Mutterland: Part German-Style Delicatessen, Part Corner Shop
Mutterland is located behind the main train station in Hamburg, just a few meters away from the subway tunnel, the Langen Reihe with its flamboyant bars and their rainbow flags, the theater and the Hansaplatz where prostitutes â€“ notwithstanding the ban â€“ wait for clients. Despite the general scruffiness of the neighborhood, the historical kontorhaus, an imposing traditional business edifice built some hundred years ago, has a venerable air to it â€“ which is what led Schawe to choose the corner premises as the headquarters for his delicatessen in 2007.
Many considered his decision a risky experiment. A fine foods shop in this part of town? In a derelict building with any number of empty spaces? Yet a mere two years later the German retail association voted his business "Store of the Year." Soon Schawe opened two further outlets and started making his goods available online as well.
The concept? Local sources, quality products, lifeblood. Schawe spent three years researching and visiting manufacturers and family businesses before he had taken aboard enough products to stock his store.
Our concept is "Made in Germany." We don't feature preserves from New Zealand or mineral water from the Fiji islands.
Schawe is obviously a natural salesman, that much is immediately apparent. He smiles. He beams. And enthuses about Mutterland as if it were his dream-come-true and not his place of work. "Mutterland stands for home, local produce, childhood memories, quality," he explains, sketching a profile of the brand he created. "The epitome of the perfect mother, a mother who is always there for you, cooks only homemade meals, doesn't stoop to convenience food and never, ever feeds her children fast food." Schawe's own mother looks into the store regularly.
My mother is my toughest critic. And she is always right.
Wooden crates are stacked to form shelves along the high walls. They contain neatly arranged products â€“ along with a short description of each item. "Each product has its own story," Schawe explains. The chili chutney is made in Schleswig-Holstein. "By a tree nursery owner's son who plants old chili varieties." Next to this, intriguing mustards are displayed â€“ chestnut honey mustard or raspberry mustard â€“ all homemade by the family Sierks. A few wooden crates farther we find homemade broken chocolate, an array of cards with clever sayings and licorice candy. Articles carrying the home brand label â€œMutterlandâ€ are products in whose manufacturing Schawe has been involved personally.
And there is so much more to see: Gifts are wrapped with loving care â€“ in printed paper bags which, depending on the occasion, may state "Get Well", "Congratulations", "Forgive Me" or "It Doesn't Always Have to be Caviar" as a wink to the bestseller of the same name by Austrian author Johannes Mario Simmel. The gift bag is sewn up with a sewing machine before the eyes of the customer. More than many mothers would do.
On one of the shelves in the cooler we find "Muttis Pausenbrot", a no-frills whole-wheat cheese sandwich. Other shelves display freshly baked pastry to enjoy with a cup of coffee like Jewish apple pie or "Kalter Hund" (literally "Cold Dog"), a delicious cake consisting of alternating layers of chocolate and homemade cookies. The vanilla-colored version is called "Bootsmann" after Schawe's yellow Labrador.
A cafÃ© is located at the back of the shop with plain tables that may well have stood in an old-fashioned kitchen at one time. Each one is set with flowers and a bowl of freshly ground pepper. Children's books can be found on a shelf: Pippi Longstocking, Hansel and Gretel, My Bear Book. Children's classics. The staff wear white shirts and black trousers, covered by a beige apron. Amy Winehouse, then Nouvelle Vague can be heard from the speakers.
So, what is the secret of Mutterland? "We keep the threshold low," says Schawe in an attempt to analyze their success. "The personnel are not dressed more elegantly than the guests. And they are equally friendly to everyone." But the prices â€“ surely not everyone can afford those? "Of course, we're not the place to do your weekly shopping. But we also have more affordable products, little luxuries. Everyone can buy themselves a treat in our shop." And our last concern: What if a competitor copies the concept?
Not many people are crazy enough to go through as much trouble as we do!
Schawe does not collaborate with large distributors, and has visited most of his 200 suppliers personally. The manufacturers pay neither a fee for advertising nor for the placement of their products in the shop. "We prefer to deal with our suppliers on an equal footing and keep our calculations transparent," Schawe explains. And if the label of a product is not up to his high standards, Schawe the designer occasionally helps out. Though not always. "When connoisseurs see a product with an inferior label, they reason that the content must be exceptional if the shop is willing to compromise on the packaging â€“ and so they buy it."
Schawe loves his Mutterland. This becomes more than obvious as he leads us along the shelves and relates one anecdote after another, though he should have left ages ago â€“ his services as a designer are needed elsewhere. At present he cannot live off the proceeds of his delicatessen: "Every euro is reinvested." However, he rejects offers to start a franchise. "We're not a chain. Mutterland belongs in Hamburg. After all, I have no need for a Harrods outside of London either."
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