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The History of ALDI, the German Discount Store

The success story of ALDI started in the spring of 1913, when the baker Karl Albrecht, together with his wife Anna, opened “Albrecht” in Essen, Germany. At that time, self-service was still quite unusual and all customers were personally served by the store clerks. This is what the first storefront looked like:

The Mom and Pop Store 'Albrecht' in the German city of Essen in 1913 | Photo courtesy of Lebensmittel Zeitung.

After WWII, their sons Karl and Theo took over the store in 1945 and and expanded their family business into 100 branch stores by 1955 and over 300 by 1960. The ALDI brothers Karl and Theo are considered the inventors of the discount supermarket system in Germany and were among the richest people in the world, each valued at just under 20 billion dollars by Forbes magazine. However, both valued their privacy and declined most interviews, hence there are very few photos of the two brothers. Theo Albrecht died in 2010 due to a severe fall, and Karl passed away in 2014. Here is one of the few photos, from WirtschaftsWoche's archive:

A rare photo of Theo and Karl Albrecht from Wirtschafts Woche's archive

A Disagreement About Cigarettes
The growth of the Albrecht store empire went well until 1960, when the brothers divided the company into two geographical areas in Germany: ALDI North and ALDI South. Apparently they had a clash of opinions regarding the sale of cigarettes. The northern branches were taken over by Theo, who was the one that wanted to sell cigarettes and and the southern branches were managed by Karl Albrecht (ALDI South sells cigarettes only since 2003).

Map of Aldi North and Aldi South Territories

Times are Changing
Also in the early 1960’s, Germans started to discover supermarkets how we know them today, where you can walk in, grab what you need, pay and leave. The small service stores like the ones from the Albrecht brothers saw a decline in sales and the brothers decided in 1961 to open their own chain of supermarkets. They chose the name ALDI (ALbrecht DIscount) for their new supermarket-style stores. Their concept for their new stores was a bit different than the one of a traditional supermarket. The ALDI stores offered no duplicates of food, so for example there was only one type of orange instead of several kinds to choose from. The basic idea is to only have products in the assortment which have a high turnover rate, about 700 items per store.

ALDI is focused on staple food items and did not issue price tags on each item until the early 1990s. I still remember being at ALDI with my mother and the cashiers would manually enter each price for each item with the prices they had memorized. If they were not sure, they would ask the next cashier over, who would then yell back with the exact price. The ALDI brothers also negotiated products with well-known manufacturers, which were produced under a different name specially for ALDI. As a result, these products were not subject to price constraints and advertising costs, enabling ALDI stores to sell them favorably.

First aisle of an Aldi North in Dortmund, Germany | Photo by Kira Nerys

ALDI Today
To this day ALDI stores are rather simple when it comes to decoration and advertisements. Most items are sold directly out of the manufacturers shipping carton and all shelves carry the same orange price sticker. All employees are cross-trained to be at the cash register or re-stock items that are running low. This omission of “traditional” supermarket retail features brought the ALDI supermarkets great cost advantages over the years, at the same time enabling consumers great price advantages. Until the 1980s, ALDI had the image of a “poor people's” supermarket. Their products were regarded as qualitatively sufficient, but without prestige. Even today, poor populations are an important target group for ALDI, however many of the products marketed by ALDI have very good test results in German Consumer Reports magazines.

An important image change for ALDI came during the 1990’s, when they started their short-term weekly offers, usually as part of a theme week, for example handyman items with an assortment power drills, saws and work boots. During my high school years and the rise of personal computers, ALDI even offered the first "ALDI PC" around Christmas 1995, right when the internet started taking off and everybody got an AOL CD in the mail every other week. It was a well-equipped machine, that sold out in the first hours of the sale, based on its fair price and the fact that the German computer market was unsaturated with computers. This is a picture of the first PC’s being sold by ALDI, photo courtesy of Lebensmittel Zeitung:

ALDI PC being sold | Photo courtesy of Lebensmittel Zeitung.

2 Tips When Shopping at ALDI
Two things to keep in mind before you visit ALDI for your first time either in Germany or in the States: Customers are expected to bring their own bags from home to transport their groceries, otherwise they can purchase bags at the store for a small fee. That way ALDI cuts down on the use of plastic bags, which is good for the environment and good for their expenses.

Secondly, expect to pay a deposit if you want to use a shopping cart. Another way ALDI saves, is that customers pay a 1 Euro deposit to use a shopping cart at ALDI. "The shopping cart rental system is one of many ALDI efficiencies that enable us to keep our prices so low," the company informs on its website. "By not having to hire someone to police the shopping carts, we are able to pass the savings onto our customers." In the USA the deposit is typically a quarter.

You can see their current sales ad here.

Have you been to an ALDI store already? What do you think about them? Let us know in the comments.

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Furniture Found in German Homes: Eckbank

Furniture Found in German Homes: Eckbank

My parents have one. So do my Oma and Opa. Around the time I took Denise over to my friend Ralf’s parents home, and she saw yet another one, she started to get suspicious. “Does every German house have one?” Admittedly, it does seem that way. If you ask me to name a piece of furniture that is “typically German” to me, my answer would be: the Eckbank, which translates to corner bench. Historically, the corner bench served as a space-saving, built-in furniture piece in taverns, ships, and camper vans. The corner bench is built to fill out and maximize the space in the corner of a room, so you need fewer chairs. Another advantage, especially in taverns, is that you can move closer together on the bench, making it easy to fit one or even two more guests to the table. Over the years corner benches moved over to many German households as part of the seating arrangements on a dining table.

Regardless of where a corner bench is used, the structure is very similar for all. Traditional corner benches consist of two benches, which are connected by a rounded corner to form a single unit. Some corner benches even have the advantage that there is storage space under the seats. The seat cover can be moved up and down like a lid, which makes it really easy to fill and utilize this storage space. Depending on where the corner bench is placed, different things can be found there. In a corner bench in the kitchen, for example, napkins, candles, tablecloths or placemats can be stowed.
Traditionally corner benches are made of solid wood, but with the time and the development of new materials, today’s Eckbank can be made of plastic, rattan, or even metal elements. This gives the customer a large variety of choices, based on their individual style preferences. Not everyone likes a traditional wood corner bench with carvings of farm animals or heart cutouts in the backrest. The good news is that the corner benches today can be completely individualized when it comes to size, style and materials. Corner benches made out of beech wood create a warm, homey atmosphere with a golden hue wood color. Oak is a lighter and very modern looking alternative, while walnut wood gives you a dark, distinctive wood color choice. Even if you want to use your Eckbank outside, there are woods like teak or eucalyptus that score with their hardness and low-cracking abilities.

If you want to play around with a customizer tool for your imaginary German home, you can find one here at Fueg.
Customizer Tool for a German Eckbank

Or for a pre-designed Eckbank, try Baur or XXXL

Eckbanks Available at BAUREckbanks Available at XXL

Once you picked your material for the actual bench, you will be spoilt for choice again when it comes to the decision of the fabrics and color. Choose between leather, synthetic leather, fabric or fleece. Of course, different fabrics also have different advantages and disadvantages, as a leather or artificial leather cover, for example, can be cleaned more quickly than other covers, since liquids cannot penetrate quickly. If you opt not to have the corner bench upholstered, but would rather go with just the bench part, you can add individual cushions or seat cushions. The advantage of these seat cushions as opposed to a complete cover is that they can usually be washed in the washing machine and can also be replaced quickly and cost-effectively in case a stain does not come out anymore. You could also flip them one time to hide the stain. And if you are bored with your color choice, seat cushions can be replaced with a more appealing design very easy.

Have you seen an Eckbank before and could you see one of them in your household?

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The Sweet You Have To Try in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Beautiful, tempting, delicious Schneeballen...another reason to love Rothenburg, Germany!

No trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber is complete without a Schneeballen. This dessert is slightly bigger than a baseball and traditionally covered with confectioner's sugar. If you put enough sugar on, it looks like a snowball - hence the name Schneeballen. Tastes much better than a snowball though.. The Schneeballen have been tempting die-hard sugar fans for over 300 years in several parts of Bavaria. The origin story of the Schneeballen is unknown, but we do know they were originally baked for special occasions only, such as weddings or baptisms. Today you can buy Schneeballen all year round, many of them pre-packaged in gift boxes in Rothenburg, ready for you to share them with your loved ones. While Schneeballen are best eaten fresh, we were told that they have a shelf-life of about 8 weeks at room temperature.

How to Make a Schneeballen

The Schneeballen gets its wavy-ball-like shape from strips of shortcrust pastry that is alternately folded over a stick. Next, a quick 4-minute dunk in the fryer, then cover with a topping of your choice, not limited to confectioner's sugar. We spotted them dusted in cinnamon, chocolate or coconut flakes, and even filled with lemon or hazelnut cream at different stores all over Rothenburg. For those of you who would like to create a Schneeballen at home, here is a recipe, courtesy of Bavaria Tourismus.

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For Half-timbered Heaven, Visit the Plönlein in Rothenburg

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a Half-Timbered Heaven!

Regardless of where you’re at in Rothenburg, it's hard to take a bad photo. It's a half-timbered, cobblestone-laden wonderland that magically transforms the weakest of cameras into a postcard-making-machine. One spot in particular, will make your camera weak in the knees. That spot has a name, Plönlein, which derives from latin ‘planum’, meaning ‘flat square’ and refers to a place in Rothenburg where two streets join together from two different elevations. It is possible to stand at the fork in the road and see two towers, the Siebers is the higher one, and the Kobolzeller is the lower one, and an adorable home nestled in between. Both towers AND the home were built with the first town expansion in 1204. Believe it or not, that home is still privately owned. Another example of why I love Germany.

©Rothenburg Tourismus Service | Plönlein Gäste Plönlein Visitors | W. Pfitzinger

Little garden and statue in front of a half-timbered house in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Half-Timbered | Who | What | Where | When | Why

When I see homes and buildings built in the half-timber, Fachwerk in German, style, I usually mentally associate the homes as medieval and (thanks to Disney) as either French or German. In truth, half-timbered housing, has been used in various places all over the world for thousands of years, including Ancient Japan, China, Europe and North America for the simple reason that these regions had an ample supply of lumber vs stone to build with.

The English term 'half-timbered' was first mentioned by author Mary Martha Sherwood in her book The Lady of the Manor, published in volumes between 1823-1829. In 1842, half-timbered was included for the first time in the Encyclopedia of Architecture by Joseph Gwilt. The 'half' portion in 'half-timbered refers to how the wood was split in half, with the smooth surface on the exterior and the rough edge on the inside of the home. Once the building was framed out in wood, the space between was filled with malleable, sculptural material such as plaster, brick, wattle and daub.

The flat space where two streets of two different elevations converge, the plönlein in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

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Thank you For Reading! Denise & Sebastian | Photo by Irene Fiedler