How to shop in Germany – and what’s a „Pfandautomat“?

In Germany there’s an innumerable amount of supermarkets and discounters. The difference between a supermarket and a discounter is the price. A daily shopping at the discounter can easily cost a few Euros less for the same products. Supermarkets in Germany are shops like Edeka or Rewe. Discounters are called Aldi, Lidl, Netto, Penny or Norma.

The opening hours can also vary. Normally, the supermarkets are opened Monday to Saturday from 07.00 to 20.00 o’clock. On Sunday all shops in Germany are closed. Therefore, our cities can look like ghost towns on Sunday.

If you want to shop a lot of things, you probably should use a shopping cart. For the cart you need a 50 cent, 1 or 2 € coin. If you just want to shop a few things, you can use a pannier. You can borrow one in the supermarket. You get it at the entrance and return it after you’re done with shopping. You also should remember to bring enough shopping bags to the supermarket. If you bring your own, you can save a lot of money – and trash.

There’re a lot of rules in German supermarkets. Some may seem to be sure but you really should know and follow them. Have you already heard of “German Ordnung”?

Some of the products are kept fresh and cool in fridges or deep freezers. It is very important to close the doors after you took your products out. That’s some kind of energy saving – something we Germans really love.

If a product is already packed, don’t open the package! Even if there are three yoghurts in the package and you just want one, take the whole thing. After all you have to pay the whole package. Sometimes, fruits and vegetables are packed in plastic. You should leave it intact. If you wanted to buy one apple, take a loose one. Or take the package with three – that’s also healthier. Besides, it is forbidden to open a package to taste something. So if you don’t know how something tastes, give it a try and taste it at home. Anyway, it surely tastes delicious. If you buy something to eat or drink and you can’t wait to eat or drink it. Wait until you’ve paid. So in any case, open a package only after you have left the supermarket.

The „Pfandautomat

Actually, there is no English word for “Pfandautomat”. That’s something typical German. We Germans aren’t just known for our politeness, organization or energy saving – we love recycling and waste prevention. Therefore, we invented the “Pfandautomat”. Here you can return your empty bottles or cans. The “Pfandautomat” is found in every German supermarket. They stand at the entrance or somewhere else in the market.

For different bottles and cans you get a different amount of money back. For beer bottles you get 8 cent, for deposit bottles (“Mehrwegflasche”) you get 15 cent and for disposable bottles (“Einwegflasche”) and cans you get 25 cent. But not all bottles and cans can be returned. The one’s you get money for are marked with a special sign or imprint. On some bottles and cans it’s written “Pfandflasche/Mehrweg”. This imprint means that you get money for it. If the bottle or can says “Einweg/Pfandfrei”, you don’t get any money for it. There is no special imprint on beer bottles but you always get 8 ct for them. Sometimes you have to search carefully to find an imprint because they are printed in a very small writing.

When you stand in front of the “Pfandautomat” (there really should be an English word for it), you put the bottles in the machine with the barcode upturned. The barcode are the white and black lines. If the machine doesn’t take the bottle or can, they come out again. In this case, you don’t get money for it. On the display you can see how many bottles you have already returned and how much money you get for it. When you are done with the return you press the green or red button and get a piece of paper. With this ticket you queue up at the cash point and get your money from the cashier.

The glass bottles for which you don’t get money should be recycled in a special glass container. There are a lot of glass containers in the city. The cans and plastic bottles for which you don’t get any money can be threw away in the yellow trash bins. Always remember – Germans love waste prevention.