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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 12:18 GMT
Germany's euro rush
Bank queue
There were long queues at Munich's Sparkasse
By BBC News Online's Tim Weber in Munich

It's the euro rush at the Sparkasse, Munich's largest savings bank.

At the main branch in the Tal, just a couple of hundred metres away from the Marienplatz and Munich's historic city hall, hundreds of customers are queuing patiently to get rid of their Deutschmarks, and take home some euros in return.

There are 26 counters staffed, and at each of them 20 or 30 customers wait for their turn.


I've got two Deutschmarks here, and want just one euro, and I've already been waiting for nearly half an hour

Rudi Hatton
Ms Haufer has already waited for 20 minutes, and nine customers are still ahead of her.

She has some Deutschmarks left from last year, hopes she can convert them to euros, and also wants to fill her wallet to last for the month.

She still thinks in Deutschmarks, though: "I need about 1,500 D-Mark, whatever that is in euros," she says. Once she has reached the counter, she will receive her first euros ever.

Taking a euro to California

Rudi Hatton blames his wife. He is a tourist from California, due to fly home this evening. But his wife has asked him to bring home a one euro coin, as a souvenir.

"I've got two Deutschmarks here, and want just one euro, and I've already been waiting for nearly half an hour."


Many of our customers clearly want to get rid of their Deutschmarks as soon as possible, it's just too cumbersome to carry around two currencies

Joachim Froehler, Sparkasse

An elderly lady, clad in fur and braced for the freezing cold outside, is giving up and wants to leave.

Stephan Kirchner, one of dozens of Sparkasse employees swarming the hall to advise customers and calm nerves, tells her not to worry: "You've got two months to use your Deutschmarks in the shops, or convert them here to euros."

To sweeten the wait, Sparkasse employees offer glasses of sparkling wine to customers.

No fakes

The cashiers, meanwhile, are watching out for any fake notes, and suspicious money transactions.

Any cash amount above 10,000 Deutschmarks will be queried, and computer systems should pick up other suspicious "money streams" as well.

So far, no fakes have been found, but an unusually high number of 1,000 Deutschmark notes - the largest denomination of the old currency.

Busy day at the cash machines

Joachim Froehler, head of press at the Sparkasse, expects the worst to be over by the middle of next week.

"Many of our customers clearly want to get rid of their Deutschmarks as soon as possible, it's just too cumbersome to carry around two currencies," he says.

On 1 January alone, there have been 62,000 withdrawals from the bank's 173 cash machines, taking out 12.5m euros worth of money. This easily tops any Friday of the past year, which tend to be the busiest days of the week.

So far none of the bank's cash machines have run out of euros, but the bank's staff is kept busy restocking them.

Full of old money

It has proved more difficult to empty the 24 machines set up across town that take in old money - notes and coins - and automatically credit customer accounts.

Getting "euro ready" has cost the bank 20m euros. About half of this was for a thorough upgrade of the computer system.

There is a ban on holidays, and 100 back office staff have been drafted in to walk round bank branches advising customers.

And if the rush continues like this, the bank will open its doors on Saturday as well, says Mr Froehler.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Sergeant in Frankfurt
"Shoppers are quickly getting used to their new money"

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See also:

01 Jan 02 | Business
01 Jan 02 | Business
31 Dec 01 | Business
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