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Fri, Mar 01, 2002 - Page 18 News List

Germans shed few tears as the mark becomes history

EUROMONEY Yesterday was the last day when local currencies could still be used in stores in any of the 12 countries that adopted the euro as a common currency

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , FRANKFURT, GERMANY

The Schmidt family delicatessen is rich with tradition, offering venison, rabbit and wild boar from game hunted by the store owners themselves.

But when the German mark ceases to be legal tender today, Robert Schmidt will be unperturbed. He has been displaying prices only in euros for more than a month -- 22.8 euros for a kilo of wild boar filet, 13.2 euros for a kilo of fresh venison, 5.9 euros for a kilo of wild rabbit.

"People have no trouble making the conversion," Schmidt, who inherited the shop from his father and grandfather, said on Wednesday. "We still get a few people who pay in marks, but after [Thursday] that will be it. The mark will be history."

Yesterday was the last day when local currencies could still be used in stores in any of the 12 countries that adopted the euro as a common currency. In practice, however, the old currencies had virtually disappeared by the end of January.

Nearly all cash transactions are exclusively in euros, whether in Germany, Italy, Greece or Spain. The vast majority of prices are listed only in euros, even though many stores had been expecting to offer double-pricing for some time to come. Many small shops and businesses have already stopped accepting the old currencies. Few customers have complained, because few had much of the old money left anyway.

The euro changeover has been smoother and faster than even the most optimistic planners expected. Despite glitches and confusion in the first few days, Europeans calmly loaded up on euros by withdrawing them from automated cash machines. Supermarkets, gas stations and bakeries accepted the old currencies as payment with cash registers that could automatically calculate the change in euros.

France, Ireland and the Netherlands have already abandoned their individual currencies, all of them without incident.

Here in Germany, where the mark was revered as a symbol of postwar success, surveys indicate that nearly half the population would rather keep their old money. But the emotional misgivings have been almost undetectable in the flow of daily commerce, as even the most reluctant pensioners now pay for their groceries with crisp new euros.

"We originally said people could pay in marks until Feb. 28, but we haven't seen any marks for at least the last two weeks, so I decided to stop taking them," said Hamdi Abbas, owner of Century 21, a downtown cafe and restaurant.

The biggest complaints have been about price increases. Almost every consumer here has examples of significant price jumps since marks were switched to euros.

Hamdullah Topal, the owner of a street kiosk here, pointed to a bottle of Moshovskay vodka that he sells. Before January, he bought bottles from a wholesaler for DM9.99, about US$4.70. Now the price has jumped to 5.95 euros, about DM11.6 (US$5.15).

Germans are not the only ones complaining of sticker shock. The Consumer Association of Ireland recently published a survey showing price hikes of up to 15 percent for alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, movie tickets and even daily rates for hospital rooms.

Many Irish have also been shocked to discover that the prices they pay are now higher than in other seemingly more expensive European countries. The Consumer Association of Ireland reported that potatoes, eggs and milk were nearly twice as expensive in Ireland as in Germany.

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