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How hard can it be to get euros in change?

NN editor goes to Germany and has a tough time accumulating euro coins.

I have just returned from Berlin, Germany. It gave me an opportunity for the first time of using the euro coins and bank notes that were introduced in 2002. I made a number of observations that I would like to share.


The euro is used in 12 of the 25 countries that are members of the European Union. Coins are denominated 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 eurocents and 1 and 2 euros. Paper money starts at the 5-euro denomination and runs 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500. I did not use the top two bills.

Every denomination, including the notes, has a different physical size. The one cent piece is the smallest coin and the 500 euros is the largest note. It is all very logical as you might expect from a system that was designed from scratch and that has no historical ties to any odd sizes or weights.

What do I mean? Well, they have no coin like our dime, which is smaller than the nickel, even though the denomination is higher. The 10 eurocents is bigger than the 5. The U.S. system has its denominational roots in the days when precious metals were still used. The size of the dime is the same as in the time the coin was made of silver.

Euro denominations are made of base metals. The 1 and 5 eurocents are copper-plated steel. The 10-50 eurocents are brass and the 1 and 2 euros are bimetallic. For the 1 euro, an inner core of copper-nickel is inset into a brass ring. For the 2 euros, an inner core of brass is inset in a copper-nickel ring.
The denominational side is a standard design in all 12 countries. The other side is the national side. Each country puts its own symbols on them, kind of like state quarters.

Generally speaking, all the coins are smaller in diameter and thicker than American coins. Imagine an American system using the nickel as its template. The 2 euro is slightly smaller than the Sac dollar but a bit thicker. The 1 euro is smaller than a quarter, but thicker. They work well with my 50-year-old fingers.

While I was in Germany, the euro was valued at nearly $1.25, so that gave the 2 euros a purchasing power of $2.50. As an American I certainly was not used to a coin having such a significant value, but I quickly learned.

It turned out to be difficult to accumulate euro coins at all. Most days in Iola, I go home with change. I fill a container and take it to the bank at regular intervals.

In Berlin, I discovered that there is a tendency to round prices in nice even amounts. They match the final bill. In Germany, the establishments already incorporate the 16 percent value added tax. So if you order a 10-euro lunch. That’s what you pay. No coins involved. In the United States, you would order a $10 lunch and find that sales tax is added to it, usually yielding coins in change if it is a cash transaction.

Because of this, I found that I had to consider how to pay bills in a manner that would generate coins so that I could study them and get a chance to use them. I resolved on this course of action at one restaurant. My bill was 9.40 euros. I received 60 eurocents in change. I realized that that was all the change I had. I wasn’t going to leave a 5 euro tip, so I wanted some coins. I asked the waiter for some. He showed me his table wallet and the coins inside. He must have thought I was just fishing for some coins as collectibles or curiosities, because he told me he could not give me any. He needed them in his work. That left me no alternative but to tip him the 60 eurocents that I had.

After that, I tried to manage transactions to get more coins in change. It was harder than I thought. The Germans don’t like to be bothered with extra coins as much as Americans. Admission to the imperial Victory column was the bargain of the trip at just 2.20 euros. I visited twice to climb the stairs to enjoy the view. Both times I tendered a 5 euro note. Both times I was asked if I had the 20 eurocents so they wouldn’t give me so much change. Very thoughtful.
I received just 1 eurocent coin in change and never received a 5 eurocents. The Germans don’t like them. Their tiny size make them inconvenient. In my brief experience, I found I agreed.