Penneys has come to Berlin. It’s enormous. And like in Britain, it’s called Primark. It takes up most of the Schloss-Straßen shopping centre. Our ambassador opened it officially back in July.
I had to visit.
As soon as I got off the train, I spotted two übercool teenage boys swinging Primark shopping bags. Very pleasing.
It was full to the brim inside. Like a game of bumper cars. It may have opened over a month ago, but Berliners are still coming to terms with this Irish import.
One girl I saw had stopped dead in front of a €2 pair of wine-coloured tights. She picked them up and stroked them. Then she bent her face over them in case she had missed a trick. After one final caress, she flung them into her enormous cloth basket.
You can’t blame her. Such a thing is unheard of in Berlin. While everything else may be cheaper (and I mean everything: rent, food, toiletries, pets ..), clothes are not. Especially not tights. Tights are a luxury afforded to those lucky enough to have a disposable income of more than seven euro.
Onesies are new too. They may be a step too far for Berliners though. The section with the zebra-print one-piece suits with lace-up paws was the only one empty today. But as the weather cools down, perhaps braver Berliners will take the plunge.
Primark Berlin is full of languages. I couldn’t count them all as there were some I couldn’t distinguish with certainty. Staff wear the same uniform as in Dublin and the Muslim women wear black headscarves.
It was surreal to hear staff announcements like “Ute Müller zur Kasse bitte” blasting through the store.
I couldn’t justify my expedition without visiting the fitting rooms. I joined an almighty queue. Unlike in Dublin, the lighting on the way into the changing area is dim. Almost Hollister-esque, which made me cringe. It snaked around and around and made me feel like I was about to visit a haunted house.
“Manno,” said a girl in front. “This is going to take forever.”
“Only eight items per person,” cried the shop assistant. “It’s quicker that way.”
I had grabbed a yellow mini skirt and a woollen wrap to try on.
In huge letters above the changing room entrance it says. “Try it, Like it, Buy it!” Germans love English slogans.
The light inside the changing rooms was just as unflattering as in Dublin. It just proves the success of the business model. People buy this stuff despite recognising blotches and follicle sprouts ordinarily concealed by more flattering light.
Neither skirt worked. Might have been the lighting but more likely the fact that I am very poor. I did however make a purchase. I’ve started running you see. Not far, or fast or anything, but you do end up breaking into a little sweat. So I picked up a turquoise tank top that promised to “stretch” and headed to the checkout. No amount of semesters studying economic psychology could take away the temptation to impulse buy on the way to the till. I resisted faux porcelain cupcake-shaped containers, facial wipes and novelty socks. But when I saw antibacterial handwash I could stand it no longer. I grabbed a bottle. My total purchase came to €6.
Outside I walked down Schlossstrasse and wandered into Vero Moda. Without the soft rock in the background, you could have heard a pin drop. Empty as sin. A blonde sales assistant was unfolding folded sweaters. “Hello,” she said when she saw me. There was a hint of hope in her voice. I took a look around. The clothes were nice, and I looked more tolerable in the mirrors. But some things cost more than €15. And I’m not sure if they got the memo, but there’s a recession on. And if there’s one thing we Irish know a lot about…