USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs
Shopping in Germany can be a very positive experience and shoppers will find most of the same things that they’re used to back in the States.
Upon arrival in Stuttgart, shopping is one of the first things many newcomers like to do. However, Stuttgart military community members should be aware of some important differences.
One thing most Americans should adjust to in Germany is the way in which Germans shop. Most shops are smaller and in general, most towns have a central, downtown shopping district where most of the specialty stores are located. Larger department stores are gaining popularity in Germany, and at least one or two can be found in most sizeable German cities.
Sprawling shopping malls with dozens of shops, a food court and a movie theater like the kind that dot towns across America are still somewhat rare in Germany, though they can be found in larger cities. There are several large shopping centers throughout the Stuttgart area. These include the “Milaneo” in downtown Stuttgart, the “Mercaden” in Boeblingen, “Breuningerland” and “Stern Center” in Sindelfingen, and “Leocenter” in Leonberg. Malls are generally open from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday through Saturdays, although they may have one day regularly open later and special occasions for longer shopping. Be aware, however, that there is no shopping on Sundays.
Most German cities have a Fussgänger (pedestrian) zone offering a shopping experience that more than makes up for the lack of malls. Think of them as large, open-air, cobble-stoned, mile-long shopping malls. Specialty stores, restaurants and other services line these pedestrian streets, offering just about anything the average shopaholic might desire. Stuttgart’s main shopping street is Königstraße, which stretches for three-quarters of a mile.
Grocery shopping in Germany has more recently become a much more convenient experience. Franchise grocery stores that offer a full range of everyday grocery needs can be found in most towns and cities (small villages may not have these stores, but they’re usually found in a neighboring village or town). Discounters like Aldi and Lidl tend to offer lower priced, mostly private label (store brand) goods while stores like Rewe, Edeka, and Kaufland offer a variety of brands for many different products and typically have a full service counter for fresh meats and cheeses.
Grocery stores in Germany are laid out similarly to U.S. stores, and though the product names and some of the packaging may be different, the basics are still the same. There is fresh produce, canned goods, frozen foods, frozen pizzas and breakfast cereals. German products are measured using the metric system.
German grocery stores do not provide free bags at checkout, and customers typically bring their own reusable ones. Each store will have inexpensive reusable bags available for purchase, along with recyclable paper bags costing around 10-15 cents each.
Just like the weights and measurements for groceries are metric, clothing sizes in Germany are different to those in the U.S. It helps to know some of the different clothing size systems. There are applications for smartphones that can help with size conversion as well as online resources, though the size conversions can vary significantly from brand to brand and even within the same brand. While some clothing now comes with tags that list both U.S. and European sizes, it’s important to be aware of the differences. Most clothing stores offer changing rooms, so the best practice is to always to try clothing on before purchasing it.
Cash and carry!
Cash is still much more widely used in Germany than in the U.S.; not every small store takes credit card, but, lately many more stores, especially the big malls do take credit/bank cards.
Best practice is to ask in advance, as many smaller stores and independent restaurants still don’t.
Many stores and restaurants will accept a German variant of a debit card, called a Girocard or EC (EuroCheque/Electronic Cash) card, even when they do not take credit. They are also frequently accepted at ticket machines and parking meters. EC cards are connected to a customer’s bank account and are secured with a chip and randomly-assigned PIN. They can be used across Europe and are available through German banks as well as Service Credit Union on post. The credit union’s offering, called V-Pay, is available to members for a set-up fee of $25, with renewal every three years at $15.
Return policies are another area in which shopping has changed in recent years in Germany, but they are still a little different than in the U.S. Most large department stores will have return policies, but these policies may be more restrictive than those that Americans are familiar with. However, make sure to keep the receipt and usually the item needs to be returnd within 14 days in order to get your money back. (The tag should still be on the item, such as pants or dresses).