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Berlin Launches Charm Offensive

People heading to Berlin are often warned to brace themselves for the locals' rather abrasive demeanor. But a new charm offensive launched by the Berlin Senate hopes to spread an aura of friendliness about the capital.

Smiley face button

Berlin wants to welcome visitors with a smile

Grumpy, sarcastic, and none too shy about piping up with a flippant comeback -- that's the attitude known as the Berlin "Schnauze" or "snout" to use its literal English translation.

The Berlin Senate is hoping to counteract its residents' innate churlishness by appointing 4,000 civil servants, including police officers, public transport workers, waiters and trade fair hostesses to be "good-mood ambassadors."

They'll receive red buttons singling them out as friendly sources of information for newcomers and visitors to the capital.

The goal is "to make the city a little more friendly," said Rene Gurka of Berlin Partner, the company behind the campaign, which kicked off this week in conjunction with the start of the annual ITB tourism trade fair.

"A few years ago, we did a study that showed that non-Germans considered Berlin a place full of grumpy people," senate spokesman Richard Meng told news agency AFP. "We need to show the world that this isn't true."

Confronting stereotypes

Berlin police officers

Berlin's police officers are being encouraged to lighten up a little

As part of the campaign, which is expected to cost 200,000 euros ($255,000), civil servants will also hand out postcards printed with prime examples of Berliners' unique brand of sarcasm -- and written in the local dialect, of course.

The phrases are meant to be a light-hearted poke in the ribs of the stereotypical Berliner, while also showing that it is possible to do service with a smile.

"These cards are fantastic, they show we don't always take ourselves too seriously and that we can laugh at ourselves, too," said Meng.

Berlin is visited by more than eight million tourists annually, and is expecting an increase in tourism this year as it celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It's not the first time officials have been after locals to put a shine on the city's image. When Germany hosted the soccer World Cup in 2006, Berlin taxi drivers were offered extra training in English and courteous service as part of a national friendliness campaign.

And a multi-million-euro campaign launched last year under the motto "Be Berlin" encouraged locals to project a more positive image to foreigners and tourists.

As yet, there are no statistics to attest to whether or not such campaigns bring about lasting, real change. But organizers such as Gurka say there's not really much changing to do: beneath their rough exterior, most Berliners already are "service-oriented, hospitable and cosmopolitan people."

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