The German economy isn't what it used to be. Just this week, it was announced that the economy didn't grow at all during the fourth quarter of 2009, leading many to fear that the country might have to wait a while longer to recover from the economic downturn.
Even worse, the European common currency, the euro, is in turmoil as speculators continue to try and profit from Greek budgetary woes. The currency has fallen substantially against the dollar in recent weeks and there are fears that it could continue to plummet. Indeed, things have gotten so bad that a Greek consumer group has called for a boycott of German products, as a result of criticism from Germany -- most particularly in the form of a tasteless cover from the newsmagazine Focus -- of Greece's financial practices.
But while many would prefer to stick their heads in the sand and wait out the crisis, there are those who prefer to confront uncertainty with ingenuity. If you've got the right idea, now might just be the time to start up your own business. Why not begin baking specialty products for pets? Or start a travel agency for stuffed animals? Meditation with farm animals is certainly also a good opportunity for instant profits. After all, a bit of time in the stall is sure to calm the nerves of today's stressed out managers.
For those who think they might have a good business idea, but are too shy to try, SPIEGEL ONLINE brings you some inspiration -- in the form of seven business concepts that never should have found success, but did.
Apparently there are around 1.2 billion cuddly toy animals in the world -- and you can bet that most of them have never seen the city of Prague. Or indeed, many other prime European tourist destinations (unless it happens to be their home town, of course). Now a Czech company, The Czech Toy Traveling agency, aims to change all that. Send them your inanimate, furry friend and they will send you pictures back of your stuffed beast in front of various landmarks around Prague.
The concept, which was inspired by the French film "Amelie," in which a character receives mysterious pictures of his stolen garden gnome posed in front of famous monuments around the world, received support after it appeared on the Czech version of the reality television investment show "Dragon's Den." In the Czech Republic, the show is called "Den D" (or D-Day).
A basic package tour for your teddy bear costs €90 and includes 30 photos on a disc, a certificate of proof that your bear was there, a profile created on your bear's behalf on social networking sites and daily e-mail contact from your bear, or any other stuffed toy you care to send their way. The most expensive package, which costs €150, includes a special travel box, with a pillow and blanket, so that the cuddly toy travels first class all the way back home. Owners can also specify whether their insensate sweeties are vegetarian or should be allowed a drink after dinner. "We are focusing on North American, Southeast Asia and the European markets," agency co-owner Tomio Okamura told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We launched our business last week and we already have dozens of orders, mostly from the US, Japan and Germany."
Okamura, who is one of the businessmen supporting the venture financially and also the vice president of the Association of Tour Operators and Travel Agents of the Czech Republic, explains that once a travel reservation has been made for a toy, and payment received, the fluffy friend can be posted to the company. Sightseeing in Prague will take between one and three days and the Toy Traveling Agency will also take stuffed animals to special events upon request. "We already have a request from Japan to take the toy to see a top-flight European football match," Okamura says.
Eventually the company's founders also want to be able to offer toys travel opportunities to other European cities, including Berlin, Munich and Bratislava.
First on the Dance Floor
Don't like to dance alone? Worried about looking silly? Or sad? Hire a dance partner.Foto: ANDREA DE SILVA/ REUTERS
The party is great, the music is playing, your feet are tapping. But the dance floor is empty. Even though you are aching to get out there and shake your proverbial thing, you don't dare to hit the dance floor all alone. And then all of a sudden, there they are: Two enthusiastic hoofers who don't seem to care who sees them getting down. Relieved, you -- and all the other bashful bootie shakers -- migrate to the dance floor while the host stands by, satisfied and smiling broadly that this fest is such a success.
Such success, as it turns out, can be bought. A Berlin company, called Be My Dancer, hires out people to break the dance floor ice. Most of the firm's business involves the time honored profession of the "taxi dancer," the name first given to the courteous men who hired themselves out as dancing partners after World War I where there weren't enough masculine dancing partners around. The trade has survived primarily on cruise ships, providing elderly, single ladies with a waltz partner. But in Berlin, the modernized Be My Dancer provides male and female dance partners to suit any occasion, from one's first cha cha session to themed swing nights and tango parties.
The Be My Dancer crew can be rented solo or as a team and each dancer costs around €40 an hour. It is also possibly to hire the trained professionals as private dance teachers. Most often the company's employees can be seen strutting their stuff at the Bohème Sauvage, themed 20s costume parties in historic locations.
Meditating with Cows
Hanging out with your bovine freinds down on the farm can be very relaxing.Foto: PATRICK KOVARIK/ AFP
Forget staring at stones or focusing for hours on single blades of grass. A Dutch farmer, Corné de Regt, has come up with a whole new method for meditation. And it all takes place in his cow stalls on his property on the outskirts of Denekamp, near the German border. One of the services de Regt's business, "Rode Wangen" (Red Cheeks) offers is a wellness retreat for stressed out businessmen. And when it comes time for a spot of meditation, de Regt and his clients head out onto the farm. Into the cow stalls, to be more exact -- where they will sit on hay bales together and meditate.
"Unfortunately the silence is often broken," de Regt told German freelance journalist Helmut Hetzel. "When a cow drops something, or when the animals are unsettled. But all of that belongs to the meditation sessions. Some of my guests complain about the smell. But that too, is all part of it. Ultimately all of one's senses are stimulated through meditating alongside the animals. It is a unique experience. And most of the managers that come here like it."
Besides finding metaphysical peace with our bovine friends, the stressed will also be able to relieve their anxieties through other farm-based activities. Excess energy is expended through a hearty round of testosterone-fuelled wood chopping, which can then be followed up with a skinny dip in a nearby stream. There's also plenty of fresh farm food, historical walks and the enterprising de Regt also offers a selection of goods for sale, including wooden toys, baked goods, woolen hats and slippers and apple juice.
"My concept for therapy counts upon the fact that the business men who come to me have red cheeks before they leave. They are 'refueled' -- and not only with fresh country air but also with the unique experiences they have on the farm and in the cow stalls," de Regt says.
Breaking Up with the Help of the 'Terminator'
A Berlin agency helps unhappy partners get out of a bad relationship.Foto: dpa
So you want out but you just bear to tell your erstwhile loved one it's all over? Call the professionals. As the Web site for Berlin-based firm, The Separation Agency, says: "We can end it -- perfectly and forever. We will turn one unhappy couple into two satisfied singles. Either that, or your partner gets one last warning, as delivered by us."
The agency offers a variety of packages. If you just can't face it, then for €29.95, the agency will conduct the split over the telephone and make sure you two stay on friendly terms. For a little more -- €64.95 -- they will conduct that conversation with your soon-to-be-ex in person. If you are literarily challenged, then they will help you write the most appropriate "dear John" letter. And if you have just, plain and simple, had enough and want them to go away and leave you alone, then the agency will let the lover-turned-stalker know that too.
Along with all of the above, the agency guarantees "delivery of the unwelcome news, de-escalation of pent up emotions, guidance on the difficult talks" and, best of all, your stuff back.
Since it was founded in 2006, the agency which is run by former insurance salesman Bernd Dressler, has been a success. The "Terminator", as Dressler has come to be known, doesn't do any jobs without money up front and most of his customers are women in their 20s. He has even written a book about his experiences. Dressler says he delivers the message in a style that it is in accordance with his customer's wishes. As he told the British media: "I say to them: 'Good day, my name is Bernd Dressler from the Separation Agency and I have been asked by your partner to inform you that he or she wishes to end your relationship.'"
Table Football Fashion
Table football gives rise to as much passion as the outdoors variety. Now it has shirts too.Foto: Alex Grimm/ Bongarts/Getty Images
When it comes to sports in Germany, there is really only one game in town. Newspaper sport sections, to be sure, report copiously on handball, ping pong and luge -- or on any other sport that a German athlete may excel at. But football is the undisputed national pastime.
And for those without the hand-foot coordination to succeed on the pitch, there is table football -- known to Americans as foosball. It is a serious pastime in Germany, accompanied with shouts of joy, groans of dismay and no small amount of perspiration. To the consternation (and distraction) of non-players, tables can be found in offices across the country. The best players can even get the static plastic figures to pass the ball to each other.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise then, that a German company offers little jerseys for the little players. For just €15.90, you can outfit your entire team with the football shirt of your choice -- the company, known as Kicker Trikot -- has a number of national teams on offer along with a selection of German league teams. Recently, the company has even begun making custom jerseys to order -- for €49.90 a set.
The company, based in Hamburg, started in 2006 and has seen a steady rise in turnover since then. With the World Cup just around the corner, the company is no doubt hoping for another uptick in sales. North Korea anyone?
Baking for the Birds
If this feathered freind knew about the Parrot Bakery, it might not feel the need to steal.Foto: CHINA PHOTO/ REUTERS
Germans love organic food. Despite the economic downturn and ongoing uneasiness about the robustness of the recovery, people in Germany have continued to pay extra for the knowledge that their foodstuffs are free of pesticides and insecticides.
"Fears that consumers would save on their purchases of organic products during the financial and economic crises have proven false," said the market research group GfK in a statement earlier this month.
With such an addiction to food purity, it is perhaps no surprise that a company near Bielefeld offers organic snacks for parrots. Called the Parrot Bakery, the company's product line includes palm oil muffins, Eucalyptus snacks and nut balls for your favorite feathered friend. "Only the best for your parrots," is the company's motto.
Products are available both in Marita Grabowski's small shop as well as on the Internet. Grabowski started her company when, in 2007, her Gray Parrot "Charlie" fell ill and she had to make him crackers without seeds. Her company has since found substantial success, supplying pet food stores across Europe. She has even written a book: "The Cookbook for Parrots and Parakeets."
The Karaoke Cab
Clearly this guy has not heard about the karaoke taxi of MünsterFoto: Petros Giannakouris/ AP
"Turn it up, driver, I love this song." It's a common enough refrain, heard in taxis all over the world as they ferry a weekend's worth of merry makers to their destinations. And although some cab drivers find this annoying, there is one clever chap in the German city of Münster, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who is making a business out of those kinds of requests.
Taxi driver Nizamettin Kilincli has installed a screen in the back of his eight-person taxi van, over which he can play karaoke tracks, or even movies. The reasons passengers like his service are as varied as the passengers themselves, Kilincli told the online city magazine Echo Münster.
During the day Taxi Niza, as his business is known, drives around the city like any normal van-for-hire. The screen in the vehicle might be used for a family who wants to keep the kids quiet on the way out to the airport. But by night, it becomes a rolling fun palace, with party goers on the way to a club or a disco entertaining themselves by belting out a few numbers.
Best of all, the service costs no more than any other cab ride. All of this has seen the clearly very tolerant Kilincli gain a regular clientele who prefer a ride in his taxi above all others.
As for the kind of drunken, often tuneless, yodeling coming from the back seats, Kilincli does not mind it at all. He's never been one for singing along, he told the Münster magazine, and anyway, he has to concentrate on the road.