SHARE
COPY LINK

HISTORY

Nostalgia stokes demand for East German brands

Products "Made in GDR" may be consigned to history, but many East German items are still flying off shelves, as the nostalgia for brands from the failed communist country remains strong.

Nostalgia stokes demand for East German brands
Photo: DPA

Nearly 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, certain aspects of East Germany lives on for many former citizens, in the form of egg-cups, cleaning products and jars of Spreewald gherkins.

The Ostprodukte Versand dispatch centre in Tangermüde, Saxony-Anhalt, stocks German Democratic Republic (GDR) products not just to look at, but also to actively consume or use.

Bright blue and red scarves of the East German Pioneers youth movement wait in cardboard boxes along with ATA scrubbing powder, hen shaped egg-cups and Mekorna baby food, to be shipped off to customers pining for everyday GDR goods.

Owner Torsten Klipp also runs a GDR department store in Tangermüde’s historic old city. “The customers also need to be able to see, smell and touch [the products],” he said.

The East German Sandman, a favourite from the children’s TV sits in the store display window with his friends. Half of a bright yellow Trabant car has long been a feature of the brick façade.

Every day in the shop, customers can be heard saying “we used to have this,” a phenomenon known as “eastern nostalgia,” or Ostalgie in German.

“People unconsciously associate something with the products,” said Marko Sarstedt, a marketing expert at the Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg.

Finding GDR products attractive is an automatic response rooted in childhood experiences, he said. “The most important influences are completed by the age of seven,” he added. The brands that stood on supermarket shelves back then are seen as somehow trustworthy.

“Anyone who buys these products is also rebelling a little against the rest of the brands on the supermarket shelves, to which a bland flavour of homogeneity clings,” said Sarstedt.

Majority of GDR goods were discontinued not long after the fall of the Berlin wall, outstripped by a new flood of hip and colourful bands of the West. Yet a few of years after German reunification, customers began to hanker after the old products of the East.

“I always wanted to offer as wide a range of products as possible,” says Klipp. The online shop now offers 1,000 products and has 100,000 buyers in the customer database, with every tenth order placed outside the country.

As for the rest of the clientele, orders from the former East and former West Germany tend to balance each other out, said Klipp. He often ships entire product lines to major supermarket chains or other distributors.

Klipp does not rely solely on fast-selling products like Nudossi spread, Halloren-chocolates and Spreewald-gherkins.

He has redeveloped private brands and had them protected under EU product laws. “It’s all about developing a trend further and being attractive to younger people,” he said.

That is why, for example, Klipp has updated the famous blue, yellow and white hen-shaped egg-cups for modern times, now exclusively offering them in the black, red and gold of the German flag. And it all seems to be paying off.

Klipp said business had been up every year since he opened in a room in his flat in 2003. Last year, revenues were up 11 percent to a total of €1.2 million and he employed 12 people.

He now lives in a former brewery, which also houses his office and warehouse, complete with a bust of Lenin in the hallway to greet visitors as they enter.

DPA/The Local/mb

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

SHOW COMMENTS