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Business

No Cigarettes, but Plenty of Free Parking

Many of Germany's automated machines won't be ready for the euro come January 1, 2002. When the clock has struck midnight on New Year's Eve, cigarettes will be a hard buy. Parking, on the other hand, could be free.

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The coin that should fit the slot

Many of the 2.4 million automated machines across Germany will not be euro-ready when the new currency enters the mainstream on January 1, 2002.

The result could be a headache for smokers struggling to fit their shiny new euro coins in the Deutsch Mark slots of older cigarette machines. Ditto for vending machine-users and gamblers feeding one-armed bandits at gambling halls throughout Germany.

But for drivers, the technical problems provide a hidden boon: many parking meters have yet to be adjusted to accept the new currency, meaning parking, at least for a short period of time, will be free.

Adjusting to the new currency

Solving the problem can be as easy as twisting a few knobs within certain machines and as difficult as installing a new part that can read the new currency. The costs in making old machines euro-ready will reach as high as $500 million (or in euro terms € 562.77)

Firms, both large and small, have already been busy at work on the problem for several months.

Germany's railway, the Deutsche Bahn, estimates all of its 6,500 automated ticket machines will be able to accept the new currency by the end of February. And many cities have already gotten started on the parking machine problem.

Auf die neue Währung Euro umgestellter Zigarettenautomat

The automated machine association wants to have 90 percent of its machines euro-ready by the middle of 2002. Other European countries are taking it easier.

Economists in Finland, for example, said that only every fifth machine would be ready to go by January 1.

"Finland is big," the Bank of Finland's Urpo Levo told the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" by way of explanation.

And for those who don't have any euro coins on them, there is one other option: Thai currency. The 10 Bhat coin is apparently so similar to the 2 euro coin in weight and shape that many machines won't be able to tell the difference.

"We're aware of the problem," said Peter Lind, of Germany's automated machine association. "We will work on it."

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