Like so many German words, Saftladen is composed of two separate words: Saft, meaning juice, and Laden, which can be any kind of shop or corner store. So when you hear someone mumble “Saftladen!” as they are walking out of a store, you might reasonably expect to walk into a shop that specializes in all kinds of juice. Far from it! Saftladen is a derogatory term used to describe a shop or any service business, really, that offers junk, a substandard choice of goods, is overpriced or just has plain bad service – no matter what they are selling.
The words’ origin can be traced back to the 19th century. In those times, pharmacies sold their more or less effective treatments in small bottles that were typically stuffed into ceiling-high shelves. Picture rows of bottles with nasty concoctions in front of you, and it’s perhaps not too hard to understand why people jokingly referred to their local pharmacy as a Saftladen. A couple of years later, Saftladen took on a slightly different meaning when it started being used as a tongue-in-cheek euphemism for liquor stores. At the time, liquor stores had a bit of a shady reputation, so it was really only a question of time until Saftladen could mean any crooked business.
So that’s why it nowadays is mostly used to vent your frustration. But ‘mostly’ does not mean ‘only’ and you can actually find some shops that chose to go by the name of Saftladen – perhaps to beat their disgruntled customers to the punch.
So you don’t ever want your business to be called a Saftladen – unless, of course, you actually sell juice.