On 11 March 2008, the Governing Mayor of Berlin presented the brand new city marketing campaign for Berlin. Entitled “Be Berlin”, it was intended to publicize the many facets of the capital both nationally and internationally in order to attract more companies and visitors to the city.
The driving force of the campaign were three interchanging one-liners, set in the custom designed font “Change”. Its name says it all: Berlin is changing, and the world should know about it. For 12 years, Change served as the city’s brand typeface. Now Change is finally allowed to unfold its potential – optimized and expanded – for the benefit of all brands and projects that are in need of renewal or quite simply a change.
At the start of the image campaign, the Senate invested eleven million euros to establish the motto “Be Berlin” and to improve citizens’ identification with their city. From 2009 onwards, “Be Berlin” was drummed up throughout Germany and then in 50 different countries.
As is usual with large-scale marketing campaigns in Germany, this particular initiative was also accompanied by some grumbling and at times a rather negative reaction. The market research institute Forsa suggested that the motto was not accepted by Berliners because they did not understand it. The Governing Mayor Klaus Wowereit was also awarded the “Language Prankster of the Year” for the campaign. Agencies filed complaints, ranging from accusations of plagiarism to charges of nepotism. The German Taxpayers Federation also named the campaign as a “waste of taxpayers’ money” in its “Black Book 2008”.
Yet, “Be Berlin” remained the official slogan of the capital up until 2020. The follow-up campaign “Wir sind ein Berlin” (We are one Berlin) has not caught on in the city, even after two years, which demonstrates that a lot went right with “Be Berlin”. It comes as no surprise, as the original initiative was spearheaded by a number of top agencies including Embassy, Fuenfwerken, WE DO communication and a number of others. It was also supported by committed local institutions such as Berlin Partner, Goethe Institute and Berlin Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and was co-financed by many well-known and well-established companies such as Bayer, Pfizer, BMW, Siemens, to name a few.
But the figures speak even more clearly for the success of the campaign. From 2008 to 2019, the number of overnight stays in Berlin rose from 17.8 to 34.1 million (+ 92 percent, almost a doubling). The number of taxable businesses rose from 133 thousand to 168 thousand (+ 28 percent) in the same period. The city’s gross domestic product rose from 99 billion euros to 157 billion (+ 59 percent). And the city’s population grew from 3.43 million to 3.67 million (+ 7 percent) within the twelve years of the launch of the campaign.
Today, Berlin is perceived, both nationally and internationally, as an attractive business location. The city’s image attracts talent, entrepreneurs and investors from across the world. In 2019, the capital’s startups received 3.69 billion euros in 262 financing rounds. This meant that Berlin was once again able to defend its title as Germany’s startup capital, as three out of five euros invested in startups ended up here.
A defining factor in the Be Berlin campaign that contributed to its success, was that the focus was not on the city of Berlin, but on its people and their diverse lifestyles. For this, Embassy developed the speech bubble as a visual frame, with three one-liners in the center. During the launch phase, celebrities such as the star chef Tim Raue and the pupils from the Rütli School wrote the texts for the speech bubbles; later, Berliners contributed their own ideas.
The Berlin campaign got its unmistakable profile from a specially developed typeface. For the design, Fuenfwerken engaged the experienced type designer Alessio Leonardi. His first drafts already contained the unmistakable characteristics of the later extended family: the strong horizontal emphasis, curved diagonals in selected letters, broken stems in the italics as well as the contrasting interplay of angular and round elements.
is how Alessio Leonardi describes the temperament of his typeface.
The name for the Berlin typeface came about almost automatically. “Change” refers both to the transformation of a vital big city and to the visual characteristics of the typeface. Alessio Leonardi: “The letters are not static, yet they produce a calm text image. Change is unconventional and has many peculiar details, but looks immediately familiar. It is not perfect, just as a living city is never perfect. Change is open to the new, it embodies change and is itself part of change.”
The original draft, Change Letter, with which the Berlin campaign was launched, has a special significance. With its contrasting interplay of hardness and subtlety, it lends emphasis to texts and headlines. The conically shaped strokes and angled diagonals in the letters A, M, V, W, v and w make it unmistakable. The typewriter look, enriched with slab serifs, carries the three-line core messages of the campaign and becomes a set piece for all Berliners. With three fixed letter widths, it is located between monospaced and proportional typefaces and makes the texts it is set in appear strong and self-confident.
The desire of the Governing Mayor of Berlin to expand the use of Change across all of the city’s general communication, led to the development of Change Sans a year later. Change Sans became the second typeface in the family with a somewhat more neutral appearance, but with the same features as Letter: Regular, Bold, Italic and Bold Italic. In 2010, it was expanded with lighter and bolder weights. As its designer says: “Change Sans was developed for longer texts, with proportional widths, the basic cut slightly lighter and narrower. This gives texts a pleasant gray value for better reading and increases the contrast between Regular and Bold. The italics are also high-contrast. Some vertical bars are curved. The 11° slant makes them fast and rhythmic.”
Another unusual feature of Change is that the tracking is reduced as the stroke width increases. This means that a bold cut like ExtraBlack takes up less space than a thin cut like Hairline. At the same time, a more harmonious white space of the counters and the spacing is achieved.
As a Berlin-based foundry, we wanted to work with Alessio Leonardi to comprehensively revise and expand this special artifact of regional type culture and to finally make it available to designers worldwide. In the rather rigid official design environment, the potential of Change has never been truly reached. Now it can show the world what it can do.
The focus of our optimization was initially on the Change (Sans) family, for which we expanded the number of weights from five to eleven (insert Spinal Tap joke here), coordinated them better and pushed the limits of the shapes with new extremes in favor of greater flexibility: Hairline, Thin, ExtraLight, Light, Regular, Medium, SemiBold, Bold, ExtraBold, Black and ExtraBlack. In order to control the letters precisely, we rebuilt the entire family on the basis of three masters with modern tools and taking into account increased demands. With the Variable Fonts, which are now available for the first time, all nuances of additional stroke widths between the extremes of Hairline and ExtraBlack can be set.
As part of its rebirth, the character set of Change has also been enlarged. This also applies to the glyphs for non-Latin languages, which were checked and tested by Amélie Bonet (Cyrillic and Greek) and Donny Truong (Vietnamese). Finally, small caps across all weights extend the typographic variety. We plan to give Change Letter the same treatment at a later date, enriching the family with a completely new monospace variant as well as pictogram fonts. The latter are already in use sporadically on our website fontwerk.com.
We are exceptionally excited to see how this Berlin plant will bloom in other parts of the world.