Cover photo- My mom behind the counter of her father’s Laden. That’s me, the Daumenlutscher, on the right
What is a Tante Emma Laden? Oddly, one of these shops holds a very important place in my life. My very first memory is of falling down the steps in front of my Opa’s Tante Emma Laden. (This had nothing to do with the store, and everything to do with the fact that I needed glasses, and no one had worked that out yet). I was 2, and my mother and I went to Germany to help my Opa shut down the Corner Store that he and Oma had built up after the war and their resettlement in Buldern, West Germany. I recently learned that these little Mom and Pop shops, in the middle of neighborhoods, were called Tante Emma Laden (I always thought of them as a Store or Laden like Opa’s). Funny name, but it all makes sense when you know the history.
What is a Tante Emma Laden?
The best way to describe a Tante Emma Laden (Aunt Emma Store) is … a small corner mom and pop store. In German you would call them a Lebensmittelgeschäft, in English, grocery store, but they were so much more than that. These little shops were crammed full of everything you could possibly need. Out of Sugar? Run to the Tante Emma Laden in mid-bake to get it. Need some green embroidery thread? I’ll bet there is a decent selection in some drawers in the back. Laundy Soap, Canned goods, Dish Towels, Hair Ribbons, Sausage, Butter… you could find it all at these little Markets. My Uncle told me he bought his first pair of soccer shin guards from my Mother while she was working in the shop.
But how did they get to be called Tante Emma Laden?
In German culture, a woman who might be a family friend or neighbor that you are close to and trust would be called “Tante” as a sign of respect. And the name “Emma” is a fairly common name from the time. Unfortunately, it was also a name you might call a maid or helper. In the 1950s a lot of small Lebensmittelgeschäfte (corner grocery stores) popped up around Germany. Most of these family shops were run by women. (Opa and Oma’s shop was no exception. You would find Oma behind the counter until she passed away…. ) These women were helpful, and would often find exactly what you needed for you (no shopping carts banging through the aisle!). The stores became known as Tante Emma Laden because the women behind the counter were helpful, friendly and familiar faces.
Tante Emma Laden were Special Places in the Community
As you might expect, a corner market in a small community would become a neighborhood hub. Remember too, in Germany in the 1950s people didn’t do massive grocery shops once a week… instead, they bought what they needed for the day. A visit to the Butcher, to the Baker… and to the Lebensmittelgeschäft would round out part of the day’s chores. Children were trusted to shop in them with a list and some money, because mothers knew that the shopkeeper would take care of them. And chances are, there might be a slice of wurst “for the hand”, or a sweet to take away. (My mom told me a story about a dog named Roland who would show up at the store with a basket and list… but she may have been pulling my leg).
Even more important during this time after the war, the shops had account books where purchases could be recorded, and then paid off at the end of the month.
These little shops were at the center of everything, and everyone knew everyone else… and kept an eye on everyone else.
Me at age two- I’ve always loved German Wurst
Poem About the Tante Emma Laden
It’s a sign of how important these stores were… how ingrained in the German culture, that songs and poems were written about the Tante Emma Laden.
Here is an excerpt from The Tante Emma Laden by S. Cornella… for the FULL poem, click here–>Tante Emma Laden Poem
ich geh’ so gern dorthin,
(Rough) English Translation
I go through the pretty village,
Mother sent me,
to the little mom and pop shop,
well behaved, I agreed to go
Half a pound from the butter block,
and some sugar too,
black tea and rye bread,
and ham from the smoker.
The store is cozy small,
I like to go there,
and I get a Brause candy,
because I am still a child.
I wander with a full bag
along the dirt road leads to home,
the colorful sweets taste fine,
the sun laughs.
Sadly, the Tante Emma Laden are Vanishing
Today, in a country filled with Lidl, Aldi, Rewe and other shopping centers, the small corner markets are vanishing. People seek the convenience of having a large selection, and prefer shopping just once a week. Times change, and the small markets are going the way of rotary phones. My Opa closed his shop in the late 1960s when he finally retired, so that storefront next to the church houses a fabric store now. There is a Lidl up the road and around the corner… but it’s not quite the same, is it?
(This post was sparked by some photos I found on my last visit home. Opa’s in his store, mom behind the counter before it closed… and me, munching a Wiener to make me feel better after my tumble down the stairs)