What do Israelis love most?
Volkswagen, Persil and Co. : Products from Germany are becoming increasingly popular in Israel
Hardly any other place shows the Israeli attitude to life as well as the Kikar Magen David, a lively place in Tel Aviv. On the roadside, women sing Yiddish folk songs, passers-by stroll past small shops and bazaar stalls. There is only one shop that doesn't really fit into the street scene: Carolina Lemke's glasses store from Berlin.
Here, racks are draped on a white high-gloss counter, and the customer's fingerprints are immediately wiped away. Black and white advertising pictures hang on the walls. The style is reminiscent of a hip glasses salesman in Prenzlauer Berg and not at all of the Middle East.
“The people here love the lifestyle in Berlin and therefore also our design,” explains one employee. But what hardly any Israeli customer knows: Carolina Lemke's glasses don't even come from Berlin.
There is not a single branch in the German capital. And the designer with the supposedly German name doesn't exist either. Instead, the Israeli fashion chain Castro is behind the brand. The eyewear label was founded seven years ago in Israel and now has three stores in Tel Aviv.
What sounds amazing seems like a great marketing success. Because German products of all things are popular in Israel, says Charme Rykower, managing director of the German-Israeli Chamber of Commerce. "Occasionally there is even a label fraud to give the appearance of a German product," says Rykower.
German efficiency as an advertising message for Israelis? A few years ago that was out of the question. German products were frowned upon as they came from the country of the perpetrators. And yet a German company dared to enter the Israeli market with loud advertising messages, and calls for boycotts quickly made the rounds. Ten years after the Holocaust, there was still an import ban on German products, and it took another ten years for Israel and Germany to establish diplomatic relations.
"It was a long process," says Rykower. After initially sharp rejection based on very mixed feelings, German products slowly came to be accepted in the 1990s. “It was only when a new generation grew up that the slow rapprochement and thus also the sales were made possible,” says Rykower.
In the meantime, goods from Germany are no longer just accepted, but popular. According to a survey by the business development agency "Germany Trade and Invest", the Israelis associate the products with high quality and reliability.
They also praise the customer service of German companies. Even historians were amazed by the change in image and devoted entire exhibitions to the topic, most recently at the end of last year in Bergisch Gladbach together with the German-Israeli Chamber of Commerce.
Israelis are increasingly buying more German products
And the figures also show the trend: In a European comparison, the Germans have become Israel's most important trading partner: Israelis only import more goods from the USA, China, Turkey and Russia.
Last year, German companies exported goods worth more than four and a half billion euros to the country in the Middle East - the trend is increasing. In the past year alone, exports grew by a good five percent. Particularly popular: machines, cars and electronic parts.
No wonder, then, that German companies are vigorously beating the drum in Israel. There are commercials on television, and corporations post their advertising messages on outside walls - for example in Hamoshavot Street, a popular shopping area with a large shopping center.
Directly opposite, on the ground floor of the so-called Champions Tower, Volkswagen has opened a pop-up store. Today, the VW logo is emblazoned above the glass fronts of the showroom. It was not easy for the group to gain a foothold in the promised land. The first VW dealer with its own repair workshop opened in Tel Aviv as early as the 1960s, but its operator had to struggle primarily with boycotts.
The spokeswoman did not want to read out advertising slogans
At that time, for example, the Israeli news anchor Yael Ben-Yehuda refused to read a slogan for the VW Beetle on the radio. “There are no problems with a Volkswagen,” was the sentence with which the group actually wanted to advertise the reliability of its cars. Ben-Yehuda's resistance set the precedent. From then on, many speakers were free to choose whether or not to present the messages of German companies.
Even in the 1980s, importers tried to cover up the origin of German products. For example, the VW Passat was not given the stamp “Made in Germany”, but was advertised as “European”.
Today the vehicles of the German automobile manufacturer are part of the cityscape, although the sales figures are still comparatively low. In the latest registration statistics, VW only ranks 14th. In the upper class segment, Mercedes and BMW lead the field, in the middle class, Asians such as Hyundai, Kia and Toyota are at the top.
Mercedes also took longer
Volkswagen is cooperating with some of the country's start-ups for this purpose. With two Israeli technology companies, the carmaker wants to bring a ridesharing service with self-driving cars onto the streets of Tel Aviv in three years - initially as a pilot project, later with a few hundred vehicles.
VW is not the only German car manufacturer that had to build its current reputation first. Mercedes, too, initially had problems selling its buses to an Israeli bus company in the 1970s. There was initially great resistance, and it was only after a ten-year wait that Mercedes was able to deliver a total of 1,100 models in Israel.
No trouble with Arab countries
And it also took the Düsseldorf-based consumer goods group Henkel a long time to arrive on the Israeli market. The official reason for this: "Because of Israel's conflicts with the Arab world, direct activities in this country were not possible for decades," says Henkel. After all, they didn't want to risk being banned from trade by Arab countries.
This only changed in the late 1990s. Henkel began building a network of dealers and founded a joint venture in 1996 to sell its detergents and cosmetics. In the meantime, the company relies fully on the German map: On some packaging, the consumer goods company even prints a small logo with the Hebrew inscription "Technologia Germanit", which translates as "German technology".
Glasses also popular with tourists
Their good reputation should pay off for German companies. Because Israel is economically strong. Hardly any other industrialized nation has grown so strongly since the turn of the millennium. This is also noticeable in the wallets of some Israelis, who can increasingly afford the expensive products from Germany.
In addition, the country has developed into a global high-tech location. For the almost nine million inhabitants, there are an estimated 8,000 young tech companies looking for partners. This is one of the reasons why the large German corporations have long opened branches in Israel.
Incidentally, the eyewear label Carolina Lemke can benefit twice from its fraudulent labeling. Not only Israelis give in to the lure of German designer products. “We also have a lot of German tourists in our shop,” says the employee. However, they should become skeptical when they look at the sales brochures: They are talking about “Geramany” instead of “Germany”.
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