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- Grocery carts are connected by chains. In order to release a cart, you must place a 1 coin in the slot on the cart handle or obtain a plastic token. When you return the cart, lock the chain back into the appropriate slot on the handle and your coin will come back out. (Funny story: I used to think the coins were there to discourage people from stealing the carts. Silly system, I thought, because if someone wanted to steal a cart I guess he wouldn't be deterred by that... But then I learned more about German culture and realized the purpose is to get people to tidily return the carts to their stalls! An eminently practical system which saves on personnel costs and increases the chances that there will actually be a cart available in a convenient location when you need one! - BH)
- Fruits and vegetables can be the most confusing. If you see a scale in the area then these items must be weighed by you before you go through the Kasse (cashier). Note: this is not necessary in all stores as many stores are modernizing and weigh the products for you at the register as is done in the U.S. The trick is just in recognizing in which stores you have to do the weighing and stickering yourself! Plastic bags are available in the area near the fruits and vegetables. Pick out your food item noting the number written next to the nametag of the item. These numbers correspond to the buttons on the scale. For instance, Tomaten may have a #23 next to it. When you take your tomato to the scale you will see a button marked #23. Usually there is a picture next to it as well. Place your tomato on the scale and press the #23 or the button with the picture of the tomato. A sticker will come out of the machine and you will place that on your plastic bag of tomatoes. Not all items are marked with a number and using the pictures can be a great back-up.
Some items are sold by the piece (the price label will say je or Stück. You do not need to weigh these items. For instance, lettuce such as iceberg (Eisberg) or romaine (Romana) is often priced per head, as are loose lemons, avocados, and cucumbers. Usually a sign hanging above or below the items will say the price per Stück.
- You will notice that the produce here is not refrigerated or sprayed with water. Consequently, the lettuce may be limp and, indeed, may never recover. You may prefer to buy your produce from the farmer's markets (Thursday mornings in Burghausen, Thursday and Saturday mornings in Altötting and on Wednesday in the Stadtmitte (town center), Neuötting) where you can get fresher, sometimes organic, usually more expensive, produce.
- There are also great vegetable and fruit specialty produce stores within Burghausen, Altötting and Neuötting but some of these can be very expensive, especially if they specialize in organically grown products.
- Fruits, vegetables, and meats are weighed per gram and kilograms, not pounds or ounces. A cheap scale can be purchased for home use for converting recipes from ounces to grams. (See Section 4.1.7 on Cooking Substitutions for the weights per volume measurement of some more common cooking items).
- Most shoppers bring their own wicker basket or bags when shopping. Bags are available at the Kasse for a price of about 10 Pfennig per bag.
- The cashiers do not bag your groceries for you. Shoppers are expected to bag their own goods at the Kasse. Be aware that you will be expected to move quickly. Begin bagging your items as soon as the cashier runs them past the scanner. The cashier will not wait for you to bag your items before starting with the next person in line. If you are not quick enough, there may be times when you are picking your items out of another person's goods.
- There is occasionally an express line at customer service at Real in Altötting, but this is seldom practiced in Germany.
- The cashiers usually like it when you pay with exact change or at least close to it. They always need the change, and it's a great way to get rid of all that (heavy) spare change you will undoubtedly start to accumulate. Men, take note - it pays to buy a German wallet with a little coin purse inside. (Some banks have automatic change sorters if you decide to save your change in a jar.)
- Most large grocery stores will have everything you need in one building, but it is actually more fun to shop around and find the local small bakery and butcher with the quality, taste, and service you like best. Becoming a regular customer (Stammkunden) at these neighborhood shops is a great way to become more integrated into your community, and often the quality is simply better at the smaller family-owned specialty shops. There is also an amazing amount of difference in taste between the various local butchers and bakers. A Metzgerei (butcher) is the best place to go for meat. They sell some cheeses and deli items (potato salad, olives) but these things aren't their specialty. A popular Metzgerei is Mühldorfer on Robert Kochstrasse in Burghausen; their shop in Altötting is also excellent. Geith, the wine and liquor store on Marktler Str., also has specialty cheeses as well as a wonderful selection of very reasonably priced excellent wines. A Bäckerei (bakery) sells breads and rolls as well as some sweet items whereas a Konditorei specializes in pastries (and might sell some breads as well).
- Within the grocery store you will find also a section for fresh cheese, meats, and bakery goods. Danish bacon (Tulip brand) is the closest thing to American bacon; MiniMal in Altötting often has American bacon in their deli section. You can also buy pre-packaged meats and cheeses in the frozen or cold sections of the stores.
- Some popular grocery stores in Burghausen are the Edeka on Marktlerstrasse near the train station, the HL Markt on Robert Kochstrasse, Plus near the theater on Marktlerstrasse, and Kaufland near the McDonald's on the outside of town (toward Burgkirchen). The Real in Altötting has some brands not offered by the other stores, as well as a good cheese selection including provolone, cheddar, and a wide variety of blue, Italian, and French cheeses. If you feel like an excursion, the Globus in Mühldorf is very modern and will meet your American shopping expectations. They sometimes have very good prices on wine there too. MiniMal in Altötting has friendly clerks and the advantage that you don't have to pre-weigh your produce (they have an American-style scanner/scale).
- If you miss Costco, wait till you see the German version: Aldi is actually owned by the same people who came up with Trader Joes. Nothing is stored nicely on the shelves, they don't really have products in bulk quantities, and the lines at the checkout are very long, but they have relatively low prices.
- Last, but not least, some encouragement before you leave for your first shopping trip: with a few nouns, some pointing, and a lot of patience you can usually get what you need with no problem!
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