Cigarette Vending Machines – Weird German Things #6

One of the things that you will notice in Germany is that there are cigarette vending machines everywhere. They’re on street corners and outside train stations, and they are always beat up and graffitied. I don’t know who owns them and gets the money from them, but I’m sure they make a lot of money. I’m not sure the stereotype is true that Europeans smoke more, but there are fewer gas stations and convenience stores here, so I imagine that even if there are the same number of smokers here, the vending machines do plenty of business to make up the difference.

wpid-wp-1430434100887.jpegThis is one outside a train station. I believe the graffiti is actually a style choice and is part of the panel. I’ve seen the same pattern elsewhere.  But I’ve also seen plane ones that say “Tabakwaren” or Tabacco.  There are some old stickers on it, but I didn’t examine them too closely, because I was already the crazy person taking pictures of a cigarette machine.

In order to buy cigarettes, you have to scan a ID carde to prove that you’re of age. I don’t know what you do if you’re foreign – I suppose you just have to go to a store.  This seems incredibly insecure to me, though. There is no way to check to make sure that the ID actually matches the person buying the cigarettes. I’d imagine it’d be easy to swipe or borrow an older person’s ID.

I see now that there is an advertisement for some sort of heavy metal barbecue on there.
I see now that there is an advertisement for some sort of heavy metal barbecue on there.

The machine accepts card and cash and advertises that it will give you your change back.  I suppose there are some that don’t?

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On the left side of the picture is the ID scanner and at the top are the various receptacles for payment.  I suppose while it’s not particularly secure, it is efficient.

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Weird German Things #5 – Or, conversely, a weird American thing

I’m one of those poor, unfortunate souls who has to pay money just to see clearly. I’m incredibly envious of all of you with perfect vision.

My vision isn’t terrible, but if I want to read signs or recognize faces in public, I need my glasses or contacts.  I generally prefer wearing contacts, but they can be a pain sometimes.

My vision had essentially remained the same the past three years or so.  This is great for my glasses, because they don’t have a limited number of wears, unlike my contacts.  Ordering new contacts in America is a giant pain.  The seller has to have a prescription from an eye doctor that is less than a year old.  This is to make sure that people are getting their yearly eye checks, I suppose.

But when that yearly eye check costs $90 at Walmart, it starts to become annoying.

Here, I was able to get my eyes checked for free, which I promptly did because I had a tendency to order a bunch of contacts right before my prescription expired.  My last test had probably been a year and a half or even two years previous.  Thankfully I was told that my vision stayed the same, so my stinginess ($90 for an exam!!) had not caused any problems.  I still had a few months of contacts left, which I generally stretched out the use of by wearing my glasses when it was overcast out. (I require sunglasses all year round if the sun is even slightly visible – thankfully this rarely happens during German winter)

I was a little concerned about ordering contacts here because I didn’t know where my prescription paper was – and then I found out that I didn’t need it.  Germany runs on the honor system when it comes to contacts, and my brand is slightly cheaper through Amazon.de than it was through 1-800-Contacts.  I was fairly pleased with this development, though I was advised by a friend who works at an optometrist to still get my vision checked yearly.  Totally can do when it’s free.

The total weirdness of this system didn’t hit me until I was looking for contact solution at Müller.

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Those look like contact lenses, just sitting on a shelf for anyone to take. 

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Yup, single contact lenses for around five euros.   Almost like reading glasses at a grocery store…

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And they get strong!

These really freaked me out, but I knew you didn’t need a prescription, so what was so weird about picking them up at the German equivalent of Walgreens (but better)?

I pondered it a bit, and I think that the issue is, for me, that when you buy online, you probably have a idea of what you’re looking for.  If you hadn’t been told what you needed, it’d be pretty hard to find.  With it laid out in a store like this, there isn’t anything keeping someone from thinking, “hmm, my vision is middling bad, so maybe I’ll try something from the middle.”

But maybe the Germans are smarter than that and it’s just a very American way of approaching the situation.  That might be why we require prescriptions.

Public Transportation Part #1

By User:Wiki-observer (User:Wiki-observer) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
By User:Wiki-observer (User:Wiki-observer) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Because I don’t have my own car (as explained here), I frequently have to rely on public transportation when I need to get somewhere while the Verlobter is working.  Thankfully trains and buses are much more common here than in America, and for the most part I can get where I need to go rather easily, even if it takes longer than driving.

The German transportation system isn’t without it’s quirks, though.  Deutsche Bahn, the national train company, is one of the most un-German organizations ever.  Trains are regularly late, usually only by around five minutes or so, but when you have a tight connection, those five minutes can be a bit nerve-wracking.

So far, I’ve been lucky to avoid any major delays.  It is very important to arrive on time, though, because if you are running late, the train definitely will not be delayed and you will run into the Murphey’s Law of Train Station Ticket Machine.  Sorry for the long name of the law, I just made it up right now, but it is an observable phenomenon at all German train stations.  Either outside, or immediately inside the doors of a train station, you will find a number of ticket booths.  The actually number is unimportant.  No matter how many there are, if you are running late, they will all be in use.  If you have plenty of time, all will be open.

By Flominator (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Flominator (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I don’t even know what is going on on the machine to the left, but the one on the right is what I encounter the most often.  Instructions are available in five or six languages, but if you are running late, the person you choose to wait behind will inevitably have difficulty understanding what is happening on their touch screen.  If you choose to switch to a different line, the person will suddenly figure out what they are doing, but someone will swoop in to take your place before you can switch back.  They’re like grocery store lines, but somehow more frustrating.

These ticket machines take cash and card, but will only dispense change – so keep that in mind when you pay for a 3€ ticket with a 20€ bill.  This is not restricted to Germany; in St. Louis, the Metrolink machines will give you back golden dollars, which is way worse than getting a handful of 2€ coins.  You can use 1€ and 2€ coins in vending machines and cashiers won’t look at you like you have three heads when you pay with them.  They just make your wallet/pocket heavy, and that’s annoying, but at least you can easily get rid of them.

DIY Bread Slicer – Weird German Things #4

The Verlobter and I live very close to several grocery stores and have developed some criteria for determining which store to venture forth to when we need to restock our absurd supply of yogurt and processed meatstuffs.  Our most important consideration is whether or not the store is equipped with a bread slicer.

“Why not just buy pre-sliced bread?” you ask, “Is that something the Germans don’t believe in?”

They have pre-sliced, American-style sandwich bread – referred to just as “toast” despite not being toasted, sometimes with an American flag on the label.  But, why buy the sugary, soft, white stuff when you can have hearty, brown German bread fresh from the bakery section and sliced right before you use it for optimal freshness?

Because the slicer is freaking terrifying if you’ve never seen it before.

You do get used to it – I have used it on my own on occasion when picking up bread while the Verlobter was at work.  And fresh bread is nice and cheap.  I have no idea what the nutritional stats are, but it looks healthier than pre-sliced sandwich bread.

Image by me
Image by me

You could, theoretically, buy the bread yourself and slice it at home.  We’ve tried that before because we made the mistake of buying bread from one of the non-slicer stores.  I’m sure it keeps the bread fresher longer, but we need something to put our process meatstuffs on and we don’t want to work for it.

Bottle Deposits – Weird German Things #3

This won’t sound that weird to my parents or grandparents (sorry for making you sound old), but when you buy bottled drinks in Germany, you pay a little extra and get that money back when you return the bottle.   From what I understand, this was fairly common in America for glass bottles, which could be sterilized and reused, but here it is used to encourage recycling of plastic bottles (in addition to glass beer bottles).

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Bottles with this logo are called “Pfandflasche” – “Pfand” means deposit and “flasche” means bottle.  The Germans are ever practical when it comes to naming things.  When you buy these bottles, you pay an extra 25¢ above the listed price.  If you don’t like that or hate recycling, you can also search for bottles labeled “ohne Pfand” (without deposit).

Most grocery stores have machines for returning bottles at the front of the store, so it’s fairly easy to find somewhere to return the bottles.  The Verlobter and I just keep our bottles in an Ikea bag and then use that bag for our groceries once we’ve returned the bottles, because Germany is all about reusable bags as well and stores charge you when you need one.

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We drink a lot of bubbly water, but more about that some other time.

The machines generally have a top section for returning individual bottles, and a bottom sections for full cases of beer, because Germany.

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The machine looks for the Pfand logo and tallies up how many bottles you’ve returned.  When you’re finished you have  two options for your money:

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The “Pfand” option gives you a receipt which you give to the cashier when you buy your groceries and deducts the amount you returned from your purchase.  The “Spende” option donates the money.  As you can see, there is a little shield that makes it impossible to accidentally push the Spende button.  According to the Verlobter, that wasn’t always there.  Presumably, people who weren’t paying attention frequently ended up donating their money and got quite angry as a result.

I like the system well enough, if anything it reminds us to bring a bag big with us when we go shopping, because we need to return our bottles.  I wish the Pfand was included in the price like sales tax, though because I always forget about it.  Price tags do have the Pfand listed, but in such a small font that I often overlook I when I do my mental math.  Still better, though, than America’s system of listing prices without sales tax included which makes mental math impossible unless you’re a percentage savant.

Weird things in Germany #1

There are some things here that I still just don’t understand. Like these:

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They are Cola-flavored gummis. I actually don’t understand any Cola-flavored candies (looking at you, Bottle Caps) but the chewy ones are especially weird to me. It doesn’t help that the Verlobter likes them. He’s lucky, because if we ever get any, I won’t touch them. And this is coming from a girl who loves black licorice. If I don’t like it, your candy is disgusting