The German renting experience part II: Ikea

There’s no way to avoid it. If you’re in need of homewares, fittings or furniture in any urgent or economical way, you will end up at Ikea. This is especially true in Germany where an apartment is truly an empty shell; every light fitting, blind and ounce of storage space must be self-supplied. It’s not hard to see how Ikea established this global juggernaut. From the blue and yellow banners that flag you down on the highway to the one Euro hot dogs that send you off, the experience is perfectly packaged and skilfully executed. Resistance seems futile. My issues with Ikea all came to a head this week after our need for a sofa became a matter of urgency. We had investigated every second hand sofa within 100km of Leipzig and concluded that Germany has a very strange take on lounging. A superficial search on Ebay will confirm that most sofas look either like this


or this


Boxy and/or incredibly uncomfortable seem to be in vogue. Enter Ikea. We eventually admitted that the only comfy and reasonably priced sofa available in Germany seems to be the Ektorp. With our bodies sore and our behinds numb we headed off to Ikea Halle to commit the deed as quickly as possible. As we walked through rows of LIDAN and LILLHOLMEN, I felt my inner anti-capitalist die a little with every step. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the experience: eyes darting frantically around and mind racing. Do we really need SÄV? Would a MOLGE fit in our bathroom? Knowing a credit card would be useless even in Ikea (this is Germany after all), we checked with the nearest yellow-shirted body that a geldautomat would be available. A small marathon and two schnitzels later, we arrived at the checkout only to discover that the geldautomat was down and indeed, a card was unacceptable. We drove home empty-handed in disgust and drank a cup of tea on the living room floor.

Several days later we tried again, this time asking a German friend for help. Chris is our new hero. After ordering our Ektorp from the sofa desk and confirming a trailer was available to hire (free for three hours), we made it through the maze with only a modest collection of HEMMA and BESKADA. The rear end of Ikea is a different place entirely. Tired looking slaves shout three digit numbers to a mournful crowd, most of whom are probably regretting at least 50% of their purchase. Fresh faced couples shacking up, pregnant women loading boxes into car boots, men downing the last of their second hot dog.

Meanwhile the trouble started, no trailor was available. The keys were lost, apparently. A van was available at a cost of thirty Euros. Chris argued our case with passion, but procured only a fifteen Euro discount. We should be grateful for that, we were told. Since the offending van only had only three seats, Chris was obliged to drive Rose and myself home and enlist a flatmate to unload our Ektorp, leaving Tony to wander among the IVARS and KIVIKS. To my relief Chris seemed completely unphased and drove happily out the gates like any boy in a large vehicle. A few minutes later, the troubles started again. No headlights. Rather than risk a U-turn Chris drove us bravely home, explaining to concerned fellow motorists that our lights were kaput. After his removalist duties were done, Chris again took up our case with Ikea. No refund on the hire fee. Hot dog, anyone?

Though it relieves me to have this vent (what are blogs for anyway?) it’s a pretty minor thorn in the grand scheme of things. When it comes to Ikea there are much bigger issues at stake. How is it that one company making mass-produced homewares has come to dominate bathrooms, bedrooms and living rooms around the globe? How can this cause anything but the wholesale loss of stylistic diversity and an ever-increasing pile of discarded junk? How did they delude us into believing that a SKOJIG here or a MALM there would transform our homes from a frumpy collection of mismatched junk to a haven of order and minimalist chic? Even more worrying, consider Tony’s reflections after his hour of Ikea hostage: with the population of Germany falling not rising, and if people require roughly the same amount of furniture from generation to generation, then the rate at which flat-packed boxes pour out the rear end of Ikea is roughly the same rate at which stuff is dumped into landfill elsewhere in Germany, and everywhere else on earth.

This may sound rich coming from someone sitting on an Ektorp, its box and plastic wrapping still lying on the floor. I can only promise that every other item in our new home (save the light fittings and curtain rails) has/will come from second hand or handmade sources. In fact, I’ve got some pretty big plans for furnishing our home with the recycled and the handmade, replacing things that would otherwise have ended up on our Ikea bill that day. Who knows, maybe my inner anti-capitalist can be revived. At least my bottom will be comfortable while I plot my anarchist course.

ps The lovely cushions were made from antique patchwork squares given to me by a friend. Thanks Jean!

pps In the first photo you can see the rug I bought in Strasbourg




9 Responses to “The German renting experience part II: Ikea”

  1. 1 Lil September 20, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    I love the photos, Ally 🙂 And I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘vent’ (though hopefully was suitably sympathetic about your trials!!)

  2. 2 Chris September 21, 2010 at 8:01 am

    too much! was a pleasure to be of help. As you already started with the cushions, with your skills you could easily make that capitalist brown into some hippie-socialist-cozy-second-hand Uniqueness. And against the IKEA-Leviathan: Blog Posts do change things.

  3. 3 Chris September 21, 2010 at 8:39 am

    ah, forgot. been blogging for a while, from cheesy lovesick teenager poems to some sort of modern art-non rhyming poetry both german and english. link is

    (means sth like the poet´s circle, because it started off as a group project. it´s me by now, and as you can see from the last post being quite a while ago, I might be out of the poetry-phase, though I hope not.)

  4. 4 Kim September 21, 2010 at 11:27 am

    And Rose looks so comfy on it!!

  5. 5 Samantha September 21, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Haha, isn’t it comforting to know that you can be anywhere in the world and going to Ikea is still a pain in the backside 🙂 Thanks for your comment about my skirt! Yes the pattern would be perfect for wool too. Like I said in the description, I didn’t cut it on the bias and it still worked perfectly. Plus the pattern only costs $3 to download which is very cheap – and about 25 pages to print. I think it would look great in wool, but I would line it if you were using wool. Promise to email me a photo if you make it! 🙂
    Lovely to talk to you yesterday!
    Sam xoxox p.s The cushions look great!

  6. 6 Mirjam September 21, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    I haven’t been to IKEA for such a long time but the memories are alive again!!! You go in and you only want to buy some new spoons and you end up with at least 100 pices you don’t need and fighting with a pregnant woman for the last tea cup! Is there something special in the air? Is it the Kötbullar and Hot Dogs? Is it the Pippi-Longstocking-feeling? Whatever, IKEA seems to be a miracle of capitalism; I agree so much. I have one golden rule: before I pay I have a look at all my treasures again and ask myself: “Do I really need it or do I only want to buy it because it is cheap?”. That minimizes the invoice very much…
    Nevertheless, your new sofa looks great and as it was such hard work to buy it and especially to bring it home, I hope it is your new island for relaxing!!! I am sure you create a lovely apartment with a great mix of second-hand, self-made and at least some IKEA furniture. Hope you, Tony, Rose and Chris have a lot of tea there together.

  7. 7 Gerri Frederiksen September 27, 2010 at 4:36 am

    Ciao Ally!
    I have been catching up with all of you recent blogs since Torbs and my return from Italy on Saturday!
    We had a wonderful 3 weeks away…ahh bella Italia!
    So pleased that your tooth situation seems to be almost rectified and that you have made the move to Leipzig, relatively unscaved!
    Love your Ikea story. Torbs and I are going to the Sydney Ikea store soon, as we have heard that you can buy Danish/Swedish dark brown bread in a carton, that you just add water too…go figure? Apparently, they sell lots of other Scandinavian food delicacies too.
    No doubt, I will also come home with a lot of other unecessary extra bits and pieces!
    Love Gerri..xx
    PS: I have missed your Mum and can’t wait to catch up with her asap!

  8. 8 caffeinatedabsurdity September 30, 2010 at 11:57 am

    🙂 Nice post. I do love the ability to live in Germany vicariously through your posts. Good and the bad , the posts are fantastic. An excellent distraction from work. Forgot you wrote this well 😛

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A girl with a camera, a toddler and a sewing machine. Making sense of Germany... and life in general.

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