Jannes Vahl | Changing things, for the better | Hamburg | hvv switch

Social Entrepreneur Jannes Vahl

reading time 4 min.

Freedom for me is the democracy we have in this country.

The ball gets dribbled along over the rough ground. Steps alternating in time with each bounce. Looking at the basket, the ball slips silently into the net. Jannes is happy with his shot. Just like he’s happy about a lot of things. About all the big and small ways he’s having an impact and facilitating change with his organisation “clubkinder”. That’s what Jannes is all about: changing things, for the better. For people and for our society at large.

hvv switch: What’s clubkinder all about?

Jannes: We’re a non-profit organisation with six different basic objectives. These include providing help for refugees, caring for the elderly, and protecting the environment. There are weekends when we plan lots of different activities from our office all at the same time, like plogging for the environment, collecting rubbish with a handcart in tow and having a good time in the process. Ideally, we partner up with others for this: with a ton of fun, some great entertainment, music and other nonsense thrown into the mix. We collect rubbish and cigarette butts lying around in parks, green spaces, on the streets and in public places. This is our way of drawing attention to how much unnecessarily ends up in nature every day. Anyone who enjoys drinking a schnapps on the way will need to remember to bring a shot glass or egg cup to hang around their neck. These are also brought along to the various lantern walks and outings we go on in aid of good causes – when Covid isn’t preventing gatherings from happening, that is.

A lot of our fundraising events take place regularly – and some of them we put on at short notice as and when necessary – like demonstrations against the far right with 10,000s of people on the streets, or getting involved in the Fashion Revolution Walk raising awareness for fair fashion. Before the pandemic broke out, we also hosted our own parties in “Unterm Strich”, our nightclub on the Reeperbahn. It’s always a good way to drum up support, as it’s our own club we’re operating where we get to collect donations. One time 14 artists from low-threshold districts like Mümmelmannsberg got up on stage and freestyled an entire hiphop night. They were all involved in the scene and came from the street. It was a great atmosphere, really diverse. We’re involved in a lot of things on the cultural scene, in restaurants and on stages. Around and about in St. Pauli or with performances at the Craft Beer Days. It’s a great way of reaching out to new people in our fundraising efforts. We also go to metal festivals, electro parties or streetball tournaments. It’s really a massive range of different events – and a lot of hard work: Overall, we now have 35 people here managing things.

hvv switch: How did it all start?

Jannes: clubkinder e.V. was founded to begin with out of a kind of protest movement, out of a sense of not being able to do anything about the way the system is. When you have managers telling you not to report on anything that’s too political and not to include too much charity stuff. That’s why I teamed up with my best mate Joko. We have different strengths and complement each other really well. He’s very analytical, strategic and a numbers kind of guy, on the management team and board of the charity. I’m more of a networker, motivator and ideas generator. Ideas that he then takes and improves. I like coming up with sparks of ideas like on a conveyor belt – for what needs to be changed in society. There’s no shortage of things me and my network think up.

I ran the city magazine PRINZ for 12 years. Later on it became a nationwide collective made up of 14 towns and cities across Germany, and I was responsible for Hamburg. I quit in the end as I just couldn’t get away from my desk. Nothing’s really changed actually on that front, haha! I didn’t have the time to go to the Pudel nightclub or Oberhafen, as all I was doing was producing content for some kind of cooperation or other. Joko had also worked in the media. We threw our network and our expertise together and founded the non-profit association in 2011. One that doesn’t just beg for loose change with people standing out in the rain with a collection box handing out flyers on recycled paper, to help some people or animals who are going through a hard time. Instead we wanted to go into major establishments in Hamburg like the Übel & Gefährlich club, the Kampnagel theatre and Bullerei restaurant, come together with high-profile people on a level playing field, and start raising funds that way.

It was very trial and error to begin with. Not that well organised and thought-through and tried and tested. And on the other hand, it kicked off right away with very good people who were good at writing, promoting and motivating people. The first event Joko and me put on was a clubkinder festival, which went from Thursday through to Sunday. We let the individual venues decide how they wanted to donate. But they had to donate. In the end, without much advertising, without Facebook etc., 82 locations took part and collected donations. They showed interest and dedication, telling every guest what was going on and where the proceeds were going. That was the kick-off moment for our approach to collecting donations. We’re very closely affiliated to Viva con Agua and, along with a few others, we want to breathe new life into the notion of volunteering, and make donating cool. With the help of celebrities, parties and guest lists. The festival took place on two other occasions. Over time we’ve refined everything. We focused more on engaging with volunteers when it came to music styles, different neighbourhoods and causes. We now have six teams. And we’ve discovered that we’re now even more involved in politics than some politicians. Before the politicians decide what taxes are going to be spent on, we, as a charitable organisation, are in a position to sway and divert some of them as direct aid to those in need. We have our own team to check where the donations go and verify that. Whether Tim Mälzer or Cosma Shiva Hagen win 10,000 euros on a TV quiz show and donate it some place, or we bust our asses off with 20 volunteers a day. The clubkinder have really become a nice lever for channelling funds to great socially minded projects.

hvv switch: Can you talk a little about a current project?

Jannes: In terms of climate protection, we were in the process of making Hamburg’s restaurants more plastic-free, before Covid came along. No more straws and plastic cups. We’re working in teams of three to get the word out to the catering sector and try to convince people to go without plastic. We distribute information material to people, all about how long it takes for a straw to decompose and what wildlife in our oceans is affected, etc. And then we give them alternatives such as grass, metal or even pasta and explain the advantages to them. Since 2020 we’ve been focusing on digital ideas though, like bringing volunteers together with senior citizens afflicted by loneliness to play games, or making efforts to ensure that young people get access to the equipment they need to access education.

hvv switch: What do you think it is that makes you so committed?

Jannes: I went through the experience of my parents divorcing as a child and my mum has always been very active in social causes – even though she had to bring up three kids on social security benefits herself. She has always been committed to minorities and still volunteers in a hospice. This has had an impact on me and after my A-Levels I started working in a home for individuals with disabilities. I then extended my civilian service by a voluntary social year with the Diakonie charitable organisation and then extended it again as a student assistant. Even working for the city magazine, in the face of resistance, I found myself being drawn more to subcultures and Gängeviertel than to the glitz and glamour of Bacardi parties. At some point I realized, as did Joko, that we have a talent for reaching people and motivating and inspiring them to come up with ideas, as well as leading them and keeping them motivated. clubkinder is a platform that we’ve given to the city where everyone can let off steam for a good cause and make the world a better place with their ideas. We provide the network and volunteers, and everything else needed to make this happen.

Freedom, first and foremost, is still being able to do whatever we want in Germany, as long as it doesn’t break any laws.

hvv switch: Do you have the feeling that the level of popularity and support has changed in recent years and that young people in particular want to make a difference?

Jannes: Hamburg is a special and great place in any case, but there is also a politicisation of young people and more advocacy for getting involved. Not just politically, taking to the streets to protest for the climate cause or in the fight against Nazis, but also to become a proactive member of society. A large part of our work is to steer this commitment in the right direction. In other words, to use the respective strengths of the volunteers and assign the right corresponding tasks to them. In other words, not to give 100 people a chair and tell them to balance them on top of one another. Instead to recognise and make use of the individual talents of the graphic designer, the craftsman, the networker, the musician, etc.

We want to reach as many people of all ages as possible who are looking to make Hamburg an even more liveable city and are keen to make a difference. Young people in particular want to make a difference. You can see this at every demonstration in solidarity with Lampedusa or at Fridays for Future, or every fortnight in the Millerntor Stadium. They want to show all the time that the way they conduct themselves, their shopping list and their consumer behaviour, etc. makes a difference. This movement is growing. There are many 25-year-olds launching social start-ups with great ideas, and our organisation is helping them too. This is all very exciting. Our parents have left us a world of turbo-capitalism, without any respect for anything, and we have to put things right again. In terms of the planet, the human race, and all the earth’s inhabitants. And there needs to be much more initiatives and start-ups and private individuals who want to make a difference. Even enormous movements like #blacklivesmatter and #metoo can be traced back to one person – provoked by terrible events, but then again there is never anything nice about climate change, sexual abuse and global inequality. We all have to get involved!

hvv switch: What’s your personal idea of freedom?

Jannes: I’m free in almost every respect and am able to grow and live out ideas. That said, I’m a white man living in Hamburg, Germany. For me, freedom is the democracy we have in this country. Something that’s under threat in many countries across the globe. We must move now to ensure that this freedom is upheld in every respect. Everyone needs to mobilise for this at all times. Democracy involves a lot of work. A great many people in Hamburg are already doing this, and have their own ideas. That too is a form of freedom. That you can choose what you want to do and how you do it. For example, the right to a particular sexuality. Something that’s punishable by death in other countries.

hvv switch: What meaning does Hamburg hold for you?

Jannes: I was born in the town of Oldenburg, but moved to Hamburg the day after I finished school. We won the German basketball championship in Oldenburg. It’s nice and quiet, and everyone’s into cycling – there are a lot of bicycles – but there was nothing really for me to do there. I always wanted to write and so I moved to Hamburg, which is a centre for journalism. I like the clear structure and manageable size of the city, but it’s still big and the gateway to the world. Many people come here, we’re very cosmopolitan and Hamburg is quite simply a beautiful city. You know who you can rely on and don’t have to check out a new neighbourhood every week. There are tons of great people, including lots of folk who have moved here from elsewhere, bringing new vibes and ideas, new art projects and a new, cool input to the city. This is very much in line with my way of thinking. I think I’d be likely to crack in even more dynamic cities like New York or Berlin as I wouldn’t be able to limit my work there, as it’s just so infinite.

Hamburg is the most beautiful big small city I can imagine. Lots of water and lots of greenery. There’s lots of money in the city too, with the potential to bring about change. A lot is done here in aid of culture, integration, education, new technologies. It’s exciting across the board.

hvv switch: Where do you travel around to in Hamburg?

Jannes: I live between Barmbek and Winterhude, between the municipal park and the Alster lake – and have never once moved since I arrived in the city. I use the U3 tube line and ride my racing bike. I’ve never had a car here before. For the city magazine I spent ten years travelling very intensively around Hamburg. Now we visit refugee homes, charitable organisations and clients all over the city. So I know almost every part of it. My favourite place, with all my appointments and all my work, is my apartment. I often go to the basketball court around the corner and I like my local falafel shop. I feel an affinity with the Reeperbahn, we had our first clubkinder office on the Hans-Albers-Platz. That was a challenge, as you could hear Helene Fischer playing out 18 hours a day and from 5 o’clock onwards you couldn’t get any more work done because of the drunken tourists. We also have our club there. The Spielbudenplatz is also very important for us. We’ve done a lot of events there, organized lots of concerts with different artists. And of course this has also meant we’ve come into contact with the red light district, the Davidwache police station, and the Hells Angels. That’s just all part of it.

Note: The portrait about Jannes was made before Corona entstanden. Due to that some of the scenes are not conform with the Corona regulations.

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