A visit to Marion and Jürgen Brecht’s sweet shop, the Heidelberger Zuckerladen, tastes sweet and tangy—like a caramel that melts in your mouth. The place smells of aniseed, liquorice and of rotting wood. And it feels like a warm embrace.

Jürgen Brecht opens the wooden door with the brass doorknob from within the Zuckerladen shop. The door’s glass pane is hidden behind red velvet. “Come in,” says the man with the prominent glasses, treating you like an old acquaintance. He steps aside opening the view onto a hotchpotch of antiques, curiosities and sweets.


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The Heidelberger Zuckerladenthe sweet shop whose offer of assortments ranges far beyond sweets.

Hundreds of bonbonnières stand in line. Inside: little Coke bottles, smurfs, acid drops, wine gums, liquorice wheels. They are carefully lined up on a shelf that used to hold the bobbins of an invisible-mending service shop in much earlier times. Marion and Jürgen fixed the sliding elements of a cupboard to the ceiling at a slant. They hold issues of the Bild-Zeitung newspaper from the 1960s and a Hörzu magazine with the title: “First full-screen TVs available.” Each centimetre in the 70-squaremetre sales area exhales history. Or a personal story. Or even both. “We don’t follow a specific concept. The Zuckerladen has simply grown as such over the past few decades,” explains Marion. “It is an authentic place.”

The shop offers hundreds of sorts of chocolates, probably even more.

The native of Speyer and her North German partner started their sweet business in 1986, on July 22nd. In a tiny shop, not far from this one. But a few years later they moved to Plöck number 52, where the Zuckerladen has been to this day. “Plöck” is a special road in the old town: it means ‘plot of land’ and refers to the three-field system used in medieval Heidelberg. The road runs parallel to the main road, the Hauptstraße, and is a mixture of pedestrian zone, cycleway and “normal” road. From here, you can get anywhere quickly in just a few-minutes’ walk: to Steingasse alley with its special shops, to the Kurpfälzisches Museum (museum of the Electoral Palatinate), to the art club, to the almost legendary gallery of Klaus Staeck, to Heidelberg University and its beautiful library or to Heidelberg Palace. The Plöck is home to numerous little shops, like gift shops or bakeries. And in the midst: the sweet shop whose offer of assortments ranges far beyond sweets.

“Our products, the sweets, matter to us a lot. We choose them carefully,” says Marion. The shop offers hundreds of sorts of chocolates, probably even more. Marion and Jürgen never counted the pieces in their range. It ranges from French truffles to sweet little gifts made of Marshmallows and caramel from a little Swedish town. And, of course, the range of sustainably produced and vegan products is growing.

“We want to be like a little island of shelter.”

Jürgen Brecht

However, what matters even more to the operators of the Zuckerladen, is the people who come in (sometimes 40 of them at once, when it’s peak time.) “We want them to take away much more than a pick and mix,” says the owner with his distinctive white beard. Such as joy, relish and warmth—sincere interest, like a warm embrace. “We want to be like a little island of shelter.” And, indeed, time seems to stand still amidst this amount of sugar and heart.

In the back office, Jürgen and Marion arrange gateau creations and sweet presents.

“We have regular customers across the planet,” says Jürgen: people, who used to study in Heidelberg or, as a child, nibble “broken” sweets in their shop, such as half Colakracher chews or crumbly sherbet drops that are broken and are not sold but given away in the Zuckerladen. In 35 years Marion and Jürgen never had to advertise their shop. Their business works on the basis of personal recommendation. The customers’ age composition spans between? “Children just as much as 90-year-olds. 90 per cent of the customers are, however, grown-ups,” says Marion. And they even bring, instead of only buy, presents from time to time. Under the ceiling above the cash desk, there is an eleven-and-a-half metre boat: a “little present” from the Heidelberg rowing club. Jürgen and the rowers had to saw off a part of the stern to make it fit into the place. Football scarfs showing Upper and Premier league clubs dangle from the bow—pieces out of Jürgen’s collection, who collects “pretty much everything.” He gets the things from flea markets or attics. “This behaviour may be rooted in childhood. Maybe you do this when you haven’t had many toys,” he says.

“We want them to take away much more than a pick and mix.”

Behind the counter, there are a number of cigarette packets from days gone by. Their original price: four pfennig. Historic election posters decorate the wall. A yellowed poster showing pop singer Dieter Thomas Kuhn hangs above a pile of books: hardback books, tatty paperback ones and magazines. Worn plastic figures. Collection tins for the Frauennotruf (emergency call for women) or the Kinderschutzbund (child protection agency). An alien in the shelf at the rear: “You wouldn’t believe how many people have wanted to buy it,” says Marion and laughs.

The alien in the shelf at the rear.

The shop window displays yet another present: a discarded dentist’s chair. One of Marion’s and Jürgen’s customers disbanded his surgery and offered them a part of the inventory to integrate it into the shop. Their tendency towards irony and sarcasm wafts through the sweet shop like the scent of aniseed, liquorice and rotting wood.

Marion’s and Jürgen’s tendency towards irony and sarcasm wafts through the sweet shop.

Jürgen and Marion have spent most of their lifetime here in number 52 Plöck. Over twelve hours every day, sometimes long into the night. In a building that used to host Russian students two centuries ago. They met there to pore over banned literature in the “Russian reading room” on the first floor. Beneath, Jürgen and Marion order and store goods, serve customers and have a chat. Just the two of them. In the back office, they arrange gateau creations and sweet presents. “In-between, I do the bookkeeping,” Marion explains. She takes stock: “We sell no cars, we sell colourful packets for a small amount of money. You don’t grow rich this way.” The Zuckerladen sweet shop is their life’s work and “a home” instead. It is a place, where you can nibble sweet things—and play, because Jürgen makes every visitor to the shop play dice with him after they have paid. They play for lollies, lemonade and jelly bears. Until the customer has won. And leaves the shop with the feeling of a warm embrace.



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