From online blog to full-time job: documenting local businesses and independent culture with Mary Scherpe - Friends of Friends / Freunde von Freunden (FvF)

From online blog to full-time job: documenting local businesses and independent culture with Mary Scherpe

In Partnership with Squarespace

The founder of Stil in Berlin, a trusted resource for culture, travel, and local food, reveals how she turned her passion into a full-time job.

In March of 2006, Mary Scherpe co-founded the blog Stil in Berlin. She began by photographing and writing about local street style and in the process loved engaging with strangers and discovering her new city. An art-history student at that time, Mary grew more and more interested in writing about local culture for a global audience and for those who operated outside of the academic world. Now, over fifteen years later, her site has morphed, expanded, and evolved into a full-time job. Despite shifts in content, and thanks to Mary’s consistent publishing practice, Stil in Berlin remains an internationally recognized and beloved resource. From Mary’s home in Berlin, sitting next to her color-coded bookshelf and impressively healthy indoor plants, she reflects on how the seed of an idea, supported by her online presence, grew to become a career.

This feature is part of  “Three Creative Paths,” an editorial series produced in collaboration with Squarespace, the all-in-one website and commerce building platform. In dialogue with a diverse group of creative entrepreneurs, the series dives into three unique experiences and explores the importance of a strong online presence for turning a passion project into a successful career.

Mary Scherpe photographed in her Kreuzberg apartment.
Mary working on her blog, Stil in Berlin, from the comfort of her apartment.
Using the Unfold from Squarespace App to create social content with templates for her blog.

“For me, the website is a super important thing. It’s sturdy, there’s no algorithm for what you see. It’s become a homebase.”

The ease of using Squarespace helped Mary to grow her business.

During her early years, in a pre-Instagram era, Mary steadily built an impressive following by publishing street style features alongside home stories, highlighting inspiring people within her ever-expanding community. With her success, she further developed the site to include travel guides based on local recommendations for restaurants, and eventually launched a series of guides–collections of her best reviews and recommendations, purchasable on the Stil in Berlin site. The affordable, downloadable PDFs include over thirty pages of carefully curated recommendations, places she selects because, as she describes, she would “confidently send her friends”. With over fifteen years of experience writing, researching, and exploring Berlin, the guides are more than just lists of where to visit—they feel more like an intimate invitation to join her on a tour through the sprawling metropolis. When thinking through Mary’s journey today, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact projects that fueled her ability to keep on publishing and developing her website. A central theme that remains core to Mary, however, is her support for independent businesses and her investment in the individuals and communities that make cities unique.

“We always insisted that it was not a business or networking club but more about experimenting with how to educate each other and brainstorm ways to promote equality in the food scene.”

With a following that continues to grow, it makes sense that Mary is always thinking about ways to connect to her community of followers, readers, and supporters. After reading Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett, she was inspired to start a club that offered a space and time for dialogue, interviews, and workshops around discrimination in gastronomy. In 2017, building on her experience in the local food scene and involvement in “fighting sexism, racism, and classism”, she founded The Feminist Food Club (The FFC) with Ruth Bartlett in Berlin. Mary and Ruth shared the vision to combine feminism with food, and organized “an action-driven group that provides a safe space for trans and cis women as well as non-binary people of the food world.” The group has gained popularity and meets once a month to educate, challenge, and support one another. Pre-pandemic, the club met every month consistently for three years and ranged in format to include workshops, presentations, interviews, and guests. Their goal was to “keep it very local and community-focused. We always insisted that it was not a business or networking club but more about experimenting with how to educate each other and bring in experts to speak to social issues and brainstorm ways to promote equality in the food scene.” The Feminist Food Club is a great example of why Mary has been successful, too. She has a keen sensitivity to what would support and nourish her community and through the website and social network that she has fostered over the years, is now able to quickly organize her community on a large and impactful scale.

A central theme of Stil in Berlin has always been supporting local independent businesses.
The quirky interior of Panda Noodle on Lausitzer Platz, one of Mary’s favorite foodie spots in Berlin
The Panda Noodles have been a recommendation of Mary’s for many years

“Building this website has presented an opportunity to shape my own path. I have responded to the momentum, and it’s been wonderful to see it grow.”

Mary creating social content for her blog on the move.

With the popularity and sale of the guides, she needed a simple way to present both the archive, new content, and a simple ecommerce site. In 2021, Mary decided to move the entirety of Stil in Berlin’s content onto Squarespace. She’s had a positive experience with the platform after launching her personal website, as well as the Feminist Food Club, with ease. As a one-person operation, the design of the platform and functionality of the back-end have made it easy to make immediate updates instead of relying on developers and designers. And now, most importantly, Stil in Berlin is her primary outlet for selling her guides and supporting her financially.

Stil in Berlin was launched with modest expectations. Mary liked taking pictures of people on the street and the writing was a welcomed break from her assigned papers. She never anticipated that it would become a full-time job and lead to so many opportunities. Her large following helped her to attract sponsorship and partnership opportunities, and also established her as a social media consultant, writer, and panelist. As the media landscape has shifted to prioritize Instagram features and collaborations, Mary asserts that despite this evolution, the website remains her main anchor point. “For me, the website is a super important thing. It’s sturdy, there’s no algorithm for what you see. It’s become a homebase.”

Browsing vintage shop MKW Curated’s collection.
A look into the stylish interior of MKW Curated.
Strolling through the streets in the heart of Kreuzberg.
‘Stil in Berlin’ was born from Mary’s love of exploring the streets of Berlin.

Mary’s commitment to her own true interest—a fascination with how and why cities feel unique—is much of what has led to her success. She has long been interested in fashion on the street, the intimate inner world of someone’s home, and the entrepreneurs behind cultural hubs that shape a city. Through her focused attention and the open and accessible nature of her online platforms, we all benefit from getting to know the cities we love a bit better, and in turn, each other. When asked what advice Mary would give those interested in creating a business out of blogging and online publishing, she speaks to a mix of timing and commitment. “Building this website has presented an opportunity to shape my own path. I have responded to the momentum, and it’s been wonderful to see it grow. I believe that if you have an idea, and you believe in it and put in a lot of time then maybe, it can work. I think it also takes being true to your passion and your authenticity.”

Mary Scherpe is the founder and author of Stil in Berlin, a lifestyle blog and city guide dedicated to Berlin’s independent culture. Mary is also co-founder of The Feminist Food Club, an action group and online space offering dialogue, interviews, and workshops around discrimination in gastronomy. The quality of her publishing practice and able use of online platforms have allowed her to support small businesses, most notably restaurants, and local communities while shaping her own path as a content creator.

This feature is part of  “Three Creative Paths,” an editorial series produced in collaboration with Squarespace, the all-in-one website and commerce building platform. In dialogue with a diverse group of creative entrepreneurs, the series dives into three unique experiences and explores the importance of a strong online presence for turning a passion project into a successful career.

Along with Mary Scherpe, this series features the founders of The Journal Collective, an online platform dedicated to women and nonbinary photographers.

Text: Amelia Lang
Photography: Lena Giovanazzi
DoP: Marcus Werner