Day One with the Euro

What's it like when a pocketful of deutschemarks becomes obsolete? BW Frankfurt Correspondent David Fairlamb explains

By David Fairlamb

Dec. 31, 2001, 11:00 p.m. With 228.92 deutschemarks ($104.54) in my pocket, I head off to the euro launch party being held outside the European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt. I pay the 3.10 mark tram fare in cash. I have taken a bottle of vodka with me, so I'll need no cash to buy drinks there. I start 2002 with 225.82 marks.

Jan. 1, 2002, 2:10 a.m. Faced with long lines at bank ATMs, I decide to wait until the morning to withdraw my first euro notes. I pay the taxi fare home and the babyistter in marks (70 marks and 100 marks, respectively.) That leaves me with 55.82 marks.

Jan. 1, 11:00 a.m. I go to my local gas station to buy orange juice and a battery. The shop assistant, Andrea Farnese, asks if I want to pay the 4.5 euro bill in euro or marks. I hand over my last 50-mark bill. She presses a button on the till which does the calculation instantaneously (1 euro equals 1.95583 marks.) I receive 21.01 euros in change. The transaction takes marginally longer than usual. The assistant is in a festive mood. She says there have been no hitches, no customers have grumbled, and everyone has been keen to see new notes and coins. I have 5.82 marks left.

Jan. 1, 11:10 a.m. Go to my nearest ATM. Three people are in line. The transaction takes no longer than usual. Hilde Schneider, a retired factory worker, is ahead of me. She says she's sad to see the mark go but is philosophical about the euro and thinks it will be very useful when she goes for her winter holiday to Spain next week. "I won't need to change any money. That's a real advantage," she says. (See BW Online, 1/2/02, "Euros in Hand, Europe Expects a New Era")

I withdraw 350 euros without a hitch. I quite like the pastel shades and fresh look of the new notes but am surprised by how small the 5- and 10-euro bills are. Other people at the ATM say they're also pleased with the look of the money. "I can't wait to get home and show my husband and children what they look like," says Ingrid Belz, a local doctor on her way home from work.

Jan. 1, 11:25 a.m. I purchase coffee and a soft drink at Burger King. Pay the 2-euro bill with 3.91 marks. The old currency is put into a special till. "We only give out change in euro," says Ludmila Ivanova, who took my order. "I was worried there would be chaos, but it's all going smoothly. The lines aren't bad, and most people are excited to see the new money," she adds. I now have just 1.91 marks left.

Jan. 2, 7.50 a.m. I buy a copy of the mass-circulation newspaper Bild Zeitung, which now costs 45 euro cents, at the shop near the BusinessWeek office in Frankfurt. I hand over 1 mark and receive 10 pfennig (0.10 mark) back. "I can't be bothered to do the conversion and give you euro back for such a small amount," says shopkeeper Jan Albrecht grumpily. "It's very complicated for someone like me who works on his own. I don't know why we're ditching the mark, and I'll just be glad when it's all over. I now have 1.01 marks left.

Jan. 2, 9.45 a.m. I go to a local supermarket to buy a snack, dreading the thought of long queues and bad-tempered staff. But the line moves only slightly more slowly than usual, and the staff are in high spirits. "It's fun," says store clerk Olga Stepanic as I make my first ever payment with euro notes. "It's a really interesting experience, and the till does all the calculation work, so I'm not that worried about making mistakes." Other customers join in the conversation. They're generally sorry to see the end of the mark but appreciate that the euro has its advantages.

My last 1.01 marks? I give it to charity.

Fairlamb covers currency markets for BusinessWeek from Frankfurt

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