Germans aren’t the most spendthrift people in the world. In fact, the desire to save money is deeply rooted in the German psyche, some say, as a result of the hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic in the 1920s. Therefore, for all you Ausländer out there, here’s a guide to the German supermarket scene*.
Our story begins as most do on a cold German autumn night in 1946** when the Brothers Albrecht – Karl and Theo – opened a grocery store in the Ruhr area in NRW. Within four years the brothers realized they had struck gold because they now owned 13 stores! And thus, that goddess of the German supermarket chains was born: Aldi. Aldi is short for Albrecht Diskont, which brings us to the next and really important part of this post. There are two types of supermarkets in Germany: the Discounter (Denglisch for a discount chain) and the regular kind.
The Discounter are Aldi, Lidl, Netto, Penny and Norma. At these supermarkets you won’t get many brands you would find at the regular supermarkets. The quality of the goods naturally varies from the regular non-discount supermarkets, but there are many good deals available. Also, many things are of really good quality as well. These supermarkets also have their own brands and stuff from those is generally quite reasonable as well. If you’re a student or a penniless blogger like yours truly, go for the Discounter. They’ll save you a lot of moolah in the long run.
While we’re on the subject of Discounters, let’s talk about that very German of things: the Aldi Grenze or the Aldi Border. Since 1990, East and West Germany have reunited but a different border still divides Germany. It is a border which has torn families apart, and has given rise to the so-called Südi*** and Nordi*** derogatory names. In 1961, Karl and Theo Albrecht decided to split their beloved supermarket chain in two: Aldi Nord for the north and Aldi Süd for the south, and Germany was never the same again. Legend has it that it was due to a dispute over placing cigarettes in the supermarkets. The Ruhr River was to be the border; Karl got Aldi Süd and Theo got Aldi Nord. Later, this border was extended all over Europe and then worldwide when Aldi expanded to the US and Australia.
For people of the more fancy and thrifty persuasion, there are also regular supermarkets in Germany. These are REWE, Kaufland, Real, Kaiser’s and Edeka. These supermarkets have goods from pricey brands as well as from their own brands which are cheaper in comparison. Among these supermarkets, Kaiser’s and Edeka cater to the more higher end of the consumer range. If you opt for
better quality and presentation, the regular supermarkets are the way to go. These supermarkets almost always have a cheese and meat section where staff pack and cut things for you.
Aside from the Discounters and the regular supermarkets, there are some independent chains in Germany as well. There are also supermarkets which cater specifically to vegetarian or vegan consumers. Almost all supermarkets in Germany do have food labeled “Bio” which means it is free from pesticides and is mostly vegetarian as well. Most supermarkets also come with a bakery inside or at least a baked goods section which I personally love about Germany. There are also retail supermarkets like Metro where only someone owning a business can go. This was surprising because anyone can go into a Metro in Pakistan and buy things wholesale.
If you’re new in Germany and don’t have command of German, I would recommend you go into a supermarket equipped with a good translator app on your smartphone. Otherwise you might end up like me: I bought baking paper for the oven and thought it was a pizza. True story! Also, I found the whole supermarket trolley system really cool but it can be awfully confusing the first time. So the process is as follows: insert a coin in the slot (it’ll say how much on the trolley), this will eject the chain lock and then you can take the trolley inside. Once done, insert the chain back in the trolley and you’ll have your coin back.
So here’s the guide to the German supermarkets. If you think I’ve missed out on something, feel free to comment below.
*Yes, there’s a scene.
**This is a fictional representation of how I think it all happened. In other words, this is not how it happened.
***Nobody actually say that but I’m trying hard for it to catch on.