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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Americans hate change. It’s heavy, it jingles unpleasantly, it’s confusing and it slows down the checkout line.

"Europeans hate change, too," said Sandy Towers, a Brit who works on Campbell Barracks. "I’ve got two bags full — it’s all 1- and 2-cents."

What about Germans? They seem to have a lot of it. Do they for some reason like coins?

"No, absolutely not," said Joachim Niedereicholz, a Heidelberg businessman. "The 1-cent is absolute nonsense."

But change is tough to get rid of in Germany. Some people spend it, carefully counting coins for the checkout cashier as the line behind them grows. Many others do not. They put their change on the table, in a drawer or a giant Hefty bag. It grows. Then what?

In many parts of the States, the answer is easy: Numerous grocery stores have change sorting machines. You dump the change in and, minus a small percentage, get a receipt to take to the cash register for bills.

In Germany, it’s not quite so convenient.

The military Community Bank can’t help you out. No machine, even for U.S. coins. "Unfortunately not," said a worker there who declined to be identified because the employees are not allowed to speak to the press without authorization.

The machines are expensive, another worker says. "They jam all the time."

The bankers did say they’d heard the post exchange had a sorting machine for U.S. currency.

But no. The change-counting machine at the Heidelberg PX is for the PX only. Although the person there, who also declined to be identified, said that if it’s not busy, they might put your change in the machine as a courtesy, unlike the exchange at Mannheim, which reportedly never will.

The PX person also said that if the courtesy sorting were to be publicly known, the courtesy would no doubt have to be curtailed because too many people would be hauling in their change.

It doesn’t get any better with German banks. It’s rumored that there were at one time such machines for euro coins at a number of banks, but those machines have disappeared.

"I used to go to the Sparkasse and throw it in and get a receipt and put it in my account," said Niedereicholz. "Landescentral bank — you didn’t need an account; they gave it to you as proper money. They closed it."

There is not one bank— or anywhere else — in Heidelberg that now has such a machine, he said. But it takes a while to find that out.

Deutsche Bank, for instance, said it has no such machine, but Reisebank, at the train station did.

"We don’t have one," said the Reisebank teller. But, he said, the Sparkasse did.

"We have no machine," said the lady at the Sparkasse information desk.

What about the Volksbank nearby?

"There is no bank in Heidelberg with this machine," says Anita Stahl, the only bank employee who agreed to be identified. However, she said, the Deutsche Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, does offer that service in Ludwigshafen and its branches elsewhere.

"We only know they do it. How they do it, we don’t know," she said. "We think it’s a machine."

But was that right?

"It’s right. We do it," said a woman at the Frankfurt Bundesbank, who declined to be identified. "You bring the money, and you get paper for it."

Is there a charge?

"It’s free," she said. Hours, she added, are 8:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

There are Bundesbank branches in Munich, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Stuttgart, among other places. But there are none in Wiesbaden, Kaiserslautern, Grafenwöhr or Heidelberg, where U.S. troops are. There is one in Saarbrücken, however.

It’s not like the Germans don’t realize how annoying this lack of technology is.

"Sorting coins by hand is ‘Yesterday,’ " says a translated German catalog ad for a home-sorting device. "This device takes over this time-consuming work. Simply drop the mixed coins in the top opening; quickly the coins are perfectly sorted into the waiting tubes."

Then you put the coins in paper rolls. Called the "euro and cent coin sorter," the device costs 30 euros.

Another solution is to open a German bank account. Then, you hand the teller your change, they put it in a bag, count it for you, and credit it to your account.

But most Americans don’t do this. They stick with other options.

"I stack it up in little piles, then I use it," said Richard Helfman, a U.S. Army Europe science adviser. "Or you can bring it to McDonald’s and dump it there (in the charity bin)."

Then again, "There are some stores that want all my change," Helfman said. "I pour it into my hand and say, ‘This is what I have.’ "

Lt. Col. Kevin Vanyo, another science adviser, has an easier solution. "My kids swipe all my change," he said.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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