"I figured, if we’re not going there anymore, let’s bring Berlin here.” Jeanine van den Hoek

“We would love to have about ten famous artists here and give them good walls throughout Apeldoorn to paint on.” Jeanine van den Hoek

Berlin is a magnet that attracts tourists and businesses from all over the world. But instead of coming to Berlin, the two Dutch entrepreneurs Jeanine van den Hoek and Dominique Vos decided to bring Berlin to their own hometown. In the Dutch city of Apeldoorn, quite close to the German border, they started an initiative called ‘Klein Berlijn’ – ’Small Berlin’ in English.

In December 2012 the two opened up the doors of Klein Berlijn: a coffee place, meeting space and shop all in one. You can buy second-hand clothes, take a look at some local art or play board games. And sometimes DJ’s throw parties here. Jeanine: “It has always been a big dream of mine to start something like this; a place where creative people can meet and have a coffee or lunch at the same time. I wanted it to be a place to bring people together.”

A smaller version
Jeanine and Dominque never lived in Berlin themselves – they were actually considering moving there about a year ago. Jeanine: “We have been in Berlin many times. At some point we really wanted some change and decided to permanently move to Berlin.” They were already searching for jobs and a place to stay, but just in time they discovered that an empty building was waiting for them in Apeldoorn.

“There used to be a music store in it and after that a mattress warehouse and a flower shop. Because of the crisis slowly a lot of buildings were left empty and we thought to ourselves: we need to do something with it – even if we can’t live in it.” Jeanine prepared two poster presentations to convince the real estate agent of her ideas and a week later ‘Klein Berlijn’ was born. “That’s how I came up with the name. I figured, if we’re not going there anymore, let’s bring Berlin here.”

Club Mate and stripped walls
Klein Berlijn is quite easily to be found. Not only are there colourful little flags hanging outside and typical Berlin drinks like ‘Club Mate’s’ and ‘Fritz Kola’s’ served at the counter; around the corner also a huge graffiti painting of a snake and a bird appears. It’s about 25 meters long. Jeanine: “The Belgian street artist Gijn Vanhee made it for our opening weekend. Nobody did anything with the piece of land in front of the wall, so we asked the city board if we could place a piece of art on it.”

The graffiti painting stands out from its grey surroundings and the image of the city. If you have ever visited Apeldoorn, you might understand why Jeanine at first had some doubts about opening up a place like this here: “I was told that people here can be quite closed and distant, but I always thought it was only like that back in the days.” She laughs: “Now I can see what they meant. People can react quite reserved. It’s not Amsterdam or Utrecht here.”

Nothing too fixed
Nevertheless, business is going well. Jeanine quit her old job as a ‘visual merchandiser’ and now dedicates all here time to Klein Berlijn. First it was only open during the weekends, but since October they’re also open on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

They have already collaborated with several (local) artists and projects. “What I loved about Berlin was that a lot of things aren’t polished or planned. Everything is quite ragged and improvised there. That was also our starting point; we didn’t really have a fixed plan about what it should be or look like. People just came up to us with ideas and initiatives – that is really fun.”

Too trendy
Now Jeanine and Dominique are trying to get more street artists to Apeldoorn. “We would love to have about ten famous artists here and give them good walls throughout Apeldoorn to paint on.” Some of them, like AweR, have already visited Klein Berlijn to do a painting and they always crash on Jeanine’s and Dominique’s couch. “We have so many funny and interesting stories about these guys. We would love to make a tour out of it and show people  the different works and tell them about the artists.”

But of course there is also a downside to a name like ‘Klein Berlijn’ Jeanine explains: “Sometimes I regret it a bit we gave it this name, because Berlin is such a trendy city right now. I just really like the atmosphere there, that creativity and mentality of making something out of nothing. That was also our approach. So when I looked around, I thought to myself, hey, this almost looks like a small Berlin right here!’”

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