Well, you’d think that it were a modernist masterpiece by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or Walter Gropius judging by the hordes of people who went to see it on opening day. But no, it’s a supersized hardware store called Bauhaus, which has outlets in sixteen countries. A whopping six percent of Iceland’s total population visited the store on opening day, purchasing goods for over a billion krónur. That is about eight million dollars, six million euros or, in British terms, an arseload of dosh. That’s one reason Iceland has been abuzz about Bauhaus; the other is that it’s not often that the undead rise from their grave.
Consumers aren’t brainless zombies, you latte-sipping elitist!
I wasn’t saying that the twenty thousand hardware store aficionados are undead, but that this branch of Bauhaus is. It was originally supposed to open in 2008, but because Iceland went straight to financial hell that year, plans were put on hold indefinitely. Since the financial crash, it has been referred to as the German Ruin, the Abandoned Farm, and the Haunted Mansion, as it sat derelict on top of a prominent hill on the outskirts of the city.
Was it lit up at night by forked lightning accompanied by thunder that sounded like the cackling of a thousand evil grins?
It wasn’t so much Dracula’s Castle as it was a big box of sadness to remind everyone who drove by that a lot of money was spent before the crash on things that came to nothing. Near Bauhaus is perhaps the most depressing of such sights: the desolate, barely inhabited Úlfarársdalur neighbourhood, which looks more like a set for an especially bleak zombie apocalypse movie than a place to live. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Bauhaus rose from the dead. It’s an unconventional marketing strategy, but there is nothing that will ensure that a whole nation knows about you like becoming the metaphorical gravestone of its financial system.
Wouldn’t that keep people away? Why did the horde descend on this symbol of economic devastation?
Despite having become an indelible signifier of bad times, Bauhaus is still a foreign retailer and therefore new and shiny. This is certainly not the first time that Icelanders have gone a bit overboard when a new store of foreign origin enters the market. Just this past winter Icelandic consumers welcomed the mildly stylish Swedish clothing chain Lindex like it was the second coming of Zombie Coco Chanel.
To understand how six percent of the inhabitants of a country can be induced to swarm the opening of a German hardware store, you have to remember that the nation of Iceland is like a sad polar bear, adrift in the North Atlantic, hungry for novelty. Living in Iceland means you are always an ocean away from anything new and different. So when an exotic, foreign store arrives on these shores, Icelanders greet it with the bewildered excitement of a starving polar bear chancing upon a Midsummer’s Night orgy.
Midsummer’s Night orgy, you say. I don’t suppose you could introduce me…
No, but you can experience what it feels like to be a lonely polar bear or the last survivor of a zombie apocalypse by wandering amongst the hundreds of bathroom products, tarpaulin and industrial lubricants in the twenty two thousand square metre store. That is, converted to English measurements, big enough to have an orgy in without anyone noticing. In the easternmost corner. On the Solstice. Tell them Grapevine sent you.
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