Klaus-Heidi. That’s the name the German airline company dared Swedes to change their moniker to this October in exchange for an all-expenses-paid trip to Berlin. Little did they know so many people would actually do it.

The competition, open to any of-age Swede “regardless of sex,” hence the fusion-name of “two very German names,” according to the Lufthansa website. An enticing video, playing electronic music in the background, promises a brand new life in the capital of Germany, complete with a new bike, a German language course, a modern two-room apartment next door to a shirtless man named Dieter, among other things, “courtesy of Lufthansa.” Abruptly, the music stops and suddenly we have the caveat: You have to legally change your first name.

But who would actually want a new life so badly that they would change their name at the drop of a hat (or a Berlin apartment, in this case)? Apparently, lots of people. In fact, the airline company had to close the competition early because it had too many applicants. As The Atlantic points out, Lufthansa’s wacky idea has resulted in the world’s first population of Klaus-Heidis, all of which reside in Sweden. That is, all except the lucky man or woman who wins a brand new existence in Berlin.

Stay tuned for the announcement of the winner Saturday, but don’t feel too bad for the rest of the Klaus-Heidis on earth. They’ll receive silver memberships to Lufthansa’s frequent flyer program, 60,000 free miles, and some German beer and currywurst to drown their sorrows.

Uri Friedman at The Atlantic discusses the eccentric plan with Lufthansa’s marketing specialist, Magnus Engvall:

How did Lufthansa possibly conceive of this campaign? Engvall tells me that the idea (which at first also required participants to change their surname to Dorfmesser) was first presented to the company by the ad agency DDB, which pitched the concept with the [a] storyboard…

Engvall liked the idea because it was “simple and it’s a bit absurd but in a positive way.” And Lufthansa adopted it against the backdrop of an increasingly fierce price war among five airlines over the Stockholm-Berlin route, in an effort, Engvall says, to “talk about the dream of Berlin rather than the cheap Berlin”—to inspire people rather than inspire bargain-hunting. And it’s a smart choice; the city has been attracting unemployed skilled workers from southern and eastern Europe for years now.

“What [the Klaus-Heidis] have in common is that they have an urge, or a dream, to make a change in their life,” he says. “That is what Berlin is about. It’s a very free city in many ways…. It’s a little like what America was … people go to Berlin to live out their largest dreams, or to start off again.”

“Whoever did it, it was totally their own choice,” he says. “We’re not forcing anyone, we’re just showing an attractive prize.”

I…asked Engvall, who is based in Stockholm, how he explained the unexpected rush of interest in the competition—what did it say, more broadly, about Swedes? “It shows openness to do something new and to discover other cultures,” he says.

But the response may also have to do with a quirk of Swedish society. As The New York Times noted in 2011, Swedes are changing their names in ever-increasing numbers and highly inventive ways—both out of a desire to shed traditional Swedish surnames ending in “son” and as a result of a 1982 law that allowed almost anyone to change names for pretty much any reason. The Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported in 2010 that “no other people in the world changes their name as often as Swedes.” Sweden, in other words, may be one of the only places on the planet where 42 Klaus-Heidis could sprout up in less than a month.

Take a peek at Klaus-Heidi’s potential life in this enticing promotional video that answers Shakespeare’s age old question, “What’s in a name?”:

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi


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