Thursday, July 17, 2008

It's the Real Thing.


When the German Army faced it’s first crushing defeat at Stalingrad in 1943, with over half a million men trapped in a ring of Soviet troops and tanks, supplies ran so low that starvation was a major factor in the decision to surrender. One of the many home comforts that the troops missed was an ice-cold Coca-Cola. The ‘ice-cold’ part of the equation was readily available in the snows of southern Russia. Coca-Cola was a little harder to get, but not entirely impossible. It will no doubt come as a surprise to most people that Hitler’s Wehrmacht shared a fondness for this particular beverage the same way that American GIs did. But they did, and they drank Coke throughout the war.

Or at least they thought they did.

Coca-Cola had a successful branch in Germany well before the outbreak of World War II, sponsoring the 1936 Berlin Olympics and financially supporting the Nazi Party by advertising in it’s propaganda sheets. And, like it’s American parent, it was able to establish itself as a part of the military supply chain, providing refreshment to hard-pressed panzer-grenadiers, Luftwaffe fighter pilots, and tank crews throughout the conflict. Coke was also very popular with young Germans and many a Hitler Youth quenched his thirst with it after a day’s hiking, parade-ground marching and stiff-armed saluting.

But there was a problem. Once the war ended trade wiith the USA in 1941 it became impossible to supply the ingredients needed for the black beverage’s signature syrup. So what were they to do? Close the factory and pass up the opportunity to supply the boys-in-grey? Stop trading and pass up the profits still to be made? Gott-in-himmel, Nein!

What Coca-Cola Germany did was invent a new product using the ingredients they could still get. Such as apple-fibre left over from cider making and whey from cheese making. After much trial and error they came up with a sweet, fizzy, orange-flavoured drink, which they shipped in the same trademark bottles as before, still labelled Coca-Cola. So while Coke was drunk by German soldiers throughout the war it wasn’t quite the real thing.

When the war ended and the Americans returned they found that not only had the German Coca-Cola Gmbh survived it had even made a profit to be handed back to it’s American owners. Which caused no end of embarrassment, as making a profit from supplying the enemy’s armies was on dubious ground to say the least. And let’s not even think about raising the issue of slave labour maybe being used by Coke’s efficient German subsidiary. But business is business, and money is money, and so they picked up where they’d left off, and kept quiet about the financial windfall.

They also found that the fizzy, orange, ersatz Coke was still very popular. So they sold the original Coke in the old, familiar Coke bottles, and put the fizzy orange drink in a distinctive new bottle of it’s own, and kept shipping it to thirsty Germans, now labelled with it’s own name - Fanta. It’s since gone on to be a world brand, particularly popular in South America for some reason.

Many kids of the Hitler Youth generation still have an enduring affection for Fanta, among them Pope Benedict, the former PanzerKardinal Ratzinger, once unkindly known as Pope John Paul II’s Rottweiler. It was included, by special request, with the meals that the pontiff is being served in his temporary Sydney residence while he recovers from the long flight to Oz. He was also provided with a kitten for companionship, being known as a cat lover. We can only hope that His Holiness is truly refreshed by his childhood favourite, and made ready for the vast crowds of young people eager for the torchlight rallies to come. And that the Papal Rottweiler doesn’t injure himself chasing after the cat.

Heil Fanta!


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