Monday, December 29, 2008

Kleidung cle√er kaufen

A weekly newspaper is a treasure trove of potential content for my blog. Helmut Schmidt is celebrating his 90th birthday. A film of Thomas Mann's novel "The Buddenbrooks" has just premiered at the Litchburg in Essen. The latest from David Sedaris has just come out in translation and is well received in an entertaining review. But I'm drawn to this story: German clothing discounter, Kik, has clothing racks that look like swastikas. It's the kind of story I can really sink my teeth into.

Apparently it all started innocently enough when a father and son team went into the Kik branch in Albersdorf, considerably north of Essen. The 13 year old son was studying National Socialism in school and he remarked to his father as they passed the pants department, "Guck mal Papa, hier sind überall Hakenkreuze!" (Look Dad, there are swastikas all over the place here.) Dad sent a letter to Kik and requested that they remove the swastikas from their stores, only to be told by return mail that the objects in question are not swastikas. They are Winkelständer (angled racks.)

This is one of those simple stories that inadvertently gives us real insight into some very complex concepts. In this case, we get an inside look at current thinking in Germany about the Nazi past and the free, democratic state that Germany has become. These clothing racks are indeed in the shape of a swastika. German law does forbid the representation of the Hakenkreuz. But I also agree with the store manager, who says, "Ach, das sind nur unsere Winkelständer." He goes on to point out the advantages of the Winkelständer: you can fit more stock on them, customers find them convenient and according to the manager, "They look so nice when they're all in row." Does society really have anything to fear from such a fine and useful object?

I visited Bonn's Haus der Geschichte just a few days ago (a fabulous museum dedicated to the history of Germany since WWII that allows objects to tell their own story: I highly recommend it) and viewed a fascinating exhibition about Germany's relationship with its national symbols. The Kik Clothing Rack Affair wasn't part of the show, but it would have fit right in. Within the context of a national history museum, presumably the ban on Nazi symbols is lifted and among the items displayed were individual tart forms with the swastika at their center. Seeing those objects was pivotal for me and I don't think this society would be better if censors were denying us the experience. I find the story about the Winkelständer equally insightful and I believe the dialog over Kik and its clothing racks going on now in the Landeskriminalamt in Kiel is probably a healthy one that will lead to some deeper understanding of what we fear about the Nazi symbols. Probably this particular application of the swastika form is completely harmless, but then again, take a look at the little Logo/Mascot for the Kik store: is that a Hitlergruß he's making? Hmmm... maybe I'll just buy my pants at H&M.

1 comment:

Em said...

H&M does make reasonably priced attractive clothing. And I haven't seen any Nazi-esque symbols in their advertising (or clothing display) yet... better safe than sorry.