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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 10:13 GMT
Germany feels laid-back about the euro
Aachen marketplace
As a border town, Aachen is used to different currencies
The arrival of the euro is imminent, with the first coins due to be handed out at the end of this week. BBC News Online's James Arnold is on a tour of the eurozone to take the region's temperature ahead of this momentous changeover. His first report comes from the Christmas market in Aachen, Germany.

The euro is almost here, but you would scarcely know it in Aachen.

This ancient city, hard up against the Dutch and Belgian borders, is far too busy with the bustle of the Christmas market to pay much attention to monetary policy.

Bank window in Aachen
The euro is a fact of life in Aachen

Divert a shopper from the tight-packed scrum with questions about the single currency, and you will get a dirty look in reply.

But the grimace is not one of displeasure, as much as weariness.

In this cosmopolitan corner of Germany at least, the euro is not a problem or a challenge, but rather a somewhat tedious fact of life.

As easy as dividing by two

In Aachen, they are taking the euro firmly in their stride.

Other countries may well be in a state of near-panic, but the Germans are ready, said Karoline Klatz, who has come into town for a spot of Christmas shopping.

Karoline Klatz, a shopper
Karoline Klatz: 'Easy to do the sums'
"It's pretty easy for us to do the sums," she said.

"We've had information thrown at us for years now, and in any case all the euro prices will simply be half their Deutschmark equivalents."

Unlike some less fortunate countries, Germany has the advantage of a straightforward euro conversion: the single currency is as close to two Deutschmarks as makes little odds.

Ms Klatz's calmness is typical.

"This is a border town - we're used to dealing with two, three or more currencies in our heads," said Renate Monheim.

"One more won't make any difference."

Inflationary anxiety

You have to dig pretty deep to encounter any worry or resentment.

One recurring gripe is the notion that prices are rising - indeed, have already risen - as a result of the changeover.

Gernot Berger, a local engineer
Gernot Berger expects prices to rise
"When they shift everything over to euro prices, they will move to the nearest round number," said Gernot Berger, a local engineer.

"And you can bet that the rounding will always be upwards.

"This has already happened in industry, and is going to move into the shops next year."

Waitress worries

There are other, less universal, niggles.

Anne Kogel, a waitress in a city-centre café, is nervous for her tips.

No one's going to give me a whole euro tip

Anne Kogel
a waitress
Current Deutschmark pricing is cunningly contrived to allow for a natural tip: a coffee could be 3.6 Deutschmarks, for example, making it easy and natural for the customer to round up to four.

"But I reckon that it will cost two euros next year, and no one's going to give me a whole euro tip."

Can I phone a friend?

Nor is the appearance of unflappable readiness exactly matched by deep euro knowledge.

Almost everyone questioned knew that they had until the end of February to spend their Deutschmarks, but few, it seems, have enquired much more deeply into the issue.

"I'm leaving all the details to my bank," purred one well-heeled passer-by.
Aachen lotto
Aachen citizens struggle to count eurozone countries

Indeed, a (deeply unscientific) straw poll of 10 varied shoppers reveals ignorance of anything beyond the money in their pocket.

Only one in the 10 could give the euro-Deutschmark exchange rate to more than two decimal places (it is, of course, 1.95583).

Two knew how many countries had adopted the euro (answer: 12), but the wrong answers ranged from seven to 20.

Curiously, meanwhile, all 10 knew that Britain had not adopted the single currency.

Just two could name the city that is home to the European Central Bank (Frankfurt), and none could even make a stab at the names of the ECB boss (Wim Duisenberg) or the European Commission president (Romano Prodi).

Ignorance is bliss

To the festive folk of Aachen, however, this does not really seem to matter.

If it was hard to dig up worries about the single currency, finding an out-and-out opponent of the euro was downright impossible.

Dirk Kerser, a student
Dirk Kerser feels like a European
"If it helps makes us more European, then that has to be a good thing," said Dirk Kerser, a student.

"I already feel as much European as German, and I know the same goes for most people of my age."

Nor - contrary to the usual stereotype - is there much evidence of nostalgia for the mighty Deutschmark.

"Currencies come and currencies go," said Katerine Hall.

"I know some people are sad that the mark is disappearing, but if they think it was the secret of our success, then they must be mad."

Forget New Year, it's Christmas

The overall mood, though, is one of resignation, rather than celebration.

Christmas decorations in Aachen
Xmas shopping is more pressing than the euro
"I don't care what people pay me in, as long as they pay me," said Beate Buehlbecker, who sells ceramic sculptures at the heart of the market.

"It's not really going to make my life any easier, but nothing the government does achieves that."

But she's too busy to stand around talking about the euro.

Christmas is coming; New Year can look after itself.



The euro and you




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