Catalogs #36: 1986 German Catalog

I found this German catalog (Genex) from 1986 infinitely interesting - not just for the inherent nostalgia, but for the contrast to American catalogs and by extrapolation, culture.  For instance, in '86 we don't put cartons of cigarettes in the candy section; nor do we show fully nude people in the sauna section.  That's just un-American.

But those are extreme examples.  For the most part, the catalog is just an average tour through mid-eighties consumerism.  Still worth a tour - let's check it out.

Notice what this fridge is stocked with:  canned goods which have no business being refrigerated, and lots of booze.  Note also the GLASS bottles of milk.

I love how the third shelf has a trap door which can swing open for bottles of wine or champagne.  Again, more booze and canned goods.

At the risk of being redundant, I wanted to take a closer look.
A bottle of Cinzano vermouth
A couple cans of Carlsberg beer
A can of mushrooms
A bottle of Martini Rosso (more vermouth)
A can of asparagus spears

Here's another fridge stocked with the same bizarre foodstuff.....

Just so you Germans know, we Americans do drink alcohol; however, it is not something we'd ever put on display in an appliance advert.  It's a strange mix of shame and not wanting to give anyone "the wrong idea".

I'm especially fond of the croissant and egg placement.  I think it makes this set come together nicely.

Wait.  I'm confused.  Where do you put the pods?

For you youngsters reading this:  those black objects labeled "15" are licorice squares.  They were about 5.25 inches and excellent on a cookie.

VHS players back in 1986 would run you about a quarter of a million dollars and were so heavy they literally warped space.

  You can watch boats dock in color or black & white. The magic of television.

Lightweight boomboxes perfect for listening to your new Kraftwerk or David Hasslehoff cassette tapes.

Fancy yourself the next Heino or Nina? Here's a home recording studio to make that dream come to life.

I'll have a chocolate bar, a bottle of brandy, a pack of cigarettes and a bar of soap, please.

JC Penney Catalog this is not.

Mmmm. Deee-lish!

Ah, yes.  Nothing goes better with chocolate than a Marlboro Red (and bottle o' brandy).

And since you're buying cigs and brandy, might as well pick up some hosiery, washcloths, and toothpaste.

What? No vermouth or Winstons to go with my cleaning products?

For you kiddies reading this:  These cans were opened by what was known as "pop tops".  It's a point of fact that every single square foot of curb and sidewalk in America contained at least one pop top.

"Cheese - Crack" - possibly the least appetizing brand name for a food product ever.

I repeat - this is no JC Penney's catalog.  In America this catalog would have to be sold behind the counter concealed in dark wrapper.  This is the sort of thing Google strips blogs of their advertising for.  Yes, I'm still bitter.

What's this fellow doing?  I know he's bushwacking, but is he lighting up a smoke? I'll leave that for you to ponder.


  1. Ok, this is a Swiss catalog (printed in Zurich) but for... "Gifts in East Germany"?? I see an East-German car on the cover but the rest doesn't look like something from East Germany, which was experiencing deficit of much simpler goods available to customers at the time. Unless this is some sort of party-elite catalog.

    1. Strange indeed. The brands are mostly west European, American or from West Germany. The packaging looks distinctly non-communist as well. Too much colours and happiness. Though no self respecting west German company would use a Wartburg oil-smoker on it's cover.

    2. When I was young, I lived in East Germany. Most of the products shown are of East German manufacture. I had a bunch of these things too... good times!

      Other items you see displayed are west German items that they marketed in east Germany in hard currency stores at lower prices that the supermarket on the other side of the wall, and sold largely to foreigners passing through train stations such as a the palace of tears (http://www.v-like-vintage.net/en/photo_details/141128_photo_DDR+-+border+crossing+point/), and to east Germans getting money from west German relatives or through some illegal or otherwise shameful acts of capitalistic perversity (such as doing private work on the side).

      While they were miles ahead of everyone else behind the iron curtain insofar as the quality of consumer products went, their products were considered slightly bizarre in the west, and of low quality - except for optics and other things that were of high quality BEFORE the DDR was established such as Zeiss Icon, Neumann microphones, and the like.

      The catalog was printed and probably put together in Switzerland, likely to give it some kind of appeal to people who might part with some of their hard currency (Deutschmarks, Francs, Dollars, something a bank will take etc.) Despite bilking for west Germany any way they could, even "selling" inmates held on political charges (including songwriting, thinking impure thoughts, and so forth) the East German regime was desperate for real money. This despite getting most of their petroleum and gas energy for free from the USSR as a consolation for keeping their population under the commie boot of love.

      The irony is that even though the government was engaging in profitmaking that was dependent on the consumerism that they would harangue about nightly on TV, they weren't entirely a collectivized economy themselves. Communization was a steady process, and they stopped went they hit 95% because there were a few professions and vocations that they realized they were completely incompetent in trying to organize under the two "state holding companies" that were charged with managing all consumer economic activity. I.E., if you got a pair of glasses, chances are that half of the time it came from a lens-maker working for himself.

      They needed these profession, and in this clear-eyed state of awareness, they understood that if they taxed them excessively, that they would cease to function or make their goods and services too costly - which is why they only taxed the people in these professions at a basic rate of 10%, and capped their obligation at 20% to include state-collected retirement savings.

      Which is to say: Barack Obama, are you paying attention?

  2. This is a catalog for the 60s-90s habit of sending packages of hard-to-come-by western goods to relatives in the German Democratic Republic (for you 'mericans: That spells socialist Eastern Germany) - hence the strange combinations of candy, booze, smokes, cosmetics, and detergents on those tables.
    Additionally: Yep, Germans like to display wines and spirits in public advertising - never had a problem with that; ditto the sauna ads. And also yes, the bushwhacking guy is lighting up - a common sight for german 80s advertising. Stop gawking, move along...

  3. Not for the 90s, the Berlin Wall cracked down in 1989.
    But before you could sent certain things to your relatives in the east. Of course there were restrictions, for literature, newspapers, magazines, records, weapons, and every package was controlled.

    1. Technicalities. The GDR ceased to exist at Oct.3,1990 - and Genex still shipped a lot of new year's presents in January 1990.
      As for the Orwo tapes, many of the products seen here were manufactured in the GDS with "western" labels, and sold as genuine. A crafty bunch, those socialists.

  4. Rather funny: the Orwo magnetic tapes. Orwo was an east-german brand, produced in the DDR, and you send it as a gift to DDR-citizens… but they produced many things more for foreign currency than for their own people.

  5. Canned Lobster soup with Cognac is a surprisingly upscale pantry staple,you think?Those king sized Vienna Sausages look like appetizers for an epic poker game.And TOFFIFEE!I used to get those in my Christmas Stocking.Haven't seen those stateside in a long time.

  6. I read a little bit about Genex and they also helped some East Germans get an earlier delivery date on a new car, hence the Wartburg on the cover. In the Soviet bloc countries it took 10 years for someone to take delivery on a new car. There were Trabants ordered by consumers in 1976 that were delivered to those customers in 1989 when the Wall went down.

  7. this was better than p*rn for East Germans in 1986.

  8. Looks like the inside of an Aldi store.

  9. I think the bushwhacker guy is also a jeweler, and he's inspecting a fine gemstone with his jeweler's magnifying eyepiece thingy.

  10. Give me a glass of "whine", please! Oh c'monnn---please!? Hey c'mon alreadddddyyyyy....geeez.

  11. Aw, dude, Dab in a keg - nice! :)

  12. The title means "gifts into the GDR" - it was for ordering western luxury items to be sent to relatives behind the Iron Curtain, but you worked that out already.

    [German grammar fans: note it is "in die", accusative case meaning 'into the', not "in der", dative case meaning 'within the']

  13. I think I'm most surprised by how many of those products look pretty much the same after nearly 30 years!

  14. AnonymousMay 13, 2014

    I remember pop-tops on soda and beer cans were outlawed in many parts of the United States in the mid-70's.

    The bottlers scrambled to find an alternative. The 7-up cans had dots you pushed in to open the can. One for drinking about 1/2" diameter and one about 1/4" for a vent. The Coke cans had a different scheme, but they were both different than the ones we use today.