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Business

The Deutsche Mark's Triumphant Return

The department store chain C&A became the first nationwide store to allow customers to pay in the deutsche mark this week. The one-week campaign has been a resounding success.

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Deutsche Mark or Euro?

An old friend made a welcome return to one of Germany’s biggest department store chains this week.

The deutsche mark, out of issue since 12 European Union countries switched from their old currencies to the Euro on Jan. 1, 2002, was allowed as currency for a week at C&A department stores throughout Germany. The campaign sent customers digging through last year’s winter coats and piggy banks for remnants of the old currency. Until last week, the only way to get rid of the old currency was to trade it in at one of Germany’s state banks.

“I think every one of us has a little bit lying around,” said Anja Marciani, who brought DM 155 in small change to the Berlin C&A on Friday. “I mean, who drives to the state bank to exchange it?”

Especially when that amount is so small that it’s not worth the trip to one of the 118 federal bank branches.

Marian Mahlow brought only DM15 that she discovered in old coats and her daughter’s piggy banks.

“They were actually her deutsche marks and I bought her a Christmas present with it,” said Mahlow, 50, of Berlin. “When I give it to her I can tell her that she paid for half of it.”

More than 17 billion still in circulation

There are an estimated 17 billion deutsche marks still in circulation, said a spokesman for the Bundesbank, Germany’s Federal Bank. Though most of that number is circulating in foreign countries, hundreds of millions of marks make their way back to the Bundesbank each month, said spokesman Johannes Korz.

“We still get 150 people coming into the bank in Frankfurt every day,” he said.

A C& A spokesman said the campaign has brought in “many millions” of deutsche marks. On average, the deutsche mark makes up to 10 percent of the currency used in the sales so far. In Berlin stores, the number is as high as 20 or 30 percent.

“They aren’t just coming with small change,” said Berlin store manager Thomas Burmann. “We also have many with 20, 50, 100, even 200 note bills, who come in.”

Accommodating the customer

The chain got the idea after one store participated in a similar one-day campaign in Siegen, near Bonn. After the campaign’s success, the chain conducted an internal employee poll and found that an overwhelming majority still had deutsche marks. An idea was born.

“What C&A is doing makes sense,” said Wolfgang Twardawa, head of marketing research at the consumer research institute Gfk in Nuremberg. “They’re accommodating the consumer.”

In doing so, the chain can’t help but take advantage of the nostalgia many Germans still feel for the deutsche mark, which transformed the country from the ashes of WWII into an economic powerhouse.

“The only thing the Germans were proud of following the war was the deutsche mark,” said Twardawa. “The strength of the economy was mirrored in the stability of the deutsche mark. Not like in France, where they are proud of their national anthem or country. Here it is about the currency.”

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