Local German Banks Finance Cyber Marketplace

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MUENSTER, Germany -- A group of 20 local savings banks in North Rhine Westphalia has launched a clutch of local Web sites as a kind of virtual marketplace offering surfers local goods and services.

Enno Kamrath, who runs Marktplatz.de, said the banks wanted a virtual marketplace that provides outlets for local businesses in 20 towns between Muenster and Osnabrueck.

The project was launched in Osnabrueck 18 months ago and went live in the other towns in September. Shops and restaurants can advertise their wares online for modest fees -- 29 deutschmarks to 49 deutschmarks ($14 to $24).

Kamrath said demand for space was brisk because the Web offered a chance for regional exposure. One restaurant, Tennessee Mountain, advertises its genuine American food -- "more than just a hamburger."

He has a small editorial team that digs for local news across the region, and he uses material sent by customers. Schools, social clubs and associations also can participate.

Editors, he said, need to watch for any sexist or racist comment in the texts sent in. "With schools online, you can't afford to take any risks in that area," he said.

His company, financed by the local banks, is called Internet Marktplatz GmbH. Another local company, Axis AG, takes care of Web design and technical problems.

He also has a virtual "market lady" -- a cartoon figure designed to bring some fun into the cyber market, which has a reach of some 2 million people. Marktplatz looks to break even within two to three years.

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