by Hans Pul
Europa-Center is located in the middle of the so-called City-West in Berlin, on the corner of the central Breitscheidplatz and the Tauentzienstraße – one of Berlin’s main shopping streets. It is a fairly large shopping center, occupied by mainly chain stores. The center’s interior: low ceilings, brown tinted walls and floors, mirrors, the strange water bassin at one of its indoor squares combine to create a seemingly dull atmosphere.
For many people, the shopping center has the image of being archaic, old-fashioned, or even as a text book example of a depressing shopping center from the 1960’s. Recently, the Europa-Center launched a marketing campaign, with advertisments in magazines as well as on metro stations in Berlin. These slogan-based adverstisements (translated from German) claim that the Europa-Center is “The most ‘West-Berlin’ you can get”, “Super cool. Since 1965.”, and “Berlin’s most original shopping center” (see picture). Interestingly, this marketing campaign doesn’t aim to drastically alter the image of Europa-Center nor does it contest the building’s dull and old-fashioned style of the shopping center. Rather, it deals with the negative place image, attempting to capitalize on it with irony. In a self-mockery, it uses the physical characteristics and image of the shopping center. In my interpretation, the campaign aims to reimagine the 1960’s, dull, West-Berlin style as something ‘cool’. It plays with the negative image of the shopping center itself, as well as with the image of the City-West in more general terms.
In this context it’s good to know that terms like “West-Germany” or “West-Germans” have a negative connotation for some Berliners. The stereotype of West-Germans as bourgeois, rich and arrogant is reflected in a term like “Besser-Wessi” (a know-it-all from the West). Additionally, three decades of divided Berlin have enriched the city with what local and national media call West-Berlin patriots. Some of these West Berliners are proud to never have visited the former GDR parts of the city after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Though it’s a bit of a cliché, West-Berliners that have never visited eastern parts of the city do actually exist. But the marketing campaign of Europa-Center is probably not aimed at this group. This leads me to think of the following questions:
Who is the target of this ‘cool’ West-Berlin image? What kind of people does this Europa-Center campaign appeal to? For me, a Dutchmen living in Berlin since 2010, it worked. It made me smile and the shopping center has now landed firmly in my mental map of the city. Yet I wonder what actual West-Berliners think about this campaign. Do they get the irony? Do they laugh about it? Or are they insulted?