Why Germany has been minted as a coin carrying nation

Many people in Germany accumulate small change – in empty jars, boxes or piggy banks. Not just for World Savings Day on 31st October. Sometimes it’s just not so easy to get rid of your pennies.

Why Germany has been minted as a coin carrying nation
Counting pennies. Photo: DPA

It can drive you crazy. Change rolling under the sofa, jingling in your coat pocket or clogging up your wallet. Because of this, many people do something as soon as they get home: open their wallet and take out their change.

Germany is still a country which depends on cash. You pay with card in Scandinavian bakeries and English pubs. Some countries have even banned small change from everyday use – in the Netherlands, for instance, purchase prices are rounded to five cents. But coins are still commonplace in Germany.

In Germany, small purchases are almost exclusively paid with cash: 96 percent of purchases valuing up to €5 are made with notes and coins, according to a study last year by the Bundesbank – the German Federal Bank. Moreover, people pocketed €107 on average, of which €6 was small change. How many coins people have lying around at home is harder to say.

The Bundesbank estimates that about 60 to 70 percent of money that it gives out is now abroad. About 5 to 10 percent of coins and notes should be in circulation, and some lie in shops tills. The rest? It may be hoarded or lost.

“People shouldn’t forget that many coins also fall between car seats. Or in winter jackets, which you need to get out of the cupboard,” a spokesperson for the German Savings Banks Association in Berlin. They added that some people also have at home cash boxes, piggy banks or even small-change jars.

Helmut Schleweis empties out his change at home, in “a beautiful red piggy bank,” says the 64-year-old. “When it’s full it’s dutifully paid into the bank.”

Cashing in coins

Some banks now allow you to cash in coins. Institutions manage it very differently, as the respective Association of Savings Banks, Private Banks as well as the Volksbank and the Raiffeisenbank demonstrate. Some issue charges to business customers or external clients, while others demand fees for a certain sum or age.

At the Hamburger Sparkasse, for example, the “overwhelming majority” don’t pay anything extra, says spokeswoman Stefanie von Carlsburg. Other have been affected by charges since 2016, if they deposit more than five rolls or pouches of coins a month.

At the Berliner Sparkasse you can also deposit coins in plastic pouches (so-called “Safebags”). Customers older than 26 pay €7.50 per bag. The Berliner Volksbank demands a fee when customers pay in more than €100 a month. The handling of change is becoming increasingly more expensive, even despite new conditions, says Schleweis.

 Banks should by now also check hard cash for counterfeits. “When money is be paid out, it is checked for its fitness for circulation and its authenticity, and it is prepared for and insured for transport,” a spokesperson for the Berliner Sparkasse says. In the current year, customers for the savings bank paid in coins that valued a total of around €18 million.

Private customers can also change coins “in normal household quantities” without charge in the 35 branches of the Bundesbank. Provided that you have one near you. It’s more complicated for businesses, as the provision of coins for change can be expensive. Businesses in Kleve, North Rhine-Westphalia had therefore started, like in the Netherlands, to round prices. That didn’t go as well as hoped.

And so at counters there are often exchange deals. “I can give you 27 cents,” customers like to say. And salespeople nod in agreement. And that is how many people get rid of coins while making purchases, without having to carry them home. Those who really don’t know what to do with loose change can also try tipping.

But be cautious with the sum. In Rhineland-Palatinate, a drunken passenger once caused trouble because he offered the taxi driver 3 cents. The driver threw the coins out of the car. At the end the police moved in.

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Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!