11 useful tips on German supermarkets

11 useful tips on German supermarkets

Know your different types of supermarkets

The different categories of grocery stores in Germany can be confusing for newcomers. A few chains are actual supermarkets, while a growing number of stores are rather categorized as discounters. The "bio" markets sell exclusively organic food. If you're planning on cooking a Middle Eastern recipe, Turkish markets are your best bet; Asian markets provide everything you need for Oriental cuisine.

11 useful tips on German supermarkets

Trade variety for price at 'discounters'

While typical supermarkets offer a wider selection of products, discount chains concentrate their offer on fewer brands and merchandise, which can make it frustrating when you're searching for something specific. Still, the no-frills, cut-price approach has made German discount chain giants Lidl and Aldi so popular that they now have stores throughout Europe and the world.

11 useful tips on German supermarkets

Bring a coin to unlock your shopping cart

Many expats are amused to discover that shopping carts in Germany are shackled to each other. The €1-coin you need to unlock a trolley probably wouldn't stop anyone from stealing it, but that's not the point. Rather, the euro motivates people to return the cart to its designated spot after being used. The coin — or any token of the same size — is released once the cart is locked back up again.

11 useful tips on German supermarkets

Amaze your friends abroad with cheap prices

The low price of a pudding (currently €0.25 / $0.30) at a discounter store created a diplomatic uproar when an Israeli anonymously posted his grocery receipt on the now-defunct Facebook page Olim L'Berlin (literally, "Let's ascend to Berlin"), as evidence that the cost of living in the German capital was unbeatable. Israeli politicians were enraged that people would "abandon Israel for a pudding."

11 useful tips on German supermarkets

Don't look for eggs in the refrigerator

Any North American would look for eggs among the chilled products in a grocery store, but they're kept on normal shelves in Germany. Why? Eggs in the US are sanitized to prevent salmonella before being sent to the stores. However, the process destroys the egg's outer protective layer, so they need to be kept in the fridge. In the EU, it's illegal to wash the eggs; chickens are vaccinated instead.

11 useful tips on German supermarkets

Plan your Sunday meals ahead

Most stores are closed on Sundays, so fill up the fridge a day ahead. Laws regulate opening hours to allow workers to have a weekly "Ruhetag," or resting day, a concept that's still strong in Germany. There will always be smaller convenience stores open if you're desperate for a bite or drink. And stores are exceptionally open on a certain number of Sundays, known as "verkaufsoffener Sonntage."

11 useful tips on German supermarkets

Shop for the apocalypse before a long weekend

For holidays like Easter and Christmas, families often celebrate with festive meals. But supermarkets are closed an extra day on top of the Sunday. Grocery shopping just before they close feels like the entire country is preparing for an upcoming nuclear blast. If you happen to only need, say, bread or chocolate on such a day, avoid supermarkets and go to a bakery or convenience store instead.

11 useful tips on German supermarkets

Expect chaos if an extra checkout lane opens

The stereotypical German sense of order is quickly abandoned whenever a new lane is about to open. Instead of letting those who'd be next in line in the already existing queue go first, it's often a free-for-all run to the next lane to save a few minutes of waiting. The unspoken rule to justify the shoving appears to be: "I was smart enough to guess that the lane would open, so I get to be first."

11 useful tips on German supermarkets

Know the importance of checkout dividers

The little bar placed between two clients' items seems extremely important in Germany. You could start putting your groceries onto the conveyor belt without setting your checkout divider, thinking this simple task can be taken care of later, since your items are still meters away from the till. But some elderly person is bound to remind you that this priority just can't be neglected.

11 useful tips on German supermarkets

Notice the cashiers get to sit down

These are cultural differences that one might quickly forget if you've been living in Europe for a long time, but in most North American supermarkets, cashiers are required to stand while doing their work. The fact that cashiers are sitting in Germany doesn't stop them from being extremely effective...

11 useful tips on German supermarkets

Be ready to pack quickly

It has become a running gag among expats' complaints: The space to pack groceries in Germany is usually very small and, especially at discounters, the checkout is super fast, so people find packing very stressful here. Remember the importance of the checkout divider? Once the items have been scanned, the strict separation of the next person's groceries no longer matters. Just get out of the way!

Where are the eggs? Why are shopping carts chained to each other? Here is a compilation of some of the challenges faced by expats when they first discover German grocery stores.