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Germany 

Currency

Germany is part of the European Union and the Eurozone; as such it replaced German marks with the euro (symbol: €) in the year 2002.

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 any bank, 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.

Do not accept German marks from anybody. While you can still exchange them for euros at central bank offices in bigger cities, this will mean a lot of hassle for you. However, as of 2006, the chances of someone trying to give you Marks are practically non-existent.

German banks have agreed on a standard debit card called "Maestro card" (Formerly called "EC card") this is far more accepted as plastic payment methods than credit cards from American Express, VISA and others. Nevertheless, credit cards are often accepted, but to a lower extent than in other European countries or the United States. Hotels, bigger retailer, gas stations and nationwide companies accept credit cards. If you want to pay smaller amounts (<40 Euro) with credit card, it is best to check in advance if credit cards will be accepted. Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money with your credit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that.

Tipping

It's common in Germany to round up the bill in restaurants or pubs. Since the introduction of the Euro, a tip of about 5-10% is customary if you were satisfied with the service.
Taxi driver: 5%-10%
Housekeeping: €1-2 per day
Carrying luggage: €1 per piece

Unlike in some other countries, service staff is always paid by the hour (albeit not always that well). A tip is a matter of politeness and shows your appreciation. If you didn't appreciated the service (e.g. bad, rude or ignoring service), reduce the tip accordingly or don't tip at all. Germany is a developing country in means of service so if you enjoyed a service or not, please let them know.

Shopping

Retail prices are reasonable and slightly lower than in most northern European countries but the V.A.T. has been increased to 19% from 2007 onwards and therefore prices will slightly rise. Some German brands of high end goods such as kitchen utensils, stationery, and hiking gear are considerably cheaper than abroad.

Germans are very price-conscious when shopping for food. The competition between food discounters is exceptionally fierce (WalMart had to retract from the German market because it could not compete on price) and results in very low food prices compared to other European countries. The chains "Aldi" and "Lidl" are a special type of supermarket that is uncommon in other European countries: Their range of products is limited to the absolute necessities of daily life (like vegetables, pasta, milk, eggs, toiletries etc.), sold in rather simple packaging for tightly calculated prices. While quality is generally surprisingly high, do not expect delicatessen when you go to shop here. Many Germans buy their daily needs here and go to the more "standard" supermarket (like the chains Rewe or Edeka) to get special treats.

If you are looking for regional products, your best bet is to visit a "Naturkostladen" (organic food shop). There are also many farmers selling their products directly ("Hofladen"), most of them organized in the "Bioland" cooperative. They offer reasonable food at reasonable prices.

Most winemakers sell their products either directly or in "Winzergenossenschaften" (winemaker cooperatives). These wines are almost always superior to the ones produced by German wine brands. Quality signs are "VdP" ("Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter", symbolized by an eagle) and "Ecovin" (German organic winemaker cooperative). Wines made of the most typical German vine varieties are usually marked with "Classic".

German honey is also a good souvenir. But only "Echter Deutscher Honig" is a guarantee for reasonable quality.

Along the German coasts, smoked eel is quite a common delicacy and a typical souvenir.

Opening hours

Due to a federal reform, opening hours are set by the states, therefore opening hours vary from state to state. The most liberal law is found in Berlin where opening hours are from Mo-Sat 9am-10pm plus several open Sundays per year. Following opening hours are a general rule:

Supermarkets: 8 or 9am – 8pm
Shopping centers and great department stores: 10am - 8pm
Department stores in small cities: 10am - 7pm
Small and middle shops: 9 or 10am – 6.30pm (in big cities sometimes to 8pm)
Petrol stations: in cities and along the "Autobahn" usually 24h a day
Restaurants: 11.30am – 11 or 12pm, sometimes longer, many closed during afternoon
Small shops are often closed from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday all shops are usually closed. Exceptions: in Schleswig-Holstein supermarkets are open from 8 to 11 a.m. 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, Duesseldorf and the Ruhr-Area) there are cornershops called "Kiosk", "Trinkhalle" (drinking hall) or "Büdchen" (little hut) that offer newspapers, drinks and at least basic food supplies.


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