Hans-Christian Dany

MiniMal Takes Care of Me (Winter 99)

Sometimes, if I just imagine things long enough, they become real to me. My favorite idea for some time was to be supported by MiniMal, imagining that someone there would like me and pull me along for a while. Then one day it was announced in the paper that applications were now being accepted. I got on my way immediately, but when I asked at my local branch, the branch manager didn't know anything about it. However, she gave me the number for the central office. The people there explained to me that the minimalism boom of the previous summer had given an agency the idea that it would make sense. The people from MiniMal had not known that there was such a thing as minimalism, but they found it flattering. For some time, there had been a sense that public presence was lacking, and the information about this previously unknown entity went well with the need for it.

It will take some time for the customers to get used to it, the PR woman told me, but at least the experiment would cost less than mailing flyers to every household. Then she showed me a book with blocks and boxes reduced to themselves and overflowing with meaning. I prepared something of this nature in the next few days and applied. After that, I went to the mailbox more frequently, and one month later, I received a letter that I had been accepted: for the next twelve months, I would not need to stop at the cash register, my shopping cart would simply be waved through.

The first time I packed up the goods I had not paid for, the cashier explained to the customers waiting in line behind me: "This is our artist for the year, who is allowed to go shopping free of charge." In the beginning I found this embarrassing in front of the other people standing in line. I always bought only a few items. Just a bottle of water, a chocolate bar, cigarettes at one time, and then I preferred to go back three or four times a day. I also never picked up a new bag, but always brought the used one back with me. The cashier probably thought to herself, we can't let our artist run around with an old bag, and every time I came, she said, "Why don't you take a new bag? You don't have to pay for it, you know." The only response I could think of then was something like, "Well, it's just for the milk." I let myself be talked into a lot of bags. When I got outside, I put a gray bag over the colorful MiniMal bag.

It took some time for me to be able to enjoy embodying the generosity of the chain and have the branch manager call a taxi for my over-filled shopping cart.

As an advertisement for MiniMal, I had a presence locally, I was told - I was almost even a hands-on experience. That's true. The people at my local branch knew me now. Even though I had actually been shopping there for years, no one had noticed that before. Now they recognized me. People even talked about me. When it got to be too much for me, I had to remind myself that it would be over next year, and I could go back to being an ordinary customer.

Several MiniMal customers also thought that as a cultural measure I was the pits and it would all be added to the prices. During my exhibition on the price signs that otherwise advertise the special offers, I was even brutally run into with a shopping cart in an aisle out of the sight of the surveillance cameras. I'm sure it was on purpose. One has to put up with these kinds of things as a MiniMal representative, it's just the shadow-side of love, the branch manager said.

On the whole, though, life was good with MiniMal sponsorship, because it is a clean chain that always has the latest products from TV commercials. And the displays don't hit you over the head with your own insufficiency like at "Penny", where the disinterest in how things are displayed is supposed to signal low prices.

I also found the bells hanging from the ceiling particularly convincing. Customers in a hurry can press it if the line at the cash register is too long. An automated voice expresses gratitude for the information and says that another cash register will be opened right away. Additional cash registers are not actually opened, however, until the cashiers ring a little Christmas bell, just as they always have. On the whole, I believe that MiniMal thinks the third sector is a joke. Things are simply sold here in a clearly defined context where there is nothing to change. The things have to have their place on the shelves, otherwise the customer can't find them, which is again similar to the way it is in art. Both sides certainly have something to say to one another, and a few could probably even come to some kind of consensus. It was a good experience living with a stipend from MiniMal. I can recommend it.

German version published in Starship 2, 3.99
Translation by Aileen Derieg