How to Shop in Germany: Müller
It's not hard to see why time travel, along with robots and parallel universes, is such a popular sci-fi trope. It's especially easy on those days when you find an errant grey hair or a new and clearly visible wrinkle that you were sure wasn't there yesterday. Who wouldn't want to go back, maybe make some changes, pick up some shares in Apple or avoid that terrible date that you only ever seem to remember at 6.30 am while taking a shower, the memory of which makes you inadvertently scream in a vain attempt to expel the demon with audible regret. No? Well maybe it's just me. Fine, but time travel is still high on the list of “things we hope Elon Musk is working on right now”.
Well friends, until Mr. Musk acquiesces, Germany is making an attempt at taking us back in time. Naturally, this being Germany, they have found the most efficient means of sending us back and surprisingly it doesn't require a vast amount engineering or 1.21 gigawatt. All it requires is for you to walk through the front doors of one of Germany's largest chain stores, the fabulously nostalgic Müller.
What is it?
Müller harks back to the halcyon days of eighties department stores in both it's product selection, store design and acceptance of perms. At the most basic level, Müller is a pharmacy/toy store/music store/aftershave purveyor and stationer, at it's most elaborate it is a world where at any moment the A-team might see a plan come together, VHS tapes cost more than a car and nuclear annihilation could occur at any moment. Müller is also an aberration, it shouldn't really exist. Where it's British equivalent, Boots, has continuously tried to change and attempt to adapt to the UK consumer offering meal deals or gift experiences, Müller just keeps doing what it does best: selling the same things as Amazon but at a higher mark up. This is all the more amazing when you consider how much online retail has decimated the high street.
What does it look like?
Müller doesn't really go in for high concept advertising or celebrity endorsement, instead it aims to dazzle customers, literally. The eighties had a lot going for it, but save for a few exceptions', architecture wasn't one of those things. Big PVC window frames, pastel colours and unnecessarily angular interiors were common. In addition, all surfaces were required to be as reflective as possible. Polished steel, chrome finishings and lots and lots of mirrors. Understanding this, all surfaces in Müller are as reflective as possible, dazzling some shoppers and sending others into high performance preening sessions. I suspect that shopping in Müller is as close as any of us will ever get to knowing why budgies are so fascinated with their own reflections.
What can you buy?
Like an overly confident eighties' geek kid who has just discovered their inner strength through an uplifting journey of discovery involving an alien/dog/deformed yet affable companion, Müller stares down the bullies of Amazon and their like by selling products that would easily put other firms out of business. Example: they still sell CDs, like all the CDs. They sell enough to warrant entire floors dedicated to CDs in every store. They even have listening bays so customers can put on massive pairs of headphones and listen to the latest releases from Duran Duran, Bananarama and Wham.
One of the few deviations from the eighties business model is the sale of DVDs, which I imagine they will sell well into the future when we will have films beamed directly into our eyeballs. Only when eyeball viewing is passé will Müller decide to change its multimedia range. Do not be surprised if you walk into a store and find a range of laser disc players or Sonic the Hedgehog imploring you to pick up one of his companies new Master systems.
Where will I find them?
Wikipedia entry for Müller tells us there are 526 stores in operation around Germany, but walking through any German town or village you could easily believe they had 100,000. I have yet to go to any major city that has less than 6, in the same street. Germany has around 5 Starbucks, but only because all the prime real estate is owned by Müller. If they suddenly decide to sell coffee, there might be some difficult questions asked of Seattle's favourite firm.
Are they successful?
In a world that has become so unpredictable, Müller offers us an opportunity to go back to a simpler time. After all in the eighties what was there to worry about? Russia I suppose. Right wing governments may have been a concern. The fact that a Television celebrity ran for and won the Presidency of the United States was a little odd. Conflict in the middle east, English football hooliganism, and a spate of natural disasters were also alarming. At least there was Apple computers I suppose. Yes, the eighties were difficult, but nothing like the problems we face in 2016.