Germany

Shopping

shopping
 

In common with most other Western European languages, the meanings of points and commas are exactly inverse to the English custom; in German a comma is used to indicate a decimal. For example, 2,99€ is two euros and 99 cents. The "€" symbol is not always used and may be placed both in front or after the price. A dot is used to "group" numbers one dot for three digits, so "1.000.000" would be one million. So "123.456.789,01" in German is the same number as "123,456,789.01" in English speaking countries.

shopping
 

Retail prices are reasonable and lower than in northern European countries but the value added tax, VAT, "Umsatzsteuer" official, but even politicians use this rather sparsely or "Mehrwertsteuer" most Germans use this word has been increased to 19% from 2007 onwards and therefore prices have slightly risen. Fuel, sparkling wine, spirits and tobacco are subject to even higher taxes, the first of those excise taxes - the "Branntweinsteuer" spirit tax - first being imposed on Nordhäuser Branntwein the ancestor of Nordhäuser Korn in 1507, the certainly most ridiculous of them - the sparkling wine tax - being introduced by Emperor Wilhelm II to finance the Kiel Canal and his war fleet. Still, high street prices some of these products are still considerably lower than prices charged at "duty free stores" at airports, or even in the country of origin. In particular, this applies to wine and whisky. Some German brands of high end goods such as kitchen utensils, stationery, and hiking gear are considerably cheaper than abroad. VAT is always included by law in an item's price tag except when goods are sold business-to-business only by vendors which only sell to businesses, which may reimburse the VAT paid. There exists a reduced VAT of 7% i.a. for hotels but not for edibles consumed within, non-luxury edibles taken away or provided without further service this is the reason why fast-food restaurant staff will routinely ask whether you eat in or take away the food - whatever you answer, the price will remain the same for you, print products, public transport short-distance only and admission price for opera or theatre.

shopping
 

Remember that if you are from outside the EU, you may claim your VAT Mehrwertsteuer, 19% back when you leave the country. This usually requires you to get a certain "tax-free" certificate from the vendor participating in that scheme. Such participation is often indicated by a decal at the store entrance. You may not use the item you had bought within the EU before departing. You would have to present the merchandise together with the certificates to customs at the place e.g. airport where you will finally leave the EU if you check baggage through another stopover EU airport, present the merchandise to customs at the place within the EU where you will hand over the baggage to the airline. You will not be harrassed by customs, but expect them to ask for some reasonable proof that you are about to export unused goods which are identical to the ones indicated on the certificates. Thus, officers might demand physical presentation of the merchandise, to check whether it shows signs of use. It helps to leave price tags on clothing, and not to remove any seals from electronic equipment packaging. Some proof of identity passport and of your residence outside the EU may also be demanded. If customs are satisfied that you fulfill the criteria, they will endorse your "tax-free" certificates with an export certificate stamp, and you can then follow instructions on the documents, telling how to send in the certificates and how to get the VAT transferred. Besides this certificate-based procedure, there also do exist other procedures to reimburse the VAT, but those are more complicated.

shopping
 

Many Germans rather look for prices than for quality or rather: do not like getting "ripped off" when shopping for food. As a result, the competition between food discounters which might be the cause of this very specific behaviour is exceptionally fierce in fact, WalMart had to withdraw from the German market because it failed at competing on price and results in very low food prices compared to other European countries though not compared to North America - as a general rule, a discount German supermarket will have similar quality compared to a North American discounter, but at mid-range prices. The chains "Aldi", "Lidl", "Penny" and "Netto" are a special type of supermarket sometimes called "Discounter", but generally referred to as "Supermarkt", as well: Their range of products is limited to the necessities of daily life like vegetables, pasta, milk, eggs, convenience foods, toiletries etc., sold in rather simple packaging for tightly calculated prices. While quality is generally surprisingly high, do not expect delicatessen or local specialities when you go to shop there. Many Germans buy their daily needs there and go to the more "standard" supermarket like the chains Rewe, Edeka, Real, Tengelmann/Kaisers, Globus or Famila to get more special treats. The personnel in these shops is trained to be especially helpful and friendly and there are big cheese/ meat and fish counters where fresh products are getting sold. Don't blame discounter personnel for being somewhat harsh; although they are paid slightly better than usual, they have to cope with a rather grim working atmosphere and a significantly higher workload than colleagues in "standard" supermarkets and therefore are certainly not amused about being disturbed in getting their work done. Beside those major chains, Turkish supermarkets which can be found in townships with predominantly Turkish population can be a worthwhile alternative since they combine the characteristics of discounters low price levels but limited assortment with those of "standard" supermarkets (Turkish specialties and usually friendly personnel).

shopping
 

Deposit for beverage containers: Germany has an elaborate and confusing beverage container deposit "Pfand" system. Bottles usually cost between 8 and 25 cents Pfand per bottle depending on their type. Additional Pfand is due for special carrying baskets matching the bottle measures. The Pfand can be cashed in at any store which sells the type of container you wish to return, often by means of a high-tech bottle reader than spins the bottle, reads the Pfand, and issues a ticket redeemable with the cashier. The Pfand is €0.08 for reusable crown capped bottles like most glass beer bottles or small glass soft drink bottles. It is €0.15 for reusable, re-closable bottles. The €0.25 Pfand is for non-reusable bottles. Pfand is also usually declared on the price tag of the product. Some contents like wine or drinks not containing carbonic acid do not have to be sold with Pfand. They may or may not have a label saying pfandfrei deposit-free on them. Reusable bottles are always sold with Pfand because the bottler wants you to bring the bottle back for refilling. Reusable bottles are taken back, cleaned thoroughly and refilled up to 50 times. Non-reusable bottles are collected, shredded and remade into new products or used as substitute materials in electricity and/or heat generating processes. Non-reusable Bottles with a €0.25 Pfand are easy to identify as they have a special standardized logo on them. The label with the logo on it must remain on the bottle to reclaim your Pfand. A reusable container that requires Pfand does not always explicitly state that. Instead it may have one of these logos or just read "Mehrwegflasche" reusable bottle or "Mehrweg-Pfandflasche" reusable deposit bottle on it. Reusable containers are recognized by other means which means the label does not have to stay on the container. There are also a few other instances where Pfand is due, for example for standardized gas containers. Pfand on glasses, bottles and crockery is also common at discotheques, self-service bars or public events, but usually not at a students' cafeteria. If you have a container you paid Pfand for and are not planning on taking it back, be a nice person and place it beside a waste bin so someone can take it and bring it back.

shopping
 

are easily available in most kiosks, supermarkets and newsagents. Cigarette machines are often dotted around towns and cities be aware you will need an EU driving licence or a debit card with an electronic chip to "unlock" the machine; in restaurants you may ask the waiter for a identification card. As of November 2013, a pack of 19 costs around €5.20. The legal age to buy tobacco and smoke publicly in Germany is 18. Some Germans buy paper and tobacco separately as this is significantly cheaper.

tipping

Unlike in some other countries, service staff are always paid by the hour albeit not always that well. A tip is therefore mainly a matter of politeness and shows your appreciation. If you didn't appreciate the service e.g. slow, snippy or indifferent service you may not tip at all and it will be accepted by the staff. The same applies when it is clear that you are on a business trip, and that you get reimbursed only for your expenses indicated on the bill, but not for tips.

Since the introduction of the Euro, a tip Trinkgeld, lit. "drink money" of about 5-10% is customary if you were satisfied with the service. Nonetheless, service charge is already included in an item's unit price so what you see is what you pay.

Tipping in Germany is usually done by mentioning the total while paying. So if eg. a waiter tells you the bill amounts to "€13.50", just state "15" and he will include a tip of €1.50.

If you pay by credit or debit card, it is perfectly acceptable to tip by card. However, the slips which German credit card terminals produce do not contain any extra space for manually writing a tip and a total onto it. Thus, indicate the total amount you want to pay, this including the tip, before staff type the total amount into the machine.

Tipping in other situations unless otherwise indicated:

Taxi driver: 5% at least €1

Housekeeping: €1-2 per day

Carrying luggage: €1 per piece

Public toilet attendants: €0.10-0.50

Delivery Services: 5%-10% at least €1

currency

Germany has the euro € as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain official euro members which are all European Union member states as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.

One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.

If you have marks remaining from previous trips, they can still be exchanged at certain banks: inquire first before you attempt to convert your marks.

Do not expect anybody to accept foreign currencies or to be willing to exchange currency. An exception are shops and restaurants at airports and also - more rarely - fast-food restaurants at major train stations. These will generally accept at least US dollars at a slightly worse exchange rate. If you wish to exchange money, you can do so at most banks, where you can also cash in your traveller's cheques. Currency exchanges, once a common sight, have all but disappeared since the introduction of the euro. Again, international airports and train stations are an exception to this rule. Swiss Franc can sometimes be accepted near the Swiss border.

While German domestic debit cards - called girocard, formerly EC-Karte - and, to a lesser extent, international PIN-based Maestro and V PAY cards enjoy almost universal acceptance, this is not true for credit cards VISA, MasterCard, American Express or foreign debit cards VISA Debit/Electron, Debit MasterCard etc., which are not as widely accepted as in other European countries or the United States but will be accepted in several major retail stores department stores like Kaufhof and Karstadt, and mid-class supermarkets like REWE and Edeka, but not at every discount supermarket like Lidl, Aldi or Netto and some fast food restaurants such as many McDonalds.

Don't be fooled by seeing card terminals in shops or other people paying with cards - these machines may not necessarily be programmed to accept foreign cards, so it is best to inquire or look out for acceptance decals before shopping or fuelling your car all major brand gas stations will accept credit cards.

Hotels, larger retailers, chain gas stations, nationwide companies, many supermarkets and some pharmacies accept credit cards; discount stores or small independent shops tend not to with exceptions. Some places impose a minimum purchase amount typically 5 or 10 euros for card payments. Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money with your credit card or foreign debit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that.

opening hours

Due to a federal reform, opening hours are set by the states, therefore opening hours vary from state to state. Most states have no more strict opening hours from Monday to Saturday however, you will rarely find 24 hours shops other than at petrol stations the only exceptions are Saarland and Bavaria where stores are only allowed to open 6-20 and Sachsen 6-22. Sunday and national holidays is normally closed for shops everywhere in Germany, including pharmacies. However single pharmacies remain open for emergencies every pharmacy will have a sign telling you which pharmacy is currently open for emergencies. Information can be obtained here (http://www.apotheken.de/a...). Shops are allowed to open on Sundays on special occasions called "Verkaufsoffener Sonntag", information on open Sundays may be found here (http://www.verkaufsoffene...) or here (http://www.verkaufsoffene...). Every German city uses these days except Munich.

As a rule of thumb:

Supermarkets: 08:00 or 09:00–20:00

big supermarkets 08:00-22:00

Rewe supermarkets 07:00-22:00 or 23:59

Shopping centres and large department stores: 10:00–20:00

Department stores in small cities: 10:00–19:00

Small and medium shops: 09:00 or 10:00–18:30 in big cities sometimes to 20:00

Petrol stations: in cities and along the "Autobahn" usually 24 hours

Restaurants: 11.30-23:00 or 23:59, sometimes longer, many closed during the afternoon

Small shops are often closed 13:00-15:00. If necessary in many big cities you will find a few sometimes more expensive supermarkets with longer opening hours often near the main station. Bakeries usually offer service on Sunday mornings business hours vary as well. Also most petrol stations have a small shopping area.

In some parts of Germany like Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf and the Ruhr area there are cornershops called "Späti" oder "Spätkauf" "latey", "Kiosk", "Trinkhalle" drinking hall or "Büdchen" little hut that offer newspapers, drinks and at least basic food supplies. These shops are often run by Arab or Turkish immigrants and are, depending on the area, open till late night or even 24/7..

Basic supplies can usually be bought around the clock at gas stations. Gas station owners work around opening hour restrictions by running 7-Eleven style mini marts on their gas station property. Be aware that prices are usually quite high. Another exception to this law are supermarkets located in touristy areas. Towns designated as a Kurort health resort are allowed to have their stores open all week during tourist season. Just ask a local for those well-kept secret stores.

Train stations are allowed to and frequently have their stores/shops open on Sundays, though usually for limited hours. In some larger cities such as Leipzig and Frankfurt, this can include an entire shopping mall that happens to be attached to the train station.