Unusual idea Unraveling the secret behind Bornheim's Mysterybox vending machine

Bornheim-Waldorf · Can you imagine purchasing something without a clue of what it might be? It sounds strange, yet it's swiftly becoming a trend, even in Bornheim. Let's delve into the fascinating concept behind it.

 Surprising Idea: Tashina Michels stands beside the Mysterybox vending machine in Bornheim-Waldorf.

Surprising Idea: Tashina Michels stands beside the Mysterybox vending machine in Bornheim-Waldorf.

Foto: Axel Vogel

It’s not stocked with drinks, sweets or cigarettes. That much is certain. But what exactly are customers purchasing at this vending machine? Well, that's the catch—they don’t know. Inserting ten euros into the so-called Mysterybox machine on Feldchenweg in Bornheim-Waldorf yields a package whose contents remain a mystery until it’s opened. Tashina Michels recently installed it in Bornheim, setting it up on her private property with designated opening hours and video surveillance. It's likely the first machine of its kind on the left bank of the Rhine.

While it may seem strange, the concept (known elsewhere as Secret Pack machines), is gaining traction. The idea is to find a home for packages that for one reason or another didn’t reach their original destination.

Michels stumbled upon the idea when she saw a TV programme about the machines. Sourcing parcels for the vending machine proved an interesting endeavor. She gets them from a wholesaler, and she's just as clueless about their contents as her customers are. These wholesalers typically procure goods by the pallet from major trading platforms.

So how do parcels become undeliverable? The main reasons are an incorrect address, repeated delivery failure, or even outright refusal by recipients. Some packages are a result of flourishing online retail, where returns are inevitable, especially when sending unwanted orders back is free. According to a 2022 study by a research group at Otto Friedrich University Bamberg, nearly a quarter of online retail parcels are returned. In some cases, these returns are destroyed, but they are increasingly finding their way into surprise vending machines via wholesalers.

Michels is interested in the environmental aspect. Parcels are no longer destroyed but find new homes, and this promotes sustainability. "And perhaps someone will be happy with what they find," she muses. But the allure lies in the element of surprise. The packaging of the parcels provides few clues to their contents, but Michels' machine, housing 45 parcels, sees frequent refills throughout the day.

As for expansion plans, she remains undecided. "I'll let it run for now," she says. Occasionally, she witnesses first-hand the excitement as patrons pull parcels from the machine, eager to uncover their surprises. Recently, one customer received adult surprise eggs—a fitting testament to the enigmatic charm of the concept.

(Original text: Christoph Meurer / Translation: Jean Lennox)