Kusmi Tea in Berlin – And German Consumerism

I recently took a two week trip to Germany.  I travelled to Berlin, then Dresden, Görlitz, and then Regensburg.  It was very exciting, and I haven’t posted much about it yet in part because I’m still playing catch-up on the various work responsibilities I have, with RateTea and various other things in my life.

I visited numerous tea shops while in Germany.  The first one I visited was Kusmi tea:

A Kusmi Tea Storefront in Berlin
The Kusmi Tea Storefront on Budapester Straße, Berlin.

There is only one Kusmi tea store in all of Germany, and this is it.  It’s in a very new mall, called Bikini Berlin.

The Store Itself

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the store itself.  Kusmi Tea seems to focus on blends and flavored teas, whereas I’m more a fan of pure, unflavored teas.  There were a handful of teas that I think I would have enjoyed drinking, but there wasn’t anything that really struck me as unique or special.  The prices also weren’t that great.  And I was deterred by the fact that they didn’t have any small sample sizes for sale.

Since Kusmi Tea is at least as available in the U.S. as it is in Germany, I opted not to buy anything, instead reserving my purchases for tea brands that are unavailable or very hard to get here in the U.S.

The Mall: Bikini Berlin

The Kusmi Tea store is located inside a mall, called Bikini Berlin.  I find the name of this mall amusing, as it highlights something that I saw all over in Germany: Germans using English words frequently in marketing, but using them in ways where they would probably not be used in the United States or by a native English speaker.  I can’t imagine a whole shopping mall named “Bikini”, although perhaps I could imagine a store or small collection of stores that focuses on bikinis or beachy things, bearing this name.

I didn’t really like the inside of this mall.  It was big, sleek, and dark, and it had lots of expensive retail stores.  I often enjoy the experience of walking around indoor retail malls, especially in foreign countries.  But this mall seemed to exemplify the worst of consumerism: high-priced retail stores selling lots of things that I would never buy.

Germany and Consumerism

I’ve visited Germany three times, and all three times I spent time in Berlin as well as in other states of both the former East and West Germany.  I consider myself very lucky, in that when I was a child, I was able to visit both regions before reunification, the summer of 1990, shortly after the wall came down.  I then returned in 1997 when I was in high school.

The East-West divide has become slightly more subtle over the years, but it’s still very visible.  I’ve also become fonder than ever of the former East Germany.  I think one of my main reasons for this is that consumerism seems to have less of a foothold.  Associated with this, things that much of the Western World dismantled, like streetcars or trolleys, are more widespread.  All the East Germany cities I visited had trolleys.  Even Görlitz, a city of about 54,000 people, had two trolley routes:

A trolley on a city street in Germany
A trolley in Görlitz. East Germany generally kept their trolleys whereas West Germany dismantled them.

The dismantling of the trolley routes are one example of the ways in which I think West Germany picked up some negative things from mainstream Western culture.  I see the loss of streetcars and trolleys in the U.S. as one of the worst examples of consumerism–it drives consumption of resources, creating extra economic activity through getting people to switch to cars, but the economic activity is not associated with an improvement in quality of life.  Public transportation can be cleaner, safer, use fewer energy resources, and promote public health through facilitating walking.  West Germany still has much better public transit than most of the U.S., but I did notice a difference in Berlin that the West is a bit more car-oriented in a way that I dislike.

But back to German consumerism.  The mall mentioned above was in an active commercial district in the former West Berlin.  I also encountered a lot of areas populated by high-end retail stores selling overpriced clothing in Regensburg, the only other former West German city that I visited on this trip.  By contrast, the former East German cities I visited, including the eastern part of Berlin, Dresden, and Görlitz, had much less in the way of these overpriced stores.

There’s still a broad consensus that Communism, as it played out in the Eastern Bloc countries, was a massive failure.  The suffering and poverty created by Communism is still very evident in East Germany, and I’m not disputing this.  But I do want to point out that Western Capitalism also isn’t without its flaws, and there are ways in which I do think Communism, for all its problems, did protect East Germany from a few of the worst influences of Western Capitalism.

My Hope For The Future

In general, whenever there are two or more competing viewpoints, I’m a huge fan of synthesizing them, taking the best of each of them, and I tend to view Communism and Western Capitalism in this way too.  Both are flawed, Communism perhaps more deeply flawed.  My hope for Germany is that, rather than West Germany just overrunning all the culture and social structures and institutions of the East, the two can come together in a more intelligent synthesis.  There are a few signs that this is happening:

Ampelmann, green and red pedestrian crossing lights
Ampelmännchen, the East German pedestrian stoplights. Photos green and red, by Elya, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

These are the Ampelmännchen, the former East German traffic lights, which have become a bit of a symbol both for nostalgia for East German culture, and for positive things being taken from the former East Germany.  These lights are not only now being preserved in all of the former East Germany, but they are also being installed everywhere in Berlin and even a few cities in West Germany.

And especially pleasing to me, the M10 trolley route has been expanded into West Berlin, to connect to the Nordbahnhof.  I actually used this route many times in Berlin, always taking it on this new part of its route, and it was incredibly useful.

Now if only West Germany could ditch those overpriced retail stores.

What do you think?

  • What’s your opinion on Kusmi Tea?
  • Have you ever visited Germany and seen the East-West divide?  Before reunification?  After?  Did you notice
  • As harmful as Communism was, do you believe that Communism had any benefits, in terms of protecting countries from some of the worst aspects of Western Capitalism?
  • Do you love trolleys as much as I do?
  • Do you share my disdain for very-high-priced retail stores?