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Oscar Schlenker

Dossier: Germany Multikulti – Rheinland CouchSurfing

Surfing the web into integration

ALL PHOTOS BY OSCAR SCHLENKER

CouchSurfing‘s unique multicultural community in Germany

Martin Lohnecke (left) guides “couchsurfers” on a hike through Rheinsteig, a trail on the eastern part of the Rhine. By Oscar Schlenker

November 2010

WHY SURF ANNE’S COUCH? Find

o u t w h at i n t e n t i o n s t h e s e f o u r t r av e l e r s h av e

Anne Bartens, 22, is spending the weekend with four men she has never met in person, and she’s their host! Some people may feel uneasy about meeting strangers after only trading a few emails, but then again, those people never join CouchSurfing.org. Anne recently moved to Bochum in western Germany to study international management. She thoroughly checks her guests’ profiles before accepting their “couch” requests. Negative references are indelible on CS profiles and positive ones are abundant. However, hosts never really know what to expect before the doorbell rings. All five are new to CS. This is Anne’s fifth time hosting since she joined in July. For some of her guests it’s their first time CouchSurfing. So, why would four new couchsurfers, with no relation to each other, want to visit the quaint city of Bochum? This is what they answered as Anne met them for the first time. Wansh Narang, 27, works for a plastic company in India and attended the international plastic fair in Düsseldorf. The city’s hotels were all filled because of the conference. “If it weren’t for Anne I would be sleeping under a bridge,” Says Wansh, “I’m very thankful.” Jean-Aymard Nzigou, 30, is doing his biomedicine PhD in Thuringia, central Germany. He is from Gabon and wants to travel around the region. This is his first time CouchSurfing. “I get to sleep on the couch,” he says proudly. Justin Kirkman, 28, is a web developer in the United States. This is his second time CouchSurfing. He is traveling Europe and landed in Bochum to compete in a strategy card game called Magic The Gathering or MTG. Being the first to arrive at Anne’s apartment, he gets to sleep on a spare bed. Felix Rückl, 20, is from Nuremberg, Bavaria. He travelled to Bochum to compete in the same MTG game as Justin. With sleeping bag in hand, Felix settles his things in an empty room. After learning about the MTG competition, Anne confirms another couchsurfer from Australia would arrive the next day for the same event. “It’s going to be a fun international weekend for me,” she laughs.

ticularly in Germany. Lundendorff Bridge in Remagen According to the webreveal a vivid scar left by World site, on any given week an averWar II. Martin gathers everyone is riding a wave of popularity. age of 30,000 so-called “couchand enlightens the group about For this social network surfing surfers” meet face-to-face after the historic site. couches is more important than connecting through the inter “I wasn’t expecting surfing the web. net. Many are travelers visiting to learn so much on this hike,” The website was foundtheir hosts; but says couchsurfer ed in 2003 but CouchSurfing, or many more realJeramy Flora from CS, began in 1999 as a cultural life introductions Canada, who has “I like to have a exchange project to connect take place in gathlived in Germany big group to show travelers with hosts willing to erings organized for 8 years but around and share their couch, or any other by the CS commurecently moved couchsurfers sleeping arrangement, for free. nity. to Bonn for work. always show up.” Although other sites offer similar “There She says, “Gerservices, CS has a growing netare so many ways man couchsurfers work of more than two million of using couchsurfing as a tool, are really proud of their country hospitable people worldwide. I see it as a platform to meet and want to show different perRemarkably, it also developed a new people” says Martin Lohspectives of the culture to dispel unique multicultural community necke from Hannover, who stereotypes people may have.” interested in traveling and conworks for an international NGO Germany has the secAnne “surfs” on (from left to right) Wansh, Felix, Justin and Jean. necting with other cultures, parin Bonn and is a member of sevond largest number of couchFor more on how they met go to http://mydw-imsprojects.blogspot.com eral hospitality exchange surfers on a list topped by, the projects. Like other social more populated, United States. networks on the web, the With a vibrant community of in the meetings to switch to are international,” says Andreas C O U C HSURFING CS community is divided more than 220 thousand users, German with me,” she says, “it “it’s a good number because we into groups categorized Germans are among the most helps that couchsurfers know want them to meet local people S TATISTICS by interests and places. active on the CS mission; which what it’s like to learn a new lanand integrate to the city.” B A S E D O N NUMBER OF Posts on different groups is focused on “creating a global guage and are patient when I A year ago Christina C O U C HSURFERS range from organizcommunity.” make mistakes.” After a year in Vega arrived from California to ing language tandems Cologne ranks 34 on Cologne Kallmann “integrated Cologne for an adventure. “The SOURCE: WWW.COUCHSURFING.ORG to yoga a worldwide list well thanks to CS,” meetings are an meetings. of the most acshe says, and has easy access to makS o m e tive CS cities. The decided to further ing friends,” she “I’ve made Number of CouchSurfers posts ask weekly Cologne her music studies explains “but I still friends in Germany for help Group meeting live in my Englishbut I still live in my in Germany. 2,322,771 + moving takes place every Johannes Pispeaking world.” English-speaking furniture Thursday night at etsch has been an W i t h world.” Top 3 CouchSurfing Countries CouchSurfing Logo or even a local bar. About active couchsurfer 74.2% anglophone finding new roommates. 50 people consistently attend since he moved to Cologne a users on CS, English is indeed the United States: 495,924 “Hey Guys!” Martin the often crowded multicultural year ago for work. “I come from official language spoken in most Germany: 222,710 posts on the website’s event. “These meetings are a a very small conservative BavarCS community events. However, France: 203,453 Bonn Group forum: good way to integrate people to ian town,” he says, “and being Tatiana Kallmann, an opera “Let’s go for a small goldthe city when they arrive,” says part of this community has had singer from Colombia, believes Top 3 CouchSurfing Cities en-fall hike, with lots of Andreas Ins, who began organa very positive effect on my life,” that learning the language has sunshine tomorrow. We izing the event last year. ”About As a software developer, Johanto do with self-discipline and Paris: 41,585 meet in the train station 25% of the people who attend nes is familiar with surfing the interest. “I simply ask people London: 35,213 at 12:50 and go up to the web but for him “surfing couchBerlin: 31,479 Rheinsteig.” es is more rewarding.” The next day 10 people Aside from integratTop Number of CouchSurfers by Region were gathered, eager to ing people to new surroundstart the hike. “This is ings, many couchsurfers believe Europe: 1,196,274 a mix of my friends and that being part of the CS project North America: 628,358 couchsurfers,” says Maractually integrates them and South America: 141,319 tin, “I post on the webtheir community to the rest of site every time I go on the world. In the past year “I’ve Most Spoken Languages a hike because I like to hosted over 20 travelers and I’ve have a big group to show gone to parties, picnics and hikes English: 1,721,720 around and couchsurfers to integrate couchsurfers to the French: 464,168 always show up.” city, most importantly,” adds Spanish: 406,983 After hours trekking Johannes, “because of CouchGerman: 381,718 up steep hills, the group Surfing I am more self-confident gasps at the breathtakabout interacting with peoThe Average Age in CouchSurfing is 28 ing view from above. ple who come from a different Waning rays of dusk shinCultural cocktails in Cologne’s weekly CS meeting background than my own.” ing on the ruins of the

C ouchS urfing.org

Couchsurfing in the Rhine area  

Couchsurfing is riding a wave of popularity in Germany. For this social network, surfing couches is more important than surfing the web.