, she teamed up with Christian Vollmann and other colleagues to launch the portal nebenan.de, via which neighbours can get to know each other, network and support one another.

Name:
Ina Remmers

Age:
37

Occupation:
Founder and CEO of nebenan.de.

Website:
nebenan.de

What is nebenan.de?
nebenan.de is Germany's largest neighbourhood platform, with 1.6 million users.

How did the idea come about?
My co-founder Christian Vollmann grew up in the Bavarian village of Dormitz. In his adopted hometown of Berlin, he found he sometimes missed that feeling of village community. Stopping for a chat at the baker’s, or spontaneously offering to help out in the garden? Rare occurrences in the anonymity of big city life. When he came to move within Berlin, it dawned on him that he didn’t know any of his neighbours personally. He wanted to change that – so, the idea of nebenan.de was born. Christian started an experiment of his own: he went from door to door in his street in Berlin’s Scheunenviertel, ringing doorbells and introducing himself. Most of the people he met were really keen to get to know their neighbours better.

The world needs nebenan.de because ...
... today, more than ever, we need cohesion in our society. Greater willingness to help, more community spirit and more local cohesion have become a reality in many places thanks to nebenan.de.

How has nebenan.de developed since its foundation in 2015?
Amazingly well! Since the launch, 1.6 million neighbours in more than 8000 neighbourhoods have set up networks throughout Germany. On our fifth anniversary this year, we published our first impact report. The analysis shows that the platform helps strengthen local communities, enhances feelings of trust, belonging and well-being, and counteracts isolation and loneliness. As a social enterprise, we want to make a real contribution to society. It makes us proud to see that our concept is working and that we’re bringing about a positive change in society with nebenan.de.

How can neighbours connect via the portal?
In individual neighbourhoods, nebenan.de acts rather like a digital black board, where you can share or swap things, offer help, give stuff away or lend it, or make a date – all this you can do free of charge via nebenan.de.  On nebenan.de, verified neighbours connect – and by that I mean people who actually live locally. Users can only communicate with people who live in their immediate vicinity.

Do you really reach all age groups with this kind of online portal – or just the digital natives of the neighbourhood who’re in their mid-forties or younger?
As a matter of fact, almost all age groups are represented on nebenan.de. Here’s a shining example: Sabine from Berlin. At the age of 80, she’s active on nebenan.de and uses it to connect online with her neighbours. She regularly meets up with them to play boules or go to the movies. It was via nebenan.de that she got to know Jutta, who’s now her best friend.

What is nebenan.de used for most?
It varies a lot. Neighbours might regularly arrange to meet for a drink in the evening or for exercise via nebenan.de, for example, or they may help each other with childcare or pet sitting, swap, share and give away things via the nebenan.de market place or find out what’s been going on in the district. Local traders use the business profile on nebenan.de, for instance, to contact customers in their immediate vicinity. Towns, cities and local authorities also use the platform to get in touch with their residents.

What role did the neighbourhoods play on nebenan.de during the first wave of coronavirus?
A really important one! Neighbourhood help was one of the dominant threads on nebenan.de even before the coronavirus pandemic erupted and continues to be so. With the onset of the coronavirus crisis, nebenan.de played host to a wave of solidarity and helpfulness among neighbours. The number of offers of help was ten times higher than usual in March and twice as high in April. At the beginning of the crisis, the main focus was on practical issues like shopping for people. A few neighbours then swapped ideas about how to keep people cheerful in isolation and came up with creative ways of bringing people together, from balcony concerts to backyard karaoke.

What's next for nebenan.de?
We want to continue to grow, of course, especially in rural areas. In cities, networking is already in full swing. Anonymity is on the wane; neighbours are getting in touch with each other and offering mutual support in daily life. There’s still a lot of potential in rural areas.

Which digital product can you do without?
There are loads. I try to be selective in my use of digital products. Meaning that I only use them if they offer me real added value.

Would you like a household robot?
Yes. Only if it would actually serve me, however, rather than helping the manufacturer by diligently passing on every last bit of information about my life.

Which technical application will always remain a mystery for you?
To be honest, I get very confused to this day by anything that talks to me. Whether it's Siri or Alexa.

When were you last offline for 24 hours?
At the birth of my daughter :)

A holiday without Wi-Fi - is that a dream or a nightmare?
A dream!

In the #Profile series presents exciting and inspiring people from the digital scene. In the spotlight this time: Ina Remmers, co-founder of nebenan.de.