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Sniff the West: New Scent Recalls East German Intershops

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Forget mint. A new scent from an eastern German entrepreneur promises to make your home smell like a hard-currency shop in former East Germany. The recipe? Some washing powder, a dash of tobacco, and a portion of glossy magazine.

A new museum in Berlin lets you see what East Germany was like. A new scent lets you smell it.
DDP

A new museum in Berlin lets you see what East Germany was like. A new scent lets you smell it.

Forget potpourri, pine-scented air freshener, and lemon fragrance. What if you could smell your past dreams? Sound far-fetched? If you happen to have grown up in East Germany, it may soon be just a mouse-click away.

Osthits.de, a mail-order company based in the eastern German border-town of Eisenhüttenstadt (formerly Stalinstadt), has come up with a new fragrance sure to brighten the lives of those old enough to remember what living in communist East Germany was like. It is called Intershop, and it smells like the hard-currency stores selling products from the West in select East German cities. The aroma? A combination of sweet-smelling washing powder, tobacco, chewing gum and glossy magazines.

"It's purely ostalgic," says Osthits head Thorsten Jahn, referring to the nostalgia many easterners have for East Germany -- commonly known as "ostalgia." "People in the East know the scent. You don't have to tell them about it and explain to them why they should buy it. They know it already."

The scent took about a year to produce and was the product of close cooperation between Jahn and a chemical laboratory specializing in fragrances. Jahn says he put together focus groups of "grandmas and grandpas" who remember just what the Intershops smelled like.

Yet even though the new eau de karl marx has completed its journey toward odoriferous perfection, it is unclear when it might go on the market. The software company Intershop has already copyrighted the name and the German patent office is looking into the matter. As Jahn says, there is no telling when a ruling might be made.

When it does eventually go on sale, Jahn is betting it will be an instant seller. Pretty much everyone who grew up in East Germany, he says, visited an Intershop at some point in their lives. The shops were originally conceived as a place for foreign visitors to buy products from the West on the cheap -- and to leave behind a bit of desperately needed hard currency. In 1974 though, the possession of western currencies was decriminalized for East Germans and they too could start browsing through -- and smelling -- the wonders of the West, from cigarettes and alcohol to brand-name clothes.

It's not the first time that Jahn -- whose shop's bottom line is propped up primarily by sales of Ossi groceries, Russian fairy tale books, and souvenir T-shirts -- has hit the headlines with a fragrance. In summer of 2005, he came up with an eau de trabant, which claimed to capture the acrid smell of the exhaust which spewed out of the East German cars, now known fondly as "Trabis."

"It was not really a scent intended for people to put in their homes," Jahn says laconically. "It didn't sell all that well, but it was a huge marketing success. This time we decided to come up with a pleasant scent."

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