Lohengrin: Sweet History of Product Placement

We all know that the splendid knight Lohengrin was an invention. Created as a minor character for an epic poem written by Wolfram von Eschenbach, he entered as a mainstream hero by means of Richard Wagner's opera of the same name. If he was not a historical figure, what is this article doing on a history blog, you might ask. But there is a real history to tell about Lohengrin. It is all about Norway.

Freyja is a Norse goddess; a Norwegian company producing chocolate bars was named after her as Freia at the end of the 19th century. In 1911, they started producing a chocolate bar named Lohengrin. Oslo's National Theater had decided to put Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin on stage for the first time. In an exclusive agreement, the Lohengrin chocolate bars were made ​​exclusively for sale in this house. Meanwhile, the chocolate bars have become one of the longest selling confectionery products on sale in Norway. 

The launch of the chocolate bar in 1911 was made under unusual marketing conditions. The company Freia entered into an exclusive contract with the National Theater in Oslo which reserved the new product to be sold exclusively on the premises of the theater. The reason for the agreement was a production of Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin. The chocolate bars were sold for the first time during the opening night on 7 December 1911. In a marketing master stroke, the chocolate bar was included as a prop on stage, too. And you thought that product placement was an invention of the movie industry? Until 1914, the chocolate bars were offered for sale exclusively at the National Theater in keeping with the contract. They found their way into grocery stores, kiosks, etc. only later.

Freia commissioned Henrik Bull with the design of the chocolate bar. As an architect, his choice was far from obvious, but he had designed the buildings of the National Theater 12 years earlier. Henrik Bull had been trained as an architect in Berlin. In his work, he tried to meld the German-Austrian version of Art Nouveau with the Norwegian Dragon Style into a new national romantic ornamentation. He took his inspiration from the well-known Norwegian stave churches were. The influence of these studies can still be seen in the form of the Lohengrin chocolate bars. The bar has rounded ends showing stylized roses combined with curved, asymmetrical lines. Intriguing today, these ornaments were typical of the design of everyday objects at the time. Over the decades, the decor was simplified to the point that the formal principles of its design emerge only in rudimentary form today.

The Lohengrin chocolate bar initially had the status of an exquisite consumer article reserved for special occasions, such as a visit to the opera. After the Second World War, sales declined. When Freia announced the end of production in the seventies, a wave of protests by consumers induced the company to continue production on a reduced scale. In 1993, Freia was acquired the American company Kraft Foods.

Henrik Bull received a medal from the National Association of Norwegian Architects for the design of the Lohengrin chocolate bar.In 2009, Lohengrin chocolate bars were put on the list of Norway's protected national cultural goods. I can just imagine that someone had a fit in Kraft Foods; the company is well known to buy up quality companies, reduce their quality products to scrap level, then close them down to sell their inferior US products. The protection act neatly puts a stop to their usual strategy.

Originally, Lohengrin chocolate bars were available in two different sizes, but now there is only one size about 11 centimeters long with 34 grams weight. It is exclusively sold in Norway. Because of the shape of the chocolate bar and its packaging, critics call Henrik Bull's design a 'bone in a silver wrapper'. To this day, the chocolate bar is sold in aluminum foil wrapping over which a red paper band is added. The design of the word "Lohengrin" has also been revised several times over the decades.