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The Old Fashioned Capital: Berlin Cashes In


The economic powerhouse of Europe you say? Germany may well be carrying the hefty weight of fellow European flailing finances on its broad shoulders, but it certainly has a funny old fashioned way of showing it.

Paying the bill in a restaurant has never been and will never be the highlight of an evening. Or at least, if that has ever indeed been the case, you must have had an absolutely abysmal evening with abysmal company. Nevertheless, someone has to cough up. This is nothing new of course. We are all well accustomed to paying the bill by now.

But how do you level up?

You can flash card after card, or anything else for that matter, but unless it’s the sweet soundless silence of a bank note hitting the table, you will not be leaving your German establishment in a hurry. More often than not in Berlin, you will be confronted with the words ‘cash only’ or ‘no cards’. An accepting city which welcomes citizens from all walks of life. So long as that walk of life led you to a cash point on your way in that is.

It would appear that the plastic credit card is the stuff of nightmares for locals. Keying in your pin code just doesn’t push a native German’s buttons. Seemingly stuck in a time warp, cold cash is the chosen method of payment. Despite the advanced economy, this cash intensive country fears for their privacy protection and anonymity. More interested in keeping tabs on their bank balances, cash payments supposedly limit spending power whereas that cheeky card could tempt you into all sorts of impulse buys.

So whether you’re heading off out for dinner or booked in for a haircut, make sure you go via the bank first. Shouldn’t be too hard in a capital city, right? Wrong. I’m afraid this too, is easier said than done.

Another seemingly normal feat can turn into a wild goose chase. I have often felt trapped in a live urban game of ‘Where’s Wally’ (‘Wo ist Walter’, in German I believe!). Rather than a red and white bobble hat, I’m seeking a red and white bank named Berliner Sparkasse instead. Meanwhile, all I can spot is Berliner Bank or the blinding yellow of Commerzbank. Or Deutsche Bank. Just not my bank. I can’t help but think back to the day I signed for my account as I was reassuringly informed, ‘there’s a Berliner Sparkasse on every corner.’

Wrong again.

There is a Matratzen Concord on every street corner. And sadly I did not open a bank account with Matratzen Concord, the discount mattress shop. In order to take out money in Germany, you need

to take it out from your own bank. Otherwise you will be fined a withdrawal fee. It’s a matter of principals, not prices.

After leaving London where you can stick everything and anything on the card, old habits die hard. But here in Berlin, it’s all a little backwards. You can stick it anywhere but on the plastic.

By Alice Higgins
Alice joined the Berlin start up scene in July 2014 and works for an online travel company. Originally from London UK, she swapped one capital for another and now details her latest discoveries on DiaryDE.


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