James Fancourt profiles Berlin’s most community conscious beer brand…
When the World Cup started this summer, I set off with some pals in Neukölln to find a place to watch the opening game (Brazil vs. Croatia). One of my friends went to the bar and returned with some beer bottles that looked different to the usual Berliner Kindls.
It had an interesting name – Quartiermeister – and upon closer inspection, I discovered it was a not-for-profit beer, whose proceeds were channelled into local community projects in Berlin.
“This is amazing!” I exclaimed. “You can get drunk and donate to charity at the same time”. My friends, already engrossed in the game, pretty much ignored me. But ever since that day I have bought Quartiermeister wherever it’s available, and always try to persuade my friends to do the same.
The project was started by Sebastian Jacob in 2010. Impressively, the beer is now available in 34 Berlin bars and counting, and is becoming easier and easier to find on a night out. In 2012 it also expanded to its second city, Munich, where it can be found in 22 bars and cafes.
The allure of such a charitable project in a debt-ridden city like Berlin is obvious. With many impoverished and vulnerable people, any extra money the independent social projects and charities can get to help alleviate problems can only be a good thing.
To find out more, I caught up with Peter Eckert, one of the Berlin directors…
Could you tell us how the idea came about to develop a socially-conscious beer?
The main idea is that it’s a social business, selling a product and doing good with the profits from it. The thing about beer is, that it’s an emotional product – people talk about it. And, it’s social as well, because you drink it with friends in your free time.
What have been the biggest obstacles you’ve faced when getting this project off the ground?
The first obstacle was to find a good partner brewery with a good beer, that wanted to work with us and was open to the idea of Quartiermeister. It was especially hard at first, as we had to convince someone even though we didn’t have anyone buying or selling that product.
The second obstacle is to find places that will sell it, but if you have a good product and tell people the story behind the beer, it’s just about going the circuit. So you just need to put in some effort to show people that it doesn’t cost them more money or effort and by selling Quartiermeister, they can contribute to the support of social and cultural projects in their city and neighbourhood.
The third obstacle is that we try to spend none or as little as possible on marketing, because all our spendings reduce the social benefit. So, it takes some time until people get to know Quartiermeister.
Quartiermeister is brewed by an independent, family-owned brewery. How important is this to you, and what do you think about such large corporations such as the Radeberger Group/Dr Oetker owning so many of the beers available in Germany?
We try to support private-owned breweries, which are based in the region. This is very important to us because in the last two decades, plenty of small breweries became insolvent or were bought up. We try to support regional creation of value and want to keep the transport routes as short as possible. By doing this, we are trying to support taste diversity which is endangered by the large beer conglomerates.
How much money has been donated to social projects since Quartiermeister was founded in 2010?
In Berlin Quartiermeister has donated more than 30,000 Euros, this year we are donating 12,000 Euro to 12 projects. In Munich, Quartiermeister has donated about 10,000 Euros already.
How do you decide which initiatives should receive funding from Quartiermeister?
Any project can apply for funding, which is pretty easy and quick. You just need to fill out an application form of two pages and send it to us via email. After that all applications are brought to our volunteer-carried assembly Quartiermeister e.V. Our members then get in touch with the projects and after that there is an assembly meeting, in which five projects are chosen based on the funding guidelines.
Those five projects are presented on our homepage for three weeks and anyone who knows us can vote for which projects should be supported. Ultimately the final decision is made by the consumers, who decide where the money will be spent. Right now the three winning projects get 1,000 Euros each.
Quartiermeister is now available in Berlin and Munich. Do you have plans to continue to expand to other cities in the future?
Yes, we do. Munich started in 2012, last year an assembly established Quartiermeister Brandenburg in Ebwerswalde, and this year we started Leipzig. The next city we want to expand to will be Dresden. The principle is always: Each bottle sold contributes to the funding in that particular city.
With huge, corporate-style charities such as Oxfam paying out huge salaries to their top staff, many people feel distrustful of anything labelled not-for-profit these days. However if you ever feel skeptical, you can head over to their website to see transparent reports on all expenditures.
Not only that but it’s participative, allowing anyone to vote on which projects should receive funding from Quartiermeister. The tagline “bier für den kiez” isn’t hyperbole. From start to finish it can be seen as truly local, participative, transparent and beneficial.
To see the benefits in action, I visited Mehrgenerationenhaus Wassertor (MGH), a local organisation that helps those from disadvantaged backgrounds in the area of Wassertorplatz, Kreuzberg.
A stone’s throw from the more gentrified areas of Kreuzberg such as Paul-Linke-Ufer, this area is one of the poorest in Berlin (number 432 out of 434 according to the Senate), where 80% of people younger than 18 live below the child poverty line.
The work carried out at MGH covers a broad range of support services, such as an escort service for the elderly, counselling services and a lunch service for children twice a week. It’s this lunch service which received €1000 from Quartiermeister in order to pay for food for children from poorer backgrounds.
As Quartiermeister becomes more and more common in Berlin and expands to other cities in Germany, one can only hope it continues to enjoy the same success going forward.
So the next time you’re in a bar and see Quartiermeister on the menu, consider drinking that instead of one of the many beers owned by the mammoth Dr Oetker. You’ll still feel hungover the next day, but at least you can feel a little better about it.