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Where lols outweigh likes: Behind the scenes of Cologne’s selfie museum

With its bubblegum-pink balloons, neon-coloured ball pits and retro American diner as eye-popping, readymade photographic backdrops, the Supercandy Museum is an Instagrammer's dream.

Where lols outweigh likes: Behind the scenes of Cologne's selfie museum
Illustration of man taking a selfie next to the Instagram logo. Photo: DPA

Crammed into a supermarket trolley, Kiki Malliora squealed with laughter as she rolled past her sister at Cologne's pop-up selfie museum, where visitors said having fun outweighs the hunt for “likes” in a changing social media landscape.

“Sure, the setting is fake,” said the 38-year-old office administrator, dressed in a black crop t-shirt and jeans.

“But what matters to me is that the picture is real and that people can see I'm having a good time.”

Supercandy's three-month run comes as a new wave of social media users prize authenticity over staged photos, and celebrity influencers are increasingly honest about the effort that goes into keeping up a picture-perfect feed.

READ ALSO: Düsseldorf to open first Instagram museum

US singer Demi Lovato attracted almost 10 million Instagram “likes” when she posted an unedited bikini shot revealing her cellulite, while Hollywood actress Drew Barrymore showed herself crying on a “difficult and not so pretty” day.

Instagram is even experimenting with making the “like”-button invisible in response to concerns over its mental health impact.

Critics say younger users especially report feeling anxious or self-conscious if their posts don't perform well.

'A lot of work'

“When I see those elaborately staged pictures, I just think: God, that must have taken a lot of work,” said Malliora.

Her younger sister Nathalie, who keeps her Instagram account private for pre-approved followers only to see any uploaded photos and videos she shares, nodded in agreement.

Pop-up attractions like the one in Cologne have sprung up across the globe in recent years, offering anyone armed with a smartphone a plethora of brashly coloured, playful settings to liven up their social media presence.

The Supercandy Museum returned to the western German city this month after a previous six-month stint drew over 42,000 mainly female visitors, with full-price tickets costing €29.

The man behind Supercandy, Frank Karch, said ticket sales were “noticeably up” for the second edition, this time located in an industrial building in the city's hip Ehrenfeld district.

“Eventually this craze too will run its course,” he told AFP.

But the emergence of creators championing unfiltered, real-life pictures isn't a threat to his business model, he said, arguing that social media was diversifying so much there was a niche for everyone.

“The overarching mega-trend will stay the same it has been since the invention of painting: wanting to have a nice picture of yourself,” he said.

Pink cash

Social media expert Klemens Skibicki, a professor at the Cologne Business School, agreed but said the gulf was widening between those who see social media as a hobby, and those who use it as a tool to promote themselves or a brand – with some influencers earning enough to quit their day jobs.

Eschewing “selfies”, which anyone can take, influencers tend to opt more for “posies” taken by someone else, often a professional photographer, he said, to keep their posts looking polished and aspirational.

At Supercandy, German reality TV couple Ginger Costello Wollersheim and Bert Wollersheim – who have 85,000 followers between them – played with piles of pink $100 bills as their photographer snapped away.

“If you don't post good pictures for a while, you get fewer likes and people unfollow. So we're here to make beautiful, creative photos,” said Ginger, 33, smiling broadly.

Her long-haired husband Bert, a regular feature in Germany's tabloid press, said they weren't “fanatical” about chasing “likes”.

“Coming here is fun, it changes our story up a bit and that's good for us professionally,” added the 68-year-old, clad in shades and sparkly trainers.

But not everyone could see the appeal of what is essentially a giant photo
studio.

Chatting with her friends in a busy Cologne shopping street, high school student Anna-Maria cringed at the thought of forking out money to pose against an artificial backdrop.

“That's way too fake. I prefer spontaneous snapshots, where someone is laughing or in the middle of doing something,” the 17-year-old said.

“And I'd only post a selfie if my friends were in it too.”

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GERMANY EXPLAINED

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays – and will it ever change?

Germany's strict ban on shops opening on Sundays can be a shock to foreigners. We looked at the culture around it, and spoke to one of the country's largest trade unions to find out if things are ever likely to change.

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays - and will it ever change?

It’s Sunday. You’ve invited people for dinner, but you’ve forgotten the most important ingredient. Tough luck – you’ll either have to do without or wait until Monday because your local shops are shut. 

Most of us are familiar with this inconvenience, and perhaps you’ve even found yourself screaming: “Why?” in frustration in front of a locked-up supermarket. 

But it’s something us adopted Germans have had to get used to. We decided to take a look at the reasons behind Germany’s ban on Sunday shopping – and to find out if it might change in future. 

Where does the rule come from?

The Sonntagsruhe or ‘Sunday rest’ principle is an integral part of German culture, so much so that it is enshrined in the German constitution (Grundgesetz).

Article 140 of the law, which has remained unchanged since 1919, says: “Sundays and state-recognised public holidays remain protected by law as days of rest from work and spiritual upliftment.” 

But the practice of not working on Sunday has been around for much longer. The idea that the seventh day of the week is a day of rest dates back to the old testament and was declared a general day of rest across the Roman Empire as early as 321, by Roman Emperor Constantine.

In the centuries since, however, most of Europe has gradually relaxed the strict ban on commercial activities on Sundays. 

But in Germany, the rules remain restrictive. It’s unlikely to change anytime soon partly because of religious reasons, and also in relation to the interests of workers.

Germany’s biggest trade union Verdi spelled out their view. “It’s not ‘modern’ to work seven days a week,” they told The Local. “That’s the Middle Ages.” 

What exactly does the law mean?

On the face of it, the German law forbids all forms of work on Sundays and public holidays, though numerous exceptions are laid out in the Working Time Act. 

As well as emergency and rescue services, hospitals, nursing and care facilities, exceptions include cultural and sporting activities, and the hospitality sector. 

Another notable exemption to the rule is bakeries, which are allowed to open for three hours on Sundays – which is why you may often find a long queue at your local baker if you want to get your freshly baked Brötchen on Sunday morning. 

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery.

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

Illustrating how seriously the rule can be taken in Germany, there have even been cases of bakeries being sued for selling bread for too long on Sundays.

Shops, however, aren’t exempt from the rule and, the only way they can legally open on a Sunday is on a so-called verkaufsoffener Sonntag – Sunday trading day.

In most federal states, shops are allowed to open on between four and eight Sundays per year, and the States can decide when these should be. The chosen days must, however, be linked to a relevant occasion – such as a local festival, a market, a trade fair, or a similar event. 

Sunday openings also have to be recognisable as an exception to the general rule and Sunday openings that have already been approved can often be later overturned by the courts.

How strictly is the rule enforced?

Retailers who break the rules and open for business on Sunday can face fines ranging between €500 and €2,500.

The strictness of enforcement can vary widely between different regions.

In Berlin, for example, you can still find lots of Spätis (late night shops) open on Sundays. Although this is technically illegal, the authorities in the capital seem to take more of a relaxed approach to enforcement than in other states. 

A "Späti" late-night shop in Berlin.

A “Späti” late-night shop in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Florian Schuh

In the traditionally Catholic state of Bavaria, for example, the law is much more strictly guarded and enforced.

READ ALSO: Why Germany has strict shop opening hours

Is the law likely to change?

A survey by Spiegel in 2017 showed that 61 percent of Germans wanted to be able to shop on a Sunday, and this desire is shared by the trade industry.

The German Trade Association, for example, which represents around 400,000 independent companies, has strongly criticised Germany’s refusal to budge on the issue of Sunday openings on several occasions and argued that Sunday opening is also popular with staff, with many shop assistants appreciating the work in a more relaxed atmosphere.

In its latest statement on the issue, the association stated that, especially after following the economic impact of the pandemic, many retailers would benefit greatly from being able to open on Sundays. 

READ ALSO:

“It is remarkable that in no other EU country Sunday opening is as restricted as in Germany,” the association said. “Even in strongly Catholic EU countries such as Italy and Poland, shoppers can generally shop on Sundays. The same applies to France, although they place great value on culture and socialising.”

However, even if there is a widespread desire in some quarters to allow Sunday trading, an amendment to the constitution would require the consent of two-thirds of the German parliament. Also, there remains strong opposition to changing the rule from many workers’ groups and trade unions.

Trade union Verdi, which regularly files complaints against states and organisations which seek to deviate from Sunday trading restrictions, said that Sunday rest is still very important for workers.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb | Arne Dedert

A spokesperson said: “We have just one day a week when employers can’t stop us from going to football together, meeting friends, attending cultural events, or spending free time with the whole family.

“And we want to keep it that way. There are six days a week when we can go shopping, take the car to the garage, do our banking, or get the package delivered from the online retailer. On Sunday, there has to be peace and quiet.”

The Verdi spokesperson added that it’s important to think about “work-life balance, and not about being available 24/7 for a company”.

We also asked the union if the law looks set to change in the near future.

The spokesperson said: “Sunday, which is a non-working day for most people, has so far been protected by the majority of political parties in Germany.

“Verdi, with its almost two million members, continues to work to ensure that working on Sunday does not become an everyday occurrence.”

So it appears that the culture shock for many non-Germans of shops being closed on Sundays won’t change anytime soon. 

READ ALSO: From nudity to sandwiches – the biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Germany

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