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Culture

From Anti-Fatigue Tonic to Myth

There are only a handful of products that are known in every corner of the globe - Coca-Cola has to lead the pack. Now the world’s best known drink has an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary History in Bonn, Germany.

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Coke promising a little more zest to life in South Africa.

The exhibition "Fascination Coca-Cola" explores how a soft drink that was developed in 1886 by a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia, USA as a tonic against headaches and fatigue came to achieve mythic status, leaving its imprint, for good or bad, on nearly every society on earth.

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The exhibit brings old and new Coca-Cola objects from the world over to Bonn, including advertising posters (photo), refrigerators, coke machines and delivery trucks.

Curators have delved into how Coke and the arts have met over the decades. Coca-Cola hired its first celebrity spokesperson in music hall performer Hilda Clark in 1893. Since then Coke jingles and songs have been performed by such artists as Tom Jones, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and the Moody Blues. Coke has entered the world of high art, though its pop version cousin. Works by Josef Beuys and Andy Warhol are also part of the show.

The exhibition looks at how the drink has been marketed in association with everything from the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood—Greta Garbo, Cary Grant and Joan Crawford touted the beverage—to boy bands and countless sporting events. Its well known advertising prowess has produced some real classics. Who can forget "I’d like to teach the world to sing" from the 1970s, "Coke is it" from the 80’s or "You can’t beat the real thing" from last decade? For better or worse, Coke has become imprinted on the world’s consciousness.

German Debut

Coca-Cola hit the German market in 1929. The ad campaign said Coke was "delicious – refreshing" and Germans believed it. They bought nearly 6,000 crates of the beverage in the first year alone.

Coca-Cola

While Coke’s global presence is astounding, it’s not always seen in a positive light. Coke might be seen as almost a worldwide unifier by some, but other see the pernicious octopus of globalization in the sugary drink, one that rides roughshod over cultures, promoting tooth decay and weight gain while squeezing profits out the world’s poor.

No matter what your view of Coca-Cola, there’s no denying its success and reach or the powerful influence it has had on the world we live in. So, if you can’t fight ‘em, you might as well, as Coca-Cola used to say, "have a Coke and smile".

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