An idea came to me today as I was responding to my friend, Mary’s, email. She was asking me about shopping here in Germany (among other things), and I thought my response might make a good blog post. I’m going to start an “Ask Me Anything” blog category. If you have a question for me, shoot me an email or DM, and if I have anything interesting enough to say on the topic, I’ll add it here. Today I’ll prattle on a bit about my shopping experiences so far, including food and household goods.
Grocery stores are among my favorite places to go whenever we travel. It’s a great place to learn new words, see new foods, and get a feel for how a culture operates at its domestic base. Now that we are living here, shopping for food, like laundry, is an almost daily occurrence. In the beginning, it was very quaint: “Oh, we just dash off to the market when we need anything.” The up side is that things are always fresh. The down side is you’re always dashing to the damn market, and as likely as not you either forget something you needed or you opt out of purchasing something heavy because you are hand carrying it all. Or, if you’re like me, your spontaneous purchases make the rest of the family shake their heads in wonder: Really? Did you *really* need something called Quark? (Answer: Yes.) And is Dickmilch some sort of middle school joke? (Answer: no *snicker*) I’m confident that sooner or later I will develop a rhythm of what to buy and when and where. But right now I am very much still in the exploration phase which means I’m still in the small humiliations phase, too.
Our purchases are primarily dictated by our kitchen. Our fridge and freezer, while relatively large by German comparison is very small by US standards so for the most part, we only get a little bit of food at a time. Because I am carrying all the purchases the few blocks home and up the six (!!) flights of stairs, I try to spread out the heavy things across purchases. Also, because you can literally walk out your door and find whatever you may need, we don’t really stock up or buy in advance. No Cosco or BJ runs for 56 rolls of toilet paper. The exception to bulk purchases is beer and waters which many people buy by the case. It is common to see a large plastic case of beer out on the patios or porches to stay cool.
Observations about our Bavarian stores that are mostly different from ours in the US:
~You need to insert a coin (.50 or 1 euro) to get a shopping carriage.
~You should bring your own bags or be prepared to pay for bags.
~The bakeries located inside grocery stores function independently from the rest of the store. You pay for your bakery purchases with cash separate from the rest of your order.
~Many more products that we keep cold in the US are shelf stable here including milk, eggs, and much cheese.
~You can buy wine, beer, and spirits in grocery stores.
~Credit cards and debit cards are increasingly more accepted, but cash is still king around here.
~Generally speaking, things are smaller (packages of meats, cheeses, containers of juices). Again, the exceptions are beer and water which can come in pretty large portions.
~Bottle returns often are in the back of the stores and they are a very smooth operation indeed. They generate a slip of paper that you cash in when you check out with your groceries.
~ It appears to my novice eye that this is a culture big on powered sauces, frozen pizzas, and some pre-packaged foods. They seem very popular, are very economical, from what we’ve sampled are quite tasty too.
~You won’t easily find sandwich bread as its known in the US, and if you do, it will be a little half loaf labeled American Bread. Most bread is bought fresh daily at the omnipresent bakeries. You can order half loaves there too.
~The big Bavarian pretzel (breze as it’s known here) is delicious, soft, and salty. Often it’s the kids’ after school snack or the bread served with dinner. You can find them at every bakery for about .60 Euro.
~”Drug stores” like our CVS or Walgreen chains here will not sell you medicines. Make up, diapers, and a whole host of other things, yes. But for medicine you need to go to an apothecary. And for most medicines you need a prescription.
We have so many different kind of stores and shops and venues surrounding us, that I’m sure it will take forever for us to find exactly which store we want to use for certain items. I pick the brain of any neighbors I meet and I walk around a lot and wander in many, many stores. I was going to try to take pictures of all the different stores but this would be impossible, plus the weather has been too gloomy. Instead I undertook an experiment and screen captured some different map views. I know that they are not completely accurate (I can see some places missing, and I’m pretty sure I will go the whole time here without ever stepping foot in the Hard Rock Cafe), but I thought it might give you a good idea of the level of selection we have at our disposal. Feel free to use google maps to explore my neighborhood and tell me if you think there’s anyplace I should check out. Currently my favorite spots are Mirabella fruit and vegetable market, the cheese shop at Kürfersansplatz, Edeka on Hertzogastrasse, Jacques, and the meat vendor at Elizabethmarkt.
For small household goods we walk over to Karstadt, our neighborhood department store. Costumes, pocketbooks, clothes, appliances, office supplies, etc are all there. Shopping for larger household goods is still a very unknown territory for us. We are starting to explore but it all feels so …. different. We aren’t exactly sure where we should be shopping. We have, of course, gone to Ikea. I’ve also started exploring stores near Ikea that seem to have it all. One was named Roller, I think, and I honestly am not sure what to make of it. Another home good store was Maison du Monde. There are some stores in our neighborhood that seem a bit too posh. Tomorrow we may venture out to learn more. I really wish my German fairy godmother would just come down and tell me where to go to buy rugs and lights, and shelves. Or better yet, buy them for us. That would be great.
And the last thing I will mention on the shopping topic is that I also use Amazon.de quite a bit. It’s super convenient, and because our doorbells still do not work, it gives me the opportunity to meet more of my neighbors and neighboring businesses when my packages end up with them. I actually met a woman who has family in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Small world.