I had my first grocery shopping in Germany experience very early on here when we moved to Berlin. We had awesome sponsors that did a great job stocking our fridge and pantry for a few days but I definitely needed to hit the store for some extra items. I was blessed to have been driven around to appointments the first few days by the embassy chauffeur-extraordinaire. He offered to take Elaura and I for a quick trip to a nearby grocery store. And boy am I glad he offered because there is quite a bit to learn about grocery shopping in Germany. I’m going to let you in on all the little secrets so you don’t need your own chauffeur to show you the ropes!
Paying for Carts
In Germany, you have to pay for many things that are free in the U.S. Public toilets and often many restaurant toilets require a 1-2 Euro fee. Same for shopping carts. Nearly every store I’ve seen requires a 1-2 Euro deposit for use of the cart. You do get that back, however, when you return your cart. So always be sure to carry a few Euro with you at all times, for toilets and carts.
You can also use other “coin-like” mechanisms to unlock a cart (or so I’ve read. I haven’t tried myself.) Here’s one such example:
Weighing Fruits and Vegetables
This tip is true for smaller grocery stores. One of the closest grocery stores to my house is a small Edeka where the fruits and vegetables are all outside under an awning with an attendant. The first time I went to get fruits and vegetables there I filled multiple little plastic bags with my choices. Then the attendant walked up to me and offered me his hand. This was one of those silly expat moments I will always remember. I took his hand, shook it and said “Hallo!” He looked awfully confused and took my bags of fruits and veggies from me. Apparently I was supposed to have him weigh and mark them all. I was so embarrassed! But now I (and you!) know that the attendant weighs the groceries to make it easier for the cashier to ring them up.
Another thing I have noticed with the fruits and veggies is that many customers wait for the attendant to finish with the previous customer and have him gather their choices for them. I have not adapted to this method yet. One, because I can gather my own fruits and vegetables. Two, because I don’t yet know the words for the ones I want! I’m not sure if this makes me rude or helpful.
As I’ve mentioned before in my “First Impressions of Berlin” post, Germans are serious about their recycling. So, it’s no surprise that bottle deposits are steep here. The “Pfand” as it is called is 0,25 cents per plastic bottle and 0,08 cents per glass bottle. I love the breakdown that “U inn Berlin Hostel” does of what you can buy if you take back your bottles:
▪60 plastic bottles = 1 night in a dorm at U Inn Berlin Hostel
▪188 glass bottles = 1 night in a dorm at U Inn Berlin Hostel
▪26 plastic bottles = 1 Day Pass for the local transport
▪8 plastic bottles = 1 Berliner Curry Wurst
(Courtesy: U inn Berlin Hostel)
Everyone brings back their bottles here. Nearly every store has a “reverse vending machine” that takes back the bottles. Note: A store will usually only take bottles back which can be bought in their store. To return the bottles, simply insert the bottles one by own into the conveyer belt slot where they will be scanned and tallied. When complete, press the green button and a slip will be printed. You can present this slip to the cashier and it works like a coupon for your grocery bill.
I found this great video showing exactly how to return your bottles at the grocery store. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLKmr0uVhWo
As I’ve also mentioned in my “First Impressions of Berlin” post, plastic bags are not free here in Berlin. So most people bring their own bags with them on shopping trips. I used to try to make this effort back in the States but forgot to bring my bags on almost every trip. Here in Berlin I hang a few bags on the front door handle so I remember to bring them every time I go out. You can buy bags at the grocery store check out but they are more expensive and are meant to be multi-use.
Handicapped and Stroller lanes
This tip is particularly geared to parents. Not every check out lane is large enough to fit a stroller through. So keep your eye out for the large overhead sign above the handicapped/stroller lane that indicates your stroller will fit. Yes, there are shorter lines that you can probably enter and try to fit your stroller through. But please take the advice from someone who has made this mistake before, don’t do it! The Germans do not like when you don’t follow the rules. I once tried to fit my stroller through a non-stroller lane after already emptying all my groceries onto the belt. Then my stroller wouldn’t fit al the way through the lane. I was so embarrassed. Don’t make my mistake!
Have you grocery shopped in Germany? Any other tips you would give?
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