Currency in Germany
Germany uses the euro. It is one of the many European countries that use this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender in all countries.
One euro is divided into 100 cents.
The official symbol of the euro is € and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.
- Banknotes: The euro banknotes have the same design in all countries.
- Standard coins: All euro area countries issue coins that have a distinctive national design on one side and a common standard design on the other. The coins can be used in any euro area country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
- Commemorative €2 coins: These differ from normal €2 coins only in their “national” side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country can produce a certain amount of these coins as part of its normal coin production, and sometimes “European” 2-euro coins are produced to commemorate specific events (e.g. anniversaries of important treaties).
- Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins with other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, have very special designs and often contain significant amounts of gold, silver or platinum. Although they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector’s value is usually much higher and therefore you are unlikely to find them in circulation.
If you still have marks left over from your previous trips, you can exchange them at the Deutsche Bundesbank without any time or amount limit. As a rule, commercial banks no longer exchange marks. Some public telephones operated by “Deutsche Telekom” still (2013) accept Deutsche Mark and coins from 10 Pfennig at the rate of 2:1.
Do not expect anyone to accept foreign currency or be willing to exchange it. Exceptions are airport shops and restaurants and, less frequently, fast-food restaurants at major railway stations. These usually accept at least US dollars at a slightly lower conversion rate. If you want to exchange money, you can do so at any bank where you can also cash your travellers’ cheques. Exchange offices, which were once a common currency, have virtually disappeared since the introduction of the euro. Again, airports and international train stations are exceptions. The Swiss franc can sometimes be accepted near the Swiss border.
While the German national debit cards – known as EC-Karte or girocard – (and to a lesser extent the PIN-encoded Maestro and VPay cards) enjoy almost universal acceptance, this is not the case for credit cards (VISA, MasterCard, American Express) or foreign debit cards (VISA Debit/Electron etc.), which, although not as widespread as in other European countries or the USA, are accepted in some large retail outlets and some fast-food restaurants.
Don’t be fooled by card terminals in shops or by other people paying by card – these machines are not necessarily programmed to accept foreign cards, so it’s best to ask around or look for acceptance stickers before you shop or fill up your car.
Hotels, large retailers, petrol station chains and national companies, large supermarkets and discounters (REAL, EDEKA, REWE, Aldi and Lidl) accept credit cards; some other discounters (Netto, Penny) or small independent shops and supermarkets tend not to do so (with some exceptions). No type of card (credit or debit) is accepted in bakeries. In some places there is a minimum purchase amount (usually 10 euros) for card payments. At most ATMs you can withdraw money with your foreign credit or debit card, but you need to know the PIN code of your card to do so.
Sometimes petrol stations or small shops do not accept 500 or 200 euro banknotes for fear of counterfeiting.
Tipping in Germany
In Germany, tipping is common in restaurants, bars (not fast food restaurants), taxis and hair salons. They are not obligatory, but are always appreciated as a thank you for excellent service. It is customary to tip 5-10% or round up the bill. Note that unlike some other countries, service staff are always paid on an hourly basis (although not always as well). A tip is therefore mainly a matter of courtesy and appreciation. If you did not like the service (e.g. slow, abrupt or indifferent service), you cannot tip at all and it will be accepted by the staff.
In Germany, tipping is usually done by mentioning the total amount when paying. For example, if a waiter tells you that the bill is “€13.50”, simply state “15” and he will give you a tip of €1.50.
Tips in other situations (unless otherwise stated) :
- Taxi driver: 5-10% (at least €1)
- Household: 1 to 2 euros per day
- Luggage transport: 1 € per piece
- Public toilet attendants: 0.10-0.50
- Delivery services: 5-10% (at least €1)
Shopping in Germany
As in most other Western European languages, the meaning of full stop and comma is exactly the opposite of the English habit; in German, a comma is used to indicate a decimal point. For example, €2.99 is equivalent to two euros and 99 cents. The “€” symbol is not always used and can be placed before or after the price; however, it is much more common to place the € after the amount (e.g. €5). A dot is used to “group” the numbers (one dot for three digits), so “1,000,000” would be a million. So “123,456,789.01” in German is the same number as “123,456,789.01” in English-speaking countries.
Retail prices are reasonable and lower than in Northern European countries and all goods and services include VAT. Fuel, sparkling wine, spirits and tobacco are subject to an even higher tax. The first of these taxes, the “Branntweinsteuer”, was first levied in 1507, and a tax on sparkling wine was introduced by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Some German brands of high-quality products such as kitchen utensils, stationery and hiking equipment are significantly cheaper than abroad. By law, VAT is always included in the price of an item (except for goods exported for commercial purposes, which may be subject to customs duties). The reduced VAT rate of 7% applies to hotels (but not to food consumed locally), food (some items considered luxury goods, such as lobster, are exempt from this reduction), printed matter, public transport (for short distances only) and the price of admission to the opera or theatre.
Many Germans prefer to look at price rather than quality when shopping for food (read: don’t like being “ripped off”). As a result, competition among discount grocery stores (which could be the cause of this very specific behaviour) is extremely strong (in fact, WalMart had to withdraw from the German market because it could not compete on price), resulting in very low grocery prices compared to other European countries (although this is not the case compared to North America – usually a German discounter has a similar quality as a North American discounter, but at average prices).
The chains “Aldi”, “Lidl”, “Penny” and “Netto” are a special kind of supermarket (don’t call it a “supermarket” – the Germans call it a “discounter”; a supermarket/supermarket has slightly higher prices, but also a much wider range of products, also of decent quality) : Their product range is limited to the necessities of daily life (such as vegetables, pasta, milk, eggs, ready meals, toiletries, etc.), sold in fairly simple packaging at fairly calculated prices. Even though the quality is generally surprisingly high, you should not expect sausages or local specialities when shopping. Many Germans buy their daily needs there and go to the “normal” supermarkets (such as the Rewe, Edeka, Real, Tengelmann/Kaisers, Globus or Famila chains) to treat themselves to something special. The staff in these shops are particularly helpful and friendly, and there are large cheese, meat and fish counters selling fresh produce. Don’t blame the counter staff for being a bit gruff; they are paid a bit more than usual but have a rather gloomy working atmosphere and a much heavier workload than their counterparts in “normal” supermarkets, so they certainly don’t like to be disturbed in their work.
Besides these big chains, Turkish supermarkets can be an interesting alternative in communities with a majority Turkish population, as they combine the characteristics of discounters (low price level but limited assortment) with those of “normal” supermarkets ((Turkish) specialities and usually friendly staff).
If you are looking for organic products, it is best to go to an “organic shop” or “organic supermarket”. (Bio- usually means organic.) There are also many farmers who sell their products directly (“Hofladen”), most are organised in a “Bioland” cooperative. They offer food at reasonable prices.
The same applies to clothes; although the competition in this market is not so great and the quality varies, you can buy cheap clothes of sufficient quality at C&A, but do not expect brand-name clothes. During the seasonal sales, you should also compare prices in traditional shops, as they may be even cheaper than those in the discounters. H&M sells cheap and fashionable clothes, but of notoriously poor quality.
Germany is also a good place to buy consumer electronics such as mobile phones, tablets and digital cameras. Every major city has at least one “Saturn” or “MediaMarkt” that offers a large selection of these devices, as well as music, films and video games on CD/DVD. Prices are generally lower than elsewhere in Europe. Note, however, that English-language films and TV programmes are dubbed into German throughout and that computer software and keyboards are only available in German.
Be prepared to bag your own groceries and goods and provide your own shopping bags for this purpose. Although most shops provide plastic and canvas bags at the checkout, you will be charged for these bags. Don’t forget to have a euro coin ready for prams and trolleys. You all need a euro coin to use the trolley, but you will get it back when you have finished shopping. In most supermarkets you may spot a canister with lots of cardboard boxes, usually after the vending machine. You are allowed to collect boxes from there! This is a service that markets offer that allows them to easily dispose of waste. Just say that you will get a box when the cashier starts scanning your goods, comes back and starts packing.
Factory sales as such are a fairly new phenomenon, but the similar concept of “factory sales”, where products (even those that are slightly damaged or mislabelled) are sold directly to the factory that manufactures them, often at greatly reduced prices. In recent years, American-style shops without factories have become popular. For example, there are Adidas and Puma shops (with headquarters – but no production – in Herzogenaurach) as well as other clothing and sports companies.
You can find local (not necessarily organic) food in most places at the farmers’ market (“Wochenmarkt” or simply “market”), usually once or twice a week. Although your chances of finding English-speaking vendors there are somewhat lower, it is still quite pleasant to shop there, and most of the time you will find fresh, good quality produce at reasonable prices. Most winegrowers sell their products either directly or in winegrowers’ cooperatives. These wines are almost always better than those produced by German wine brands. The quality marks are “VdP” (“Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter”, symbolised by an eagle) and “Ecovin” (cooperative of ecological winegrowers). Wines made from the most typical German grape varieties are usually marked with the “Classic” sign.
German honey is a good souvenir, but only “Real German Honey” is a reasonable guarantee of quality.
On the German coast, smoked eel is a widespread delicacy and a typical souvenir.
You can discover an amazing variety of German cheeses in cheese shops or organic food shops.
In Germany there is a sophisticated and confusing deposit system for beverage packaging (“Pfand”). Returnable glass and plastic bottles usually cost between 8 and 25 deposit cents per bottle, depending on size and material. An additional deposit is required for special transport baskets that correspond to the size of the bottles. The deposit can be redeemed in any shop that sells bottles, often with a high-tech bottle reader that turns the bottle, reads the deposit and issues a redeemable ticket at the checkout. Plastic bottles and cans usually cost 25 deposit cents, otherwise they are marked as deposit-free. Liquors and plastic cans, which usually contain juice, are exempt from deposit. There are also some other cases where deposit is due, e.g. for standardised gas containers. The deposit label on glasses, bottles and tableware is also common in discotheques, self-service bars or at public events, but usually not in refectories.
Cigarettes are available in most kiosks, supermarkets and newsagents. Cigarette vending machines are often scattered around cities (note that you need a European driving licence or a debit card with a microchip to “unlock” the machine). In 2013, a pack of 19 cigarettes costs about €5 and a pack of 24 cigarettes costs about €6. The legal smoking age in Germany is 18. Many Germans buy paper and tobacco separately because it is cheaper. Small cigars (“cigarillos”) are taxed less and cost about half the price of cigarettes.
Due to a federal reform, business hours are set by the federal states, so business hours vary from state to state. Some federal states, such as Berlin, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, do not have strict opening hours from Monday to Saturday (though you will rarely find shops open 24 hours a day, except at petrol stations). On Sundays and public holidays (including some dark days), shops are usually closed all over Germany, including pharmacies. However, some pharmacies remain open in emergencies (each pharmacy is marked with a sign indicating which pharmacy is currently open for emergencies). Information can be found online. On special occasions, “Verkaufsoffen Sonntag”, shops are also allowed to open on Sunday; information online here or here. All major German cities use it today, except Munich.
As a general rule:
- Small supermarkets: 08:00-20:00 to the nearest hour
- Large supermarkets 08:00-22:00
- Rewe supermarkets in cities from 07:00 to 22:00 or midnight (except in Bavaria, where all shops must close at 20:00 by law).
- Shopping centres and department stores: 10:00-20:00
- Department stores in small towns: 10:00-19:00
- Small and medium-sized shops: 09:00 or 10:00-18:30 (sometimes until 20:00 in big cities).
- Spätis (night shops): 20:00-23:59 or even more, some are open 24 hours, especially in big cities.
- Petrol stations: in cities and along the motorway, mostly 24 hours a day
- Restaurants: 11:30-23:00 or midnight, sometimes longer, many are closed in the afternoon.
Small shops are often closed from 13:00 to 15:00. If needed, you can find some (sometimes more expensive) supermarkets with longer opening hours in many big cities (often near the main railway station). Bakeries usually offer service on Sunday mornings as well (opening hours vary). In addition, most petrol stations have a small shopping area.
In some parts of Germany (e.g. Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf and the Ruhr area) there are corner shops called “Späti” or “Spätkauf”, “Kiosk”, “Trinkhalle” or “Büdchen”, which offer newspapers, drinks and at least basic foodstuffs. Depending on the region, these shops are open late into the night or even 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Basic supplies can usually be purchased at petrol stations around the clock. Petrol station owners get around the operating hours restrictions by operating 7-Eleven mini-markets on their petrol station premises. Be aware that prices are generally quite high. Another exception is supermarkets located in tourist areas. Towns designated as health resorts are allowed to keep their shops open all week during the tourist season. Just ask a local shopkeeper who will tell you about these well-kept secret shops.
Stations are allowed to open their shops on Sundays and often do, but usually only for limited hours. In some larger cities such as Leipzig and Frankfurt, this may include an entire shopping centre that happens to be connected to the station.
In Bavaria, most shops (except those mentioned above) close at 8pm and cannot open before 6pm due to a state law that prohibits extended opening hours. Keep this in mind if you arrive in Bavaria late at night.