If you’re making dinner and you forgot an ingredient, what do you do? Well, some of you might head over to a grocery store. But depending on where you are, it might be easier to walk to the Tante-Emma-Laden around the corner!
Directly translated, Tante-Emma-Laden means “Aunt-Emma-Store”, but it defines what Americans would call a “mom-and-pop grocery store” or a “corner store.” A Tante-Emma-Laden usually has all of your basic needs, from food items to bathroom necessities to newspapers and cleaning supplies. Many of them also sell lottery tickets. So if you need a few small groceries or want to pick up a quick snack, your nearest “Aunt-Emma-Store” is the place to go!
Unlike large German grocery stores such as Aldi and Lidl (or in the US: stores like Safeway and Giant), a Tante-Emma-Laden is much smaller and personable. It is frequently family-run or family-owned and employees are more likely to help you find what you need.
The term Tante-Emma-Laden is colloquial and originated in the years after World War II (primarily in the 1950s), when corner stores began to emerge in towns throughout Germany. Back then, the name Emma was often used in a general sense to refer to maids (or in this case, someone who’s there to lend a helping hand). The word Tante (“Aunt”) often identified someone older and trustworthy that you know well.
Those who lived near a Tante-Emma-Laden probably knew the shop owner personally. Since corner stores were often run by older women who fit the profile of someone that’s eager, personable, helpful and friendly, their stores were colloquially called Tante-Emma-Läden.
In Germany, such corner stores have been on the decline ever since large supermarkets began to emerge across the country. But some Germans felt nostalgic for the Tante-Emma-Läden – which were tradionally run by older women – and have taken initiative to bring them back. At the same time, Germany’s rising immigrant communities have opened corner stores of their own, using the concept of the traditional Tante-Emma-Laden while also selling goods and produce from the countries of their origin.
So if you don’t have time for a trip to a supermarket, your nearest German corner store is sure to have what you need. You might even be surprised at the diversity of items you’ll find!
By Nicole Glass, German Embassy