The origins of Konsum go back to 1850 when the first German consumer cooperative was founded by workers in Eilenburg near Leipzig. The number of cooperatives and their membership increased throughout the second half of the 19th century and by 1918 they totalled 1,400 with more than four million members. Membership peaked in the 1920s and early 1930s. However following Hitler's accession to power in 1933 the Nazi government actively discouraged consumer cooperatives before eventually dissolving them and confiscating their properties.
Cooperatives re-emerged after the Second World War. In the eastern part of the country, they were reorganized by SMAD, the Soviet Military Administration in Germany, who returned their confiscated properties and encouraged membership. By the end of 1947, 1.8 m East Germans had joined, twice as many as in 1932 (number for the Länder that would form the GDR). By the 1980s the figure reached 4.5 m members. Under the aegis of the East German authorities, the Union of Consumers' Cooperatives became a semi-state institution in charge of trade, together with the state-owned Handelsorganisation (HO - Trade Organisation). For a few years cooperative outlets operated side by side with private traders but by 1953 the government actively discriminated in favour of Konsum shops. Thus their number expanded considerably, especially in rural areas where they were often the only shop around. Three years later, the government introduced commission trade, whereby private shopkeepers were encouraged to sell HO and Konsum goods. As a result, HO and Konsum handled the vast majority of the retail trade in the GDR.
Many Konsum shops, in particular in rural areas, predated the Second World War. These were small, lacklustre units. Yet in the 1970s new Konsum shops and department stores started to appear in the larger cities. In the Hanseatic city of Stralsund several shops were enlarged and modernised, although this trend may have bypassed the small shop below.
In the early 1980s, Konsum was divided territorially and functionally into 198 retail enterprises but this did not affect the brand. Following the re-unification of Germany in 1990, these were regrouped into 55 cooperatives before being privatised by the Treuhandanstalt. Nowadays several cooperatives still operate in the eastern Länder and use the name Konsum for their shops.
Location: Frankenstraße, Stralsund, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern / Picture taken in May 2009