Sunday, April 5, 2009


There are certain types of businesses that often seem to have really silly names. Assuming the owners are making intelligent choices and understand their own client base, then we can gather that, on the average, we're looking for stability when we use the services of a banker or attorney. On the other hand, when we wash our clothing or buy a pet, we're willing to indulge the proprietor of the place of business that we're patronizing. I wouldn't mind shopping for a kitten or pet tortoise in a shop called "Paws & Claws," but I wouldn't want my mouthpiece in a capital case to come from a firm called "CU in Kourt." I noted shortly before leaving for Germany in July that a large U.S. savings bank, Washington Mutual, had changed its name to "WaMu," so there are exceptions to every generalization. But if "WaMu" isn't belly up yet, we probably don't have long to wait until it goes under. Then some appropriately conservative types can bring the company out of Chapter 11 and restore the former name in the process.

So what is it about certain kinds of businesses that brings out our misguided creativity? Hair salons are among the worst offenders. Whose quality of life hasn't been reduced by a "Hairport" or "The Mane Attraction" in the neighborhood? These kinds of businesses have several things in common. They are often owner-operated with no corporate structure, within which cooler heads could prevail. And their smaller size probably makes us as customers more tolerant as well. Plus, for me a barber is a neighborhood business. I always get my hair cut locally. I like a place where I can get a tip on a horse, but I won't cross town to get it. Neither will I avoid a place called "Blood, Sweat and Shears" if they can give me a decent haircut.

The catchy name is as common now in Deutschland as it is in the States. Previously it was normal for a Friseursalon to be called something like, "Friseursalon Olga," where the owner was named Olga. Now they often have names like "CHAARisma" or "CreHAARtiv." And a few weeks back, this trend was the focus of the Deutschlandkarte feature in Die Zeit. Each week Die Zeit presents us with some facts about Germany graphically displayed on a country map. The map of Germany is constant, but the information shown on the map changes radically from week to week. Some of my favorites from recent issues: animals that appear on the city/state coats of arms, how the names of German cities are spoken in other languages, Bionade drinkers per capita, (Bionade is a trendy new soft drink. Not too sweet and with distinctive flavors such as Quitte, Holunder or Litschi.) Interesting stuff.

Because of the visual presentation, the tendency toward editorializing is minimized. We can draw our own conclusions and make comparisons between the various cities of Germany in a way that, over time, builds a portrait of each. For the January 22 issue of Die Zeit, the Deutschlandkarte explored the distribution of hair salons with the names, "Haareszeiten," "Haarmonie" and "Haargenau." And the results are intriguing and entertaining. In what I consider to be fairly hip cities such as Berlin and München, these corny names have only a thin distribution. In the Ruhrgebiet however, you could get your hair cut in a place called "Haarmonie" every two weeks for several years and not visit the same place twice.

Compare these data with the results of last week's Deutschlandkarte which showed the percentage of citizens who pay their GEZ✝ tax of €17 per month. 94% in North Rhine-Westphalia. 78% in Berlin. This is a tax Germans pay on radios and televisions that funds public programing. €17 per month times twelve months is €204. The idea that ANYONE pays this tax I find amazing. That in Essen 94% percent of the the public, people who have their haircut at places named, among others, Haargenau, is simply unbelievable. Berliners are obviously notorious scofflaws, but I still have a good feeling about the city in general. The most recent Deutschlandkarte reinforced that attitude with a map that shows the cities that search Google most often for a series of words choosen by Zeit editors. Berlin: Culture, Peace, Homeland, Melancholy. München: Career, Profit, Sport. The map speaks for itself.

Gebühreneinzugszentrale der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland

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