Buying into Ostalgie A Taste for the East

Many East German brands quickly disappeared after the fall of Berlin Wall. But some products survived and even became popular in the west.
Ah, the taste of East Germany.

Do you spread Nudossi or Nutella on your toast? Have a preference for Florena or Nivea lotion? And does your laundry smell like Spee or Persil? If a German makes a distinction between these similar products, based on what part of the country they are produced, then they’re normally well over 30.

The fall of the Iron Curtain 25 years ago unleashed a torrent of Western products on East German consumers eager for greater choice and quality. Many inferior goods that had been produced in the GDR couldn't compete and were no longer produced.

But some products made in the former East Germany have withstood the test of time and gained growing acceptance from western Germans, too. The 40 eastern brands with the greatest turnover increased their revenues from sales in the western part of the country from 34 to 42 percent since 2007, according to a recent marketing study.

Generally, the image of products made in the former East has improved over the years. “Eastern brands are no longer cheap goods,” said Sören Schiller, managing director of the IMK market research group.


Instead, the former East German goods that have remained popular have done so because they are considered to have genuine quality. Rotkäppchen Sekt is eastern Germany’s greatest success story, now dominating sparkling wine sales in both parts of Germany. In 2002, it made headlines by buying its well-known western rival Mumm.

Sachsenland dairy products, Wurzener salty snacks, Riesa noodles and Halloren chocolates are also finding more western German buyers. These brands, however, are growing from a relatively low market penetration in the west. Some of eastern Germany’s most popular products, Rotkäppchen Sekt, Hasseröder beer and Bautz’ner mustard already make a sizeable chunk of their turnover in the western half of the country.

Younger people don’t make such a distinction. Patriotism for eastern brands is slowly fading. Niels von Haken, Head of MDR marketing

Overall, however, traditional East German brands are struggling to hold onto market share. Despite increasing sales in the west, nationwide turnover has declined by 5 percent since 2007, according to market research firm GfK. That means that even as these brands are doing better with western German consumers, they are losing ground in the former East.

This is because the urge to buy eastern items, just because of where they come from, is becoming less important to the post-reunification generation of eastern Germans. Only people over 40 still consider that a convincing reason when it comes to deciding what to purchase.

“Younger people don’t make such a distinction. Patriotism for eastern brands is slowly fading and brands should react to that,” said Niels von Haken, head of public broadcaster MDR’s marketing unit, which studies eastern products with the IMK market research company.

Still, regional differences do exist.

“Those socialized in East Germany often have kept the same consumer habits up to this day,” according to a study from GfK.

The researchers found that German preferences for alcoholic beverages showed a particular East-West divide. Even nearly a quarter of a century after German reunification, easterners buy more beer and spirits – accounting for 62 percent of alcohol bought in that part of the country. Wine and sparkling wine made up only a third. In the western half of the country, purchases of those two categories of booze were more evenly balanced.

But looking at only the generations born after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the preferences became less distinct. “They’re not drinking what they’ve always drank out of spite, rather what they like,” the GfK researchers wrote.


This article originally appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]