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Culture

German Sex Shops Please, We're British

Germans know all about Beate Uhse's sex stores and mail-order business. Now the company is opening shop in the U.K. But whilst lingerie and sex toys are on hand, X-rated videos aren't.

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Beate Uhse's motto: Sex up your life

For half a century, Beate Uhse ran an erotica empire that became synonymous with sex in Germany.

Movie theatres, a mail-order business and stores selling everything from toys and videos to lingerie and condoms are to be found from the company's northern base in Flensburg to the southern-most tip of Bavaria.

Ninety-eight percent of Germans know about Uhse, who died in 2001 just two years after the company went public on the German stock exchange.

This week, the Beate Uhse group opened its first store in the U.K. and with it its entry into the English-speaking world. In the coming years, it seems, Europe's sex sellers may be ready to take on the American giants at Hustler and Playboy.

200 stores across Europe

The store in Sutton -- deep in London's suburbia -- is not what Beate Uhse followers are used to, however. Many of the 200 Beate Uhse stores in nine European countries have covered windows and video booths and 90 percent of sales at Beate Uhse stores have traditionally been to men.

But earlier this year, a new generation of managers set out to change that. Norway was the testing ground for a new concept – a brighter, more inviting atmosphere that features lingerie near the front of the store and sex toys at the back. Sex videos, which account for 40 percent of sales in traditional stores, are nowhere to be found.

The result? Nine out of 10 customers in the four stores opened in Norway this year are women, according to a company press release.

And Beate Uhse executives are expecting more of the same in Britain. "I'd be surprised if the women of Sutton don't wear lingerie from our store," Michael Vaughan, the U.K. manager told the Guardian.

"Good potential here"

Company Chief Financial Officer Otto Lindemann added: "Trading in erotic products has by no means been exhausted in Great Britain. We see a good potential here."

In the next several years, Beate Uhse plans to open about 100 new stores aimed at women shoppers. To accommodate this growth, the company is planning a new distribution and logistics center in Amsterdam and is expanding its Hungarian factory operation where rubber and latex products are produced. Also planned is an expansion of its mail-order business into the United States.

With an expected 250 million euros in sales expected this year, the company has come a long way since its beginning shortly after the end of World War II.

Village beginnings

In a 1998 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Uhse recalled village life in the months following the war when the men slowly began returning home. "The joy was overwhelming, and after three months a baby was on the way," Uhse said.

Indeed, Uhse started out by providing information on birth control to women in her native village. "The pill was not yet invented, and condoms were not to be had. Women came and said, 'Beate, what could we do?' "

Uhse, whose mother was one of the first women doctors in Germany, went to the library to research methods of natural birth control and then wrote up a small brochure based on what she learned. At first she copied the brochure by hand, but eventually she found a printer who printed it in exchange for five pounds of butter.

Uhse sold 32,000 copies in the first year. And a business was born.

Uhse offered this advice about sex: "It's important that both have basically the same desires about life. Not only about sexuality. Sexuality is very, very important, but if you don't have the same ideas about life and if you quarrel about should we take our holiday on the beach or should we take it in the Alps, the best sexuality dies."

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