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Germany

Germany's Latest Craze: "eBorrow"

Need a grill for a weekend cookout, a bike rack for a vacation or just a little renewed faith in human nature? Germans have started an online borrowing exchange and have been startled by the results.

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Anyone need boxing gloves?

"Die Borger" (German for lenders or borrowers) was inspired by the runaway success of global Internet auctions empire eBay, but instead of allowing users to buy and sell products and services, it helps offer them for free.

Andreas Kahnert, 41, and Thomas Pfützner, 38, were university friends and later colleagues in the IT industry when they came up with the idea.

"We had set up a DVD trading service for our sports club and then over Christmas we asked ourselves why we couldn't extend the idea to all kinds of products for all kinds of people," Kahnert told AFP in an interview at the CeBIT tech fair Hanover.

Bobsleds, saws, flippers

In the year since the Web site went online, what began as a lark has become something of a phenomenon with sites in Austria and Switzerland and more than 4,000 users who have registered nearly 9,000 objects.

STIHL Motorsäge

Borrowed on Die Borger?

"Borger" are now trading a seemingly endless list of items for limited periods of time including bobsleds, fondue pots, camcorders, electric saws, scuba flippers, digital cameras, gardening tools and Lord of the Rings DVD box sets.

The system allows those seeking an item to search for it based on postal codes and get a proximity ranking. Those in urban areas rarely have far to look.

Give and take

Based on the principle of give-and-take, the site requires users to sign up at least three items they are willing to lend before they can begin borrowing.

"We were surprised ourselves how well things have gone," Pfützner said, insisting that the site had yet to hear a horror story from a customer. "There may be trouble down the road when we get bigger but for now things are running smoothly."

Although both the entrepreneurs describe themselves as optimists, they have built in three security guarantees to help inspire customer confidence.

Ratings system

Eine Hand liegt am 04.12.2002 auf einem Computerbildschirm mit der Plattform des Internet-Auktionshauses ebay im brandenburgischen Dreilinden

Grabbing eBay's success

Like eBay, lenders, borrowers and the objects are evaluated on a user ratings system so cheats and fussbudgets quickly earn a bad reputation that is publicized on the site.

Die Borger also provides a draft contract that both parties sign outlining their legal obligations. And borrowers leave a deposit based on the lenders' estimate of the new value of their property.

The site charges a nominal fee for borrowing, half of which goes to the lender. But those who lend often win enough "credit" on the site to borrow for free.

Plans to expand

Kahnert and Pfützner, who are both active "Borger," said that people who had initially just been hunting for a bargain have been surprised to have found a growing community.

Hochzeit

Will the first Borger users soon tie the knot?

"You meet lots of people who share the same interests and are on the same wavelength, sometimes even soul mates," Kahnert said.

Kahnert, who had just lost his job when he started the company, said he and Pfützner would like to expand throughout Europe and into the United States and are looking for potential partners.

Money matters after all

But Kahnert said they had learned from experience when the Internet bubble burst in 2000 that no online start-up can survive on just a clever idea.

Weihnachtsmann beim Einkaufsbummel im Internet

Santa Claus probably won't become a customer

Pfützner said that if users begin to clock up an average of €5 ($6.70) per year in mediator fees on the site, it would put the company in the black.

"There are 36 million Internet users in Germany, around six million in Austria and about eight million in Switzerland," Kahnert said."If we get even a fraction of that number, we'll be doing well."

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