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Money & costs




Restaurant bills include a service charge and tipping is not compulsory. If you're satisfied with the service, add about 5% to 10%. It's customary to tip as you're handing over the money, rather than leaving change on the table. For example, say '30, bitte' if your bill comes to €28 and you want to give a €2 tip. If you have the exact amount, just say 'Stimmt so' (that's fine).

If you're eating out as a group, it's perfectly fine for each party to pay separately (getrennt). Usually the server will go from person to person and calculate the amount each owes - to which you then add a tip at your discretion.

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Restaurant bills always include a service charge (Bedienung), but most people add 5% or 10% unless the service was abhorrent. At hotels, bellhops are given about €1 per bag and it's also nice to leave a few euros for the room cleaners. Tip bartenders about 5% and taxi drivers around 10%.

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Germany is the world's third largest economic power (behind the USA and Japan), is a committed member of the EU, and has been a member of the G8 (formerly G7) group of industrial nations since 1974. In recent years, however, the German economy has weakened, in part due to foreign competition, antiquated machinery, technophobia, high wages and social-security overheads. Berlin has been hit along with the rest of the country, with its own spending crisis to boot.

Economic restructuring has had a major impact on the city's employment base, and more than half the workforce is now in the service sector, including state and federal government agencies. In fact, Berlin has more than twice as many civil servants as any other big city in Germany - one in 10 people holds a government job in eastern Berlin.

Reunification was initially responsible for a growth spurt, but it didn't take long to fizzle. Unemployment figures are at record highs, with around 300, 000 (18%) people out of work in 2005, and training opportunities for young people are in short supply, with just 336 places against 5800 applicants in Berlin and Brandenburg. The statistics would likely be worse if entrepreneurship hadn't picked up some of the slack. Around 158, 000 people in the Berlin area are now self-employed, especially in the fields of finance, corporate services, construction, commerce and tourism.

Tourism is perhaps the key growth sector right now, boosted by high-profile events such as the football World Cup. In 2005 over six million visitors came to Berlin, up a massive one million since 2003, with a 17% increase in foreign visitors since 2004. Another driving force is information and communication technology, serving an increasingly computer-literate population; growth areas also include software development, marketing, advertising, law and financial services.

In terms of costs, Berlin is on a par with many European capitals and is still considerably cheaper than London or Paris, with the cost of living rising roughly 1% every year. Hotel accommodation is comparatively low-priced as well, and plenty of excellent hostels cater for less demanding travellers. Snackers and self-caterers will find food reassuringly affordable, and while top-flight restaurants charge exactly what you'd expect, there's no shortage of smaller cafés and bistros where a meal needn't be an investment.

There are also plenty of opportunities to save a few euros on various activities during your stay; many museums are free on one particular day every week or month, cinemas are almost half price before 5pm Monday to Wednesday, and most restaurants offer a range of set menus and special meals for children, seniors and theatregoers. Families are also well catered for, with many attractions offering good-value Familienkarten, which usually cover two adults and two (or more) children.

On average you can reckon on spending around €90 to €160 a day for a short stay in three-star accommodation with three ample meals a day; luxury-lovers could easily double or treble that figure to get the finest the city has to offer, and budget travellers could probably subsist on as little as €40 a day if they're really easy-going.

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The euro has been Germany's official currency since 2002. Euros come in seven notes (five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros) and eight coins (one- and two-euro coins and one-, two-, five-, 10-, 20- and 50-cent coins). Cash is still king in Germany, so you can't really avoid having at least some notes and coins, say €100 or so, on you at all times. At the time of writing, the euro was a strong and stable currency, although some minor fluctuations are common.

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Usually the easiest and quickest way to obtain cash is by making a withdrawal from your home bank account via an ATM. These are ubiquitous in Berlin and most are linked to international networks such as Cirrus, Plus, Star and Maestro.

Many ATMs also spit out cash if you use a credit card. This method, however, tends to be costlier because, in addition to a service fee, you'll be charged interest immediately (ie there's no grace period as with purchases).

For exact fees, check with your bank or credit-card company.

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Changing money

The exchange services listed here usually offer among the best rates available, but you can also change money at most banks, post offices and airports. Remember that banks only exchange foreign notes and not coins.

American Express (2045 5721; Friedrichstrasse 172; 9am-7pm Mon-Fri, 10am-1pm Sat; Französische Strasse)

Cash Express (2045 5096; Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse; 7am-8pm Mon-Fri, 8am-8pm Sat & Sun; Friedrichstrasse)

Reisebank (881 7117; Hardenbergplatz, Bahnhof Zoo; 7am-10pm; Zoologischer Garten, 100)

Reisebank (296 4393; Ostbahnhof; 7am-10pm Mon-Fri, 8am-8pm Sat & Sun; Ostbahnhof)

Thomas Cook/Travelex(2016 5916; Friedrichstrasse 56; 9am-6.30pm Mon-Fri, 9.30am-1pm Sat; Friedrichstrasse)

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Credit cards

Germany is still a largely cash-based society. Although major credit cards are becoming more widely accepted in central Berlin, it's best not to assume that you'll be able to use one - enquire first. Even so, a piece of plastic is vital in emergencies and also useful for phone or Internet bookings. Report lost or stolen cards to the following:

American Express (01805-840 840)

MasterCard (0800-819 1040)

Visa (0800-811 8440)

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Travellers cheques

Travellers cheques, which can be replaced if lost or stolen, are hardly accepted anywhere in Berlin, even if denominated in euros. Usually they must be cashed at a bank or exchange outlet (bring a passport). Cheques issued by American Express can be cashed free of charge at American Express offices. Always keep a record of the cheque numbers separate from the cheques themselves.

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Tax & refunds

Most German goods and services include a value-added tax (VAT), called Mehrwertsteuer (or MwSt), and currently set at 16%. If your permanent residence is outside the EU, you can have up to 12.7% refunded if you take goods home with you within three months of purchase. The only hitch is that this scheme is only good for items bought at stores displaying the 'tax free shopping' sign.

At the time of purchase (€25 minimum), you must request a global refund cheque from the sales staff. When you get to the airport, show your unused goods, receipts and passport to customs officials before checking in for your flight (with the exception of Frankfurt, where you check in yourself but not your luggage, then go to customs, then check in your luggage). The customs official will stamp your global refund cheques, which you can then take straight to the cash refund office and walk away with a wad of money. Alternatively, you can mail your cheques to the address provided in the envelope for a refund via credit card or bank cheque. For full details, see www.globalrefund.com.

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