Friday, May 11, 2012

Curious Find

Expats have a tendency to miss those "little things" from home.
When I first got to Germany it became obvious that I would need to research and find new shampoo, different deodorant, dental floss, etc. And that was just in the bathroom.

In the case of some items, I ended up finding a product/brand which was better than what I was replacing. But when it came to others, I had to settle for something I didn't really like as much as what I'd left back home. Never have I found dental floss which is as lovely to use as Glide brand, available in the States. Even after being purchased by Crest, they never have made it available in my purchasing circle. Thus I am a Glide dental floss importer; several boxes are standard on every return trip "home".

Such is also the case for me and Q-tips
Oh sure, there were Pflegestäbchen available, but it just wasn't the same. Simply put, the brands I found just didn't have enough fluffy stuff at the end. (Yeah I know, First World Problems, eh?)

Several years ago my local Berlin drugstore began carrying various Q-tips, and I happily snapped them up. Having been previously burned by a temporary display of Campbell's Mushroom Soup, I was afraid of the treasured cotton swabs of my youth disappearing as quickly as they had appeared, so I loaded up with several boxes. My first thought was to fill a shopping basket... but in the end I decided that would be overkill and three would suffice while keeping the cashier from wondering "What the hell is she going to do with 100 boxes of Pflegestäbchen?". 

Which leads me to yesterday. Tripping down the aisle looking for some Q-tips I ran across this interesting box. Everything looks pretty normal until you get to to the green and red characters on the sides. They are Ampelmännchen (Wiki Deutsch/English), characters found in the walk/don't walk traffic signals in the former GDR.

Unlike much of GDR culture and characters, Ampelmann has managed to stick around. People east and west alike considered it cute, and many former GDR residents rallied behind keeping this symbol of their past on the city streets. 

When first I visited Berlin in 2001, Amplemann was only found in the former east. But by the time I moved here in 2005, that had begun to change. I'll never forget the first time I ran across that friendly green walking dude in the heart of the former west. 

Now they are found throughout Berlin. In the beginning the modification came only when a traffic signal needed to be changed, as happened in my neighborhood. A signal had been mowed over by a careless motorist. The next day... voila! Ampelmann in my former western neighborhood. The other three at that intersection were changed in the next six months, the rest of the street changed within a year.  

Running alongside this traffic signal story is a tale of marketing genius, evidenced here. Now Ampelmännchen can be found on  keychains and bottle openers, T-shirts, bags and even cookies... all sold out of cleverly located, (read tourist areas) stores about town. There is even an Ampelmann restaurant with little Ampelmännchen characters wearing chef's hats adorning the place. All of this has led to Ampelmann being an unofficial symbol of Berlin, not as famous as the TV Tower, but certainly close. 

Back to that Q-tips box. What is that about? Did the owner of the stores set this up? It would seem to make sense as the store website has been printed on the box. No matter what, I assume at least he was paid a fee since it seems he owns the marketing rights. 

After a quick look I assumed that the logos were printed only on the plastic overlay which is designed to allow for easy opening and re-closing. This would allow for multiple branding possibilities as graphics could be easily changed per city/area/whatever. But no, the cute little green and red warning signals are printed directly on the box showing a greater commitment for the manufacturer.

I suppose that unless some person in the know answers this blog, I will forever wonder what that is all about. So tomorrow when I pull out two "Q's" for my morning routine, I will not only be wondering about the sweet Ampelmännchen on the box, but also why the Q-tip logo on the box is different from the new one found on the website.
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cliff1976 said...

Congrats on the Q-Tips find. I too, stock up on certain bathroom items when visiting the U.S.: toothpaste (because it's cheaper), toothbrushes (because I can't find nice, wide ones here in Germany), and especially deodorant.

I don't like sprays or roll-on's. All the stick deodorants I find here in Germany are ludicrously small (in terms of capacity) for the price, and shaped for children's armpits.

Adam said...

Funny - I found Q-Tips for the first time here in Germany two years ago and was super tickled pink -- then I noticed that I am getting close to running out, and I found the package that you found at (I believe) Rossmanns by where i live, and I thought the packaging was cute, but odd.

Anne said...

Are your German Q-tips the same as the US ones? We've found that the ones in Munich are much harder (with less cotton) than the ones that we bring back. I would be so happy if they had "real" ones here now!
Even better, with Ampelman!

We've always bringing back deodorant and that great apricot scrub face cleanser.