My unspoken pondering was answered one freezing night walking down Tauentzienstrasse a few months ago, when a huge white, billboard-encased building emblazoned with red writing across the street made me stop in my tracks. There it was. 'From Tokyo to Berlin. Coming spring 2014'. That unmistakable red square logo filled my dreams for the months to come. So when that massive storefront billboard was updated with its Berlin People Campaign - featuring an appropriate assortment of Berliners, from a DJ to a blogger to a restaurateur - and an official opening date, I marked April 11th on my calendar and began to count down the days until my very own Uniqlo would be just an U-Bahn ride away.
I knew its prime location on the corner of Tauentzienstrasse, across from Zara and just down from KaDeWe, meant it would not only be a regular stop on my shopping trips, but on many other Berliners' as well. With three levels and more square meterage than any other European Uniqlo, this flagship location has something for everyone. While I didn't make it early enough on opening day for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, complete with model Eva Padberg from the photo campaign, the buzz and crowds seemed not to have lessened by mid-afternoon. The wait for fitting rooms was over a half hour long. Employees were constantly bringing out armfuls of jackets and sweaters to replenish racks and shelves, keeping them robustly full. I felt as if I couldn't turn around without encountering yet another person welcoming me and asking if I needed any help.
As if the ticker tape stairways, rotating mannequins and floor-to-ceiling shelves of exceptionally tidy and colorful wares weren't enough to keep my energy up amidst the craziness of opening day at a massive retailer, the Uniqlo employees really set the tone for a positive shopping experience. As soon as I even started to pick up a pair of the Ultra Stretch jeans, I had someone at my side, cautioning that I should go down several sizes, as they ran large. Even when I decided on a pair two sizes down, she insisted I try the next size down as well (and you know what, she was right). I nearly fell over with shock when not one, but two different employees stopped by our epic fitting room line to offer a warm smile and thanks for waiting - something I had never before experienced in all my years in Germany.
In addition to being some of the friendliest employees I'd encountered in a long time, they were so wonderfully representative of Berlin itself, diverse in language and culture. I heard them conversing in lots of German and English, but also in a few languages I could not identify. I spoke English with a Spanish-accented girl during my time in the fitting rooms, but then chatted in German with the one who rung me up, commiserating with her about finding pants long enough for our tall frames. It was honestly such a good experience, one can only hope this level of service continues beyond opening weekend.
With a few Uniqlo visits already under my belt, I knew what to expect from the merchandise, but was still pleasantly surprised. The opening week promotions of 10€ off on down jackets and cashmere, two of the company's most iconic lines, was enough to have me second-guessing my pre-made and researched list of what I wanted to buy there (so as not to get distracted, as I tend to do). While I didn't end up leaving with either, I already can't get those colorful coats and unbelievably soft sweaters out of my mind. I admit, I've held J.Crew cashmere up as 'the ultimate' for a long time, but I think Uniqlo's might actually be more plush. Sure, the styles are a bit more limited, but that's a small price to pay when, well, paying only a fraction of the price.
The other thing that I was unprepared for was the collaboration with J Brand on a pair of limited edition ankle jeans in two colors, made specifically for the Berlin store launch. Always a sucker for a good deal on designer duds - though certainly not cheap at 100€, they are still half the cost of regular J Brand jeans - I grabbed a pair in my regular denim size (no vanity sizing like regular Uniqlo denim, sadly) without the patience to wait again in the painfully long fitting room line. It absolutely gutted me to try them on at home and admit to myself that the regular 40€ pair fit and flattered my figure ten times better, and that even with the cool tag commemorating the Berlin store opening and the designer denim status, they just weren't worth the investment. On the plus side, I can return them and for the same price, get a better-fitting pair of jeans AND an amazing cashmere sweater. Yes, please.
So while I kept my shopping tendencies in control on that first trip, ending up with only a couple of necessities and a couple of well-priced special pieces, I know there will be many more Uniqlo trips in my future. I look forward to finally being able to stock up on some great linen-blend tees, check out the latest colors of cashmere and have access to all the designer collaborations yet to come, all in my very own city. Welcome to Berlin, Uniqlo - I'm glad you're here!