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Monday, 31 December, 2001, 10:55 GMT
Germany bids the Deutschmark farewell
The people of the eurozone's largest country, Germany, have less than 24 hours left to cherish their beloved Deutschmarks. But as BBC News Online's Tim Weber reports from the Bavarian city of Weiden, the euro's imminent arrival is not the talk of the town.
Nobody here is wasting much thought on the euro. It will come, everybody knows that, and only a few seem to regret it.
"We'll get through the changeover without too many problems," is the kind of comment that crops up.
Admittedly, when the cash till has a hiccup at Schuhhaus Saur, a shoe store right next to Weiden's Gothic city hall, the changeover to the euro gets the blame.
But what really matters here is the weather.
Some railway lines are down, many roads are blocked as trees collapse under the weight of the powdery snow.
Compared to this, the euro storm is a minor event - and one for which, by now, everybody is well prepared.
A flood of Deutschmarks
Nonetheless, it is both psychologically and logistically a momentous changeover.
The Deutschmark, symbol of Germany's Wirtschaftswunder, will disappear.
Hundreds of millions of euro coins and bank notes will take its place.
The Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, predicts that within 14 days hardly anybody will be using Deutschmarks anymore.
The Germans have certainly worked hard over the Christmas period to get rid of it.
Many Weiden stores report an unusually large amount of cash payments. "The use of credit cards and eurocheque cards [Germany's ubiquitous debit card system] is way down", says Lucia Lindner, who works at the small Betty Barclays boutique in Weiden.
"We've never had that much cash coming in," she says, adding with a laugh: "Some of it may well come from people using up all their black money" - the colloquial term for earnings that have never met a taxman.
There is hardly a store here without plenty of euro information, and some sign or other declaring its euro readiness.
Everywhere, nearly all products are priced in euros - in most cases, the euro price is much larger than the Deutschmark price.
Some shops have special sales, to clear out old stock priced in marks and pfennigs.
Not that everybody wants to join the euro at the stroke of midnight.
Some pubs have announced they will delay the euro launch until Wednesday afternoon, to avoid confusion for New Year revellers, or - like the local McDonalds - to allow more time for upgrading the software of the tills.
Going begging for petrol
Down the road, in the small town of Altenstadt, a local butcher has closed his shop completely.
He has gone on holiday and will re-open on 7 January, hoping to avoid the worst of the predicted chaos.
And come the early hours of New Year's Day, many people will find it tricky to buy the petrol for the way home.
The association of petrol station owners has warned that all 24-hour garages will have to close for at least two hours during the night to upgrade tills, adjust counters on the pumps and change the displays from marks to euro.
The euro roll-out
The only ones left grumbling are retailers, who feel short-changed.
Come midnight, most Germans will have 10, 20 or 30 euros at best - from the starter packs snapped up in mid-December at banks and post offices.
Some more euro money will come from automated teller machines - and Germany is one of only a few countries that hope to have 100% of all cash machines euro ready by the end of 1 January.
The real euro changeover will happen at the tills of Germany's shops.
"What should I do if somebody walks into my shop with a 1,000 Deutschmark note (£312; 511 euros), buys something for 10 euros and wants change?" asks Hannelore Kaufmann, who runs a fine leather goods shop in Weiden's pedestrianised 17th century market square.
She ordered euros for her till back in September, received them on 15 December, and worries that she may run out of euros fast.
Ms Kaufmann has already made an informal agreement with a neighbouring shop, a bakery. She will give them as much small change as she can afford, they will give her euro notes in return.
Like many other shops, she has set strict limits: "We will not accept large Deutschmark notes way above the value of the goods bought."
And some shops have pledged to do away with the Deutschmark altogether.
They plan to act as banks, offering their customers to swap "round" Deutschmark sums, eg 50 or 100 Deutschmarks, for euros, but then will accept euros only at the till.
The changeover comes for retailers at the busiest time of the year - during the post-Christmas shopping boom, the start of the winter sales season, and for many shops during or immediately after the "inventur", an annual record of all stock in the store, as prescribed by the tax office.
But Ms Kaufmann is confident nonetheless: "In two weeks all will be over, and nobody will be talking about the Deutschmark anymore."
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