Shopping in Germany
Nothing is nicer than spending a Saturday morning at the markets: that is Shopping in Germany at its best!
You can smell the fresh products and the vendors actually know what they are selling! The colours, the sounds of people discussing price and weather, the atmosphere of conviviality, and the fragrance of real food is paradise on earth for the gourmet.
The producers can explain to you what recipes to make with their vegies or their fruits, the cheese maker might let you taste a "Stück" (piece) of his best Käse (cheese) and the butcher a small Würst (sausage). And if you don't know the name of one of the hundred kinds of bread, or cheese or sausages, don't worry. Just explain which one you want by pointing at it. There might be someone close by who will be able to help in an approximate English that still might be better than your German.
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There are also still a few "real" (i.e. independant) bakers and pastry chefs (Konditoren; female pastry chefs: Konditorinen) in Germany, but unfortunately they too are victims of globalization and their numbers are in decline. More and more we see big companies making goods that are resold in smaller shops. It is very unfortunate, but you might as well go to the grocery store to buy bread for less money than in most of these small "bakeries". Big production means lower quality, and therefore, less taste.
BUT, if while Shopping in Germany you encounter a real Backerei/Konditorei run by a real master where they make their own breads and pastries, stick to it. The difference in taste is like night and day.
The same is true for the Metzgerei (Butcher). Meat is one of the more expensive things to buy when Shopping in Germany, so you might as well try to get the best quality. Which usually means going to an independant butcher outside of the big stores. These stores now usually only sell pre-packaged meat.
Of course, if you are in a hurry, you can also go Shopping in Germany in big grocery stores such as Aldi or Lidl or Rewe. Those are similar to the ones in North America, Australia etc. They sell just about anything you'll want - even peanut butter, but it is rather pricy, about 5 euros for a very small jar. We haven't found Vegemite in these stores yet, only in a small speciality British Shop.
These big stores are also quite often open longer hours than the small ones and, contrary to smaller ones, they might also be open Saturday afternoons. But except for a very few stores in tourist areas and in some train stations and gas (petrol) stations, they all close on Sunday, all day. That is the law.
As mentioned earlier, most smaller stores outside of city centres are closed from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning. So, it might be good to visit the farmers markets on Saturday mornings to do your shopping in Germany, after all!
Another important point is that stores in Germany are more specialized in their activities and the products they sell. They will often have an incredible selection in a very narrow field. For example, you might find a store that sell precision instruments of all kinds imaginable, from the small tweezers to tailors's scissors. But, then, that is all that they will sell - precision instruments. Another example is the pharmacy (Apotheke). They sell medications of course, but ONLY medications. If you want toilet paper or deodorant, you have to go to the Drogerie (or a big grocery store).
On the other hand, Shopping in Germany for alcohol could not be easier: you can buy beer, wine and liquor at the grocery stores. But for a better selection, you might want to go to a Beerstore for beer and wine, and to a Spirituosen Laden for liquor.
Also, you can sometimes find local people making hydromel (Honey liquor) and other "Schnaps" and "Branntwein" or "eau-de-vie", all liquors made from nuts or fruits or herbs. These are quite popular at country markets throughout the year.
And if you really can't do without your shopping mall experience while in Germany, you can find shopping centers or malls in most big cities. They are not as popular here as in North America, but can be found at the outskirts of major cities or in outlying suburbs.
That is also where you will find the "big box" stores such as IKEA, MediaMarkt (electronics) and Baumarkt (building materials). But getting to them by public transports is not always very convenient. Fortunately most of these big box stores deliver to you door and you can also shop on-line.
If you have decided, like us, NOT to have a car while in here, Shopping in Germany is not that difficult. For one thing, German cities were generaly planed to be walkable and one result is that they have truly compact city centres. You will find a very good quality and diversity of stores in these centres and you can access them either by walking, riding your bike or taking public transport.
Also, at least once a week most cities and villages have a famers' and producers' market at the Marktplatz (market square). Some places have markets every day and others twice a week, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
As the refrigerators in Europe are usually rather small in comparison to what we are used to in North America and Australia, you will have to do the grocery shopping more often and buy in smaller quantities.
The markets are perfect for that. You buy just what you need for the next few days, and so can be sure that the products are fresh. It also helps the local economy. So, it is a win-win situation.
Another important point: bring your own bags or your basket when you go shopping in Germany, especially at the markets.
Few stores will give you bags of any kind, and those who have plastic "throw-away" bags, such as the big grocery stores, sell them. On the other hand, you can buy a cute wicker basket, or a collapsible fabric basket that is made in many different colours with or without patterns. It is a must in Europe.
Also, as Germany is a leader in environmental issues, it is not too surprising to learn that some municipalities are also thinking to ban the cheap throw-away plastic bags altogether. So, a nice re-usable fabric or wicker basket will be very useful.
Shopping in Germany during the
is an extraordinary experience; the ambience in these markets is really unknown in the English-speaking world. If you are looking to buy something typically German, this is your chance.
("Weihnachten") and they prepare for it weeks in advance.
And Christmas shopping in Germany is NOT spoiled with awful muzak of Christmas music being played repeatedly for three months in advance, as it is elsewhere. Actually, except in the markets, you rarely hear any Christmas music in stores. In the markets, if one hears it at all it is usually local Carollers singing together while sipping Glühwein (a kind of spicy, warm and sweet concoction made with red wine. I think it is an acquired taste).
If you want to buy European-quality, old fashioned, hand-made Christmas decorations, now's the time to get them too. There are some for all tastes (from cute tree decoration in the shape of a cat, to all kind of beautiful wood carvings).
There are also some very specialised Alpine decorations such as Schwibbogen, a nice wooden candle-holder in the shape of an arch, also known as German Candle Arches.
Christmas is a magical time of the year in Germany!
If you are looking for something "typically" German as presents, some clothing options include the "Lederhosen" (leather pants, quite costly for good ones, from several hundred euros to a few thousands) and the "dirndls" (women's Alpine dresses).
Also, cuckoo-clocks, nutcrackers, beer steins and very good knives come to mind. Germans are known for their precision and you can see the quality of their work in their tools and musical instruments.
Other important points:
Hair salons are called "Friseur" or "Frisiersalon", those for women are for "Damen" and for men "Herren", and a cut is a "Schnitt". Germans usually like a straight, short, square cut, but you can ask for something else. Also, it is quite possible to leave the salon without having your hair dried and styled first, something that would not be even thinkable in an Italian salon for example.
There is a (at the moment) 19% tax on just about everything you buy while Shopping in Germany, including cars and clothing, and when eating at the restaurant.
On the other hand, it is only 7% for most items in the grocery stores and on newspapers.
If you are here only for a visit, you can ask for the tax back. You need to fill up a form (the main tourist stores have some) and keep all the receipts showing the tax on them. You will then have to present all of it to the customs officials at the airport at your departure.
There are two big sales events during the year (there are other smaller ones throughout the year, but these two are the most important): one after Christmas, the Winter-Schlussverkauf starting the last Monday of January, and the other one during Summer, the Sommer-Schlussverkauf starting the last Monday of July. They both last two weeks. You can find very good deals during these sales.
Also, as mentioned in the Banks section, paying with personal cheques is un-heard of while Shopping in Germany, and many stores do NOT accept credit cards either. Your best bet is to pay cash or with a debit card ("ECcard" in German).
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