Every minute of every day a milk carton bruises the plums of an unsuspecting expat. The expat stares in mute horror. The cashier doesn’t care. Sound familiar? If you live in Munich, it should. If you’re about to move to Munich, it will. There’s a sad truth about supermarkets in this fine city and here it is: they are arseholes.
Supermarkets in other parts of the world often welcome you with the smell of fresh baked goods and some even employ greeters – actual people! However, in Munich it often feels like they don’t want you and they make that very clear. Shopping needs to be done, however, and rather frequently, so here are ten things you need to know if you’re about to get your groceries.
1. No one will pack your bag
What do you think this is, some kind of spa? If you want your parsley and one-ply toilet paper, you’re going to have to work for it, love! Munich cashiers have more important things to do than fill your bag, or give you bags, or smile. They have scanning and sighing to get on with, so you’d better bring your own bag – or scramble around under the conveyor belt to buy one – if you want your groceries to come home with you.
2. The aisles are narrow
Like, stupidly narrow. If you bring a pram you may as well find a comfortable spot to sleep because you may actually never make it out. Suck your stomach in, fight the claustrophobia and get out as quickly as you can.
3. Organisation is a foreign concept
In a capricious contradiction of German stereotypes, the Munich supermarkets do not follow any kind of discernible logic or system. You want tortillas? Sure, look next to the bread. You know what? They might be in the Mexican section or maybe just hanging out on the edge of a random aisle, say near the baking products. Rice? Oh you’ll find that near the pasta. Or near the lentils. Or in the Asian section. Probably all three, actually. Now run back and forth to compare prices. It’s a mess. There are people who wandered into Rewe in 1963 and haven’t left because they’re still searching for the coconut milk.
4. They’re constantly being restocked…
No matter what time of day you wander into a Munich supermarket, there will be crates of stuff blocking your way and supermarket employees asking you to move out of the way as they unenthusiastically push cartons around and stock fridges and shelves. They will outnumber you and they will be annoyed by your existence.
5. …except right before a Sunday or public holiday
The only time the supermarket will feel oddly spacious – and yet crammed with patrons – is right before a Sunday or public holiday. Whole aisles will be bare, having been emptied by a frenzied mob in the early hours and never restocked. Need potatoes? You should have come at 8am, now you’ll have to switch to a parsley-only diet till Monday. The parsley never runs out. There’s always parsley.
6. You’ll witness a weird product imbalance
Somebody high up in the ordering department has a lot of explaining to do because Munich supermarkets are completely missing some things but over-stocked with others. Looking for coriander? You might find a pot of it tucked into some dark, forgotten corner. Probably not, though. There will be three fridges solely stocked with parsley, however. Need thickened cream? Try again. But how about cooking cream? Or baking cream? Or whipping cream? Or Schmand? What do you mean you want a healthy muesli bar? Don’t you mean honey-glazed oats sprinkled with chocolate and sugar? Because there’s a shelf of those. No, you may not have self-raising flour!
7. The cashiers are brutal
The basic goal of (almost) every Munich cashier is to throw your groceries down the end of the register with as much force and speed as possible. And, giving credit where credit’s due, they are exceedingly good at their jobs. If not for the sweat beading into your eyes as you try to catch your milk and stick it in a bag before you get knocked out by a flying piece of ham, you would probably even admire the sound-breaking speed at which your lemons move. It’s quite beautiful to watch a watermelon hit top velocity, open up a wormhole and disappear into another dimension.
8. People will jump the line
Forget everything you think you know about Germans following rules because when a new cash register opens, there are no rules. That sweet old lady behind you? Yeah, she’ll trip you with her walker to get to the new register before you. It’s live and let die, so when you hear the announcement, you grab your groceries, get your elbows out and run or you will be left in the dust.
9. Expect copper…endless copper
For who knows what reason, Germany still has tiny worthless copper coins. Well, not entirely worthless. One or ten of them won’t buy you anything, but collect enough of them and all of a sudden you have yourself enough to get a Semmel. Or, if you’re a Bavarian of a particular generation, you have enough to pay your entire grocery bill with them…and you’ll do so by counting them out as slowly as possible. If you happen to be an expat used to things operating quickly (and typically with cards), get comfortable. It could take a while.
10. And ridiculous operating hours
Almost all of the supermarkets in Munich are only open Monday to Saturday and only until 8pm (opening hours vary from 7am to 10am). That’s it. No midnight shopping, no Sunday shopping, no shopping on public holidays (even if those public holiday days fall right after a Sunday and you’re all out of parsley). To Bavarians it is simply unacceptable to work late hours or weekends. You know, unless you’re a waiter, or a doctor, or a nurse, or a bus driver or a cinema worker, or a bouncer, or a barman, or anyone working at the airport or central station. Okay, let’s rephrase that: to Bavarians it’s unacceptable for cashiers to work late hours or weekends. If you do run out of toilet paper though – hey, it happens to the best of us – the supermarkets at the airport and central station are there to save the day.
Agnes Stockburger is a writer, editor and published author. In her glory days she wrote for the likes of Australian Broker, SheKnows and Yahoo!7. These days you’re more likely to find her sticking Duplo blocks in the fridge and the milk in the mailbox because OMG her kids will NOT sleep. She has lived in Munich for six years, has two dirndls and gave birth in German. Twice. This obviously qualifies her to write about the local culture with impunity.
Photo credit: Yolanda Ng is a cross creative who is a professional fashion designer, stylist, street style blogger for VON ZWEI and a photographer at Corner Store Photography. She is also the Creative and Marketing Director for LMBB.