Department Store Karstadt

Karstadt

I have always felt a strange kind of comfort in department stores. No matter how hostile the outside world, how cold and stormy the weather, there was a comforting constancy in the department store, consisting of warmth, light, and perfumed air. I cannot think of department stores without directly feeling that rush of warm air on my face upon entering . I think of the coziness, the hustle and bustle, and the escalators that ran in such a way that you always had to navigate half the department store first to find something. On the way, you were sure to find yourself lost in another department.

While Karstadt was sometimes located in mediocre locations in other cities, the Karstadt in Bremen always had a glamorous location. The first store was on Obernstrasse. This is where my afternoons began, and most of the time where they ended. Toward the end of the 90s, I used to wander around Karstadt with two of my friends. From today’s perspective, you could say that Karstadt was our Internet.
Everything was within reach.

In the cosmetics department, we tried out all the eye shadow colors, smelled the perfumes and if we liked the scent, we sprayed it on the little paper strips. Sometimes we even sprayed a little bit on our wrist and carried the scent of Karstadt with us all day. We ignored the looks of the sales clerks, who left us alone most of the time anyway even though we rarely went to the cash register. The highlight was the CD department in the basement with all the albums and singles of the charts, some of which you could even sample. The music department in the basement was our gateway to the world.

Karstadt today, a symptom of declining city centers. A place now only for nostalgia.

As I pass the very familiar hot-air threshold, where I proudly marveled at my first maxi single, I realize how inconvenient it is to maneuver a stroller through two heavy glass doors that have to be opened by hand. While I look for the peripheral elevators, because the escalators are of course also impractical with strollers, I think that Karstadt, as a department store for the masses, has always been surprisingly full of barriers, but perhaps the masses were always just a privileged middle class.

I make my way through stockings, stationery, desk calendars, clothes laid out, clothes on hangers, kitchen utensils, a set of crystal glasses for a steal, discounts, sales, school bags, a good vacuum cleaner offer, a giant Star Wars spaceship made of Lego, and I wonder why I’m hardly ever here, in this place, where everything is still available, everything I need or could need in the near future. In other words, everything I have actually needed for a long time, only without knowing it, and before I get frazzled, I go – to relax – to the basement, to the market hall.

As I step out of the elevator, I am greeted by empty spaces. Perhaps a first indication of the decline? Price tags come off as I pass, falling to the floor. Did I perhaps also contribute to the downfall of Karstadt by only ever hanging around and rarely buying anything? Due to a retrospective bad conscience, I make a bulk purchase in the market hall. As I push the cart to the checkout, I wonder if it would be appropriate to say goodbye. Perhaps we should celebrate department stores as the epitome of the 20th century and put the buildings to entirely different, new uses. How long can the inevitable end be delayed?

When I arrive at the checkout, I’ve considered a handful of ideas: creating a meeting place, turning parts of the building into a museum, keeping the Karstadt restaurant as a place for nostalgia. In that moment the cashier gives me a piece of chocolate and I can’t bring myself to make my suggestions for a new beginning.

So maybe it’s just time to say thank you. Thank you Karstadt, for many wonderful hours. I leave the building where the passage to the basement music department used to be and where there is only darkness now.

Translated by Monika Zobel

Notes
It is important to the author to point out that she wrote the text in February 2023 under the very present impression of the closure of the department store, which was being discussed in public at the time.
It is also important to the team of LauschOrte to point out that, as with all other texts, the choice of music and instrumentation was made independently of the author and her biographical background.