Will the coronavirus pandemic speed up the end of cash in Germany?

Worries about the spread of coronavirus in Germany saw many businesses switch to being ‘card only’. Could this mark a change for cash-loving Germany? Or is Bargeld here to stay?

Will the coronavirus pandemic speed up the end of cash in Germany?
Is the future digital? Photo: DPA

The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in dramatic changes – for a temporary period at least – such as working from home. And in Germany lots more people and businesses turned to card payments instead of cash. But is that still the case now the pandemic is easing?

While Germany has a strong and enduring love for cash, hygiene concerns relating to the coronavirus may permanently change this.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) expressly said card payments – particularly contactless card payments – should be encouraged as a means of halting the spread of the virus.

What's the situation in Germany?

Card payment is becoming more popular in Germany – in 2018, card payments even outstripped cash for the first time.

However, anyone who lives in Germany knows that many places do not accept card, and you should always carry some cash in your wallet.

Now the pandemic is accelerating the contactless payments trend, Ingo Limburg, chairman of the Deutsche Zahlungssysteme initiative told German broadcaster MDR.

Currently, almost half of all payment transactions in Germany are made by card, according to a representative survey commissioned by the project.

It has dropped slightly since the height of the epidemic: at the beginning of April, around two-thirds of Germans questioned in a survey said they were paying by card out of consideration for cashiers working on the frontline of the pandemic.

But Limburg said awareness over the advantages of card payment is still strong.

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He said customers who began using contactless payments for the first time during the pandemic say they are now enjoying the advantages of fast and convenient processes, rather than using card only out of concern for shop workers.

Banks have also been noticing this trend. The President of the Eastern German Savings Bank Association, Michael Ermrich, pointed out that the contactless card procedure is not only more hygienic, but also more convenient for customers. And he’s convinced that the trend will continue beyond the pandemic phase.

But Horst Gischer, economist at the University of Magdeburg, doesn’t think that the development towards increased digital payments will continue after coronavirus. For one thing, he says, it's impractical to pay only small amounts of money digitally.

Meanwhile, he said using cash as a transaction protects privacy, while providing security to the seller who receives the payment immediately.

Why do Germans love cash so much?

It's down to two main factors: a desire for privacy, and a fear of debt. Throughout modern times, Germans have historically preferred to pay with cash.

Card payments allow financial institutions and potentially others to monitor where your money is being spent, which is something that reminds Germans of the slippery slope of a surveillance state. 

German distaste for debt has halted the rollout of credit card payment in the country – the German word for debt ‘Schuld' also means guilt – meaning that even if you wanted to pay with credit card it would be difficult. 

Up until recently, many major supermarkets and retail chains wouldn't accept credit cards, regardless of the size of the transaction.

That has changed but there are still many cafes, restaurants and clubs that won't accept card.

A survey conducted at the end of 2019 shows that it could take a bit longer before Germans, who pay with cash much more often than in other countries in Europe, switch to digital. 

Even among those under 30, only a quarter said they were ready for a life without cash. And, not surprisingly, the older they are, the lower the approval of das Bargeld (cash). Only five percent of those aged 65 or above can imagine a life without it.

What do you think? Is cash on the way out in Germany? Tell us for a future article by emailing: [email protected]

Member comments

  1. You will pay a card fee and they will know everything you purchase. Another scam to get people to give up anonymity. Digital cash can also simply disappear from accounts.

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Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

It’s back again: amid sinking temperatures, the incidence of Covid-19 has been slowly rising in Germany. But is this enough to merit worrying about the virus?

Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

More people donning face masks in supermarkets, friends cancelling plans last minute due to getting sick with Covid-19. We might have seen some of those familiar reminders recently that the coronavirus is still around, but could there really be a resurgence of the virus like we experienced during the pandemic years?

According to virologists, the answer seems to be ‘maybe’: since July, the number of people newly infected with Covid-19 has been slowly rising from a very low level.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), nine people per 100,000 inhabitants became newly infected in Germany last week. A year ago, there were only around 270 reported cases.

Various Corona variants are currently on the loose in the country. According to the RKI,  the EG.5 (also called Eris) and XBB.1.16 lines were each detected in the week ending September 3rd with a share of just under 23 percent. 

The highly mutated variant BA.2.86 (Pirola), which is currently under observation by the World Health Organisation (WHO), also arrived in the country this week, according to RKI. 

High number of unreported case

The RKI epidemiologists also warned about a high number of unreported cases since hardly any testing is done. They pointed out that almost half of all registered sewage treatment plants report an increasing viral load in wastewater tests.

The number of hospital admissions has also increased slightly, but are still a far cry from the occupation rate amid the pandemic. Last week it was two per 100,000 inhabitants. In the intensive care units, only 1.2 percent of all beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients.

Still, a good three-quarters (76.4 percent) of people in Germany have been vaccinated at least twice and thus have basic immunity, reported RKI. 

Since Monday, doctors’ offices have been vaccinating with the adapted vaccine from Biontech/Pfizer, available to anyone over 12 years old, with a vaccine for small children set to be released the following week and one for those between 5 and 11 to come out October 2nd.

But Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has so far only recommended that people over 60 and those with pre-existing conditions get vaccinated.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Who should get a Covid jab this autumn in Germany?

“The pandemic is over, the virus remains,” he said. “We cannot predict the course of coming waves of corona, but it is clear that older people and people with pre-existing conditions remain at higher risk of becoming severely ill from Covid-19”

The RKI also recommended that people with a cold voluntarily wear a mask. Anyone exhibiting cough, cold, sore throat or other symptoms of a respiratory illness should voluntarily stay at home for three to five days and take regular corona self-tests. 

However, further measures such as contact restrictions are not necessary, he said.

One of many diseases

As of this autumn, Covid-19 could be one of many respiratory diseases. As with influenza, there are no longer absolute infection figures for coronavirus.

Saarbrücken pharmacist Thorsten Lehr told German broadcaster ZDF that self-protection through vaccinations, wearing a mask and getting tested when symptoms appear are prerequisites for surviving the Covid autumn well. 

Only a new, more aggressive mutation could completely turn the game around, he added.

On April 7th of this year, Germany removed the last of its over two-year long coronavirus restrictions, including mask-wearing in some public places.

READ ALSO: German doctors recommend Covid-19 self-tests amid new variant