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Swedes swarmed a Lufthansa contest offering a fully funded brand-new life in Berlin, even changing their names to qualify

E.L. Hamilton

Would you legally change your name to win a whole new life in Berlin? For a free flight to Germany, a free apartment, and a free bike to get around town? And no, this isn’t the Witness Protection Program.

The catch? Your new name: Klaus-Heidi.

Klaus-Heidi is a combination of popular German male and female first names. The American equivalent might be something like Jack-Emma. While the dual-sex name may sound startlingly unusual to ears in some places, it probably wouldn’t raise eyebrows in Berlin, a city that has historically been comfortable with creative artists and gender ambiguity.

The bizarre and inspired Klaus-Heidi campaign was thought up by the advertising agency DDB Stockholm in 2013 to promote the Lufthansa airline in Sweden. The staff at DDB expected a handful of Swedes to go through with the stunt. In fact, 42 people, age 19 to 69, actually went through the process of legally changing their names for a chance at the grand prize, and the company was so overwhelmed with the response that it had to shut down the contest a month early. Nearly 70 percent of the contestants were men.

“They have an urge, or a dream, to make a change in their life,” the Lufthansa marketing specialist Magnus Engvall told the Atlantic, “That is what Berlin is about. It’s a very free city in many ways. People go to Berlin to live out their largest dreams, or to start off again.”

A video for the contest highlighted what the brave new Klaus-Heidi would win: a swank modernist fourth-floor apartment with gleaming furniture, a king-size bed, and a balcony overlooking a quiet side street. Also included: A bright, shiny white bike—emblazoned with the name Klaus-Heidi—to explore the new neighborhood and to ride to the nearby nightclubs, coffee shops, and parks. More perks of the prize were German lessons, nights out on the town, and last but not least, a suggestively handsome, shirtless next-door neighbor named Dieter.

Berlin, the capital of Germany and the country’s largest city, famously welcomes the creative and cultural elite. Artists, musicians, and film, TV, and theater actors call it home. The car-free Museum Island has five of the country’s oldest and most important museums. Nearly 8,000 artists are registered with the city’s social insurance plan. Berlin has a hopping and eclectic nightlife and a long history of gay culture. The perfect place for a person called Klaus-Heidi.

One winner was chosen and the other 41 entrants got a runner-up prize of 60,000 free airline miles. The countless others who temporarily changed their names on social media got a discounted airfare.

However, name-changing isn’t always a successful marketing ploy. When the tennis star Maria Sharapova was rumored in 2013 to have plans to change her name to Sugarpova to promote a line of candy, she was hugely criticized. She ultimately backed away from the plan, but not without getting attention first.

While it seems purely fanciful, the Klaus-Heidi stunt tapped into a legitimate Swedish trend: that of the legal name change. It is not hard to change your name in Sweden, and more people are making the switch. The number of Swedes changing their names has increased every year since a 1982 law made the process easy and accessible to all. In 2015, close to 10,000 people had applied to change their names, and it recently got easier: a new law in effect in July 2017 allows individuals to change their names an unlimited amount of times (the previous limit was 11). It also allows for two last names linked by a hyphen. There are restrictions though: you may not change your name to that of a celebrity, a company, or nobility, but, as we see here, there are no restrictions on marketing gimmicks.

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Presumably, all the losing Klaus-Heidis could easily change their names back to Lars or Elsa, and resume their previous lives, with the bonus of 60,000 free airline miles.