One of the first things you need to know in a new country is how to find your way through the supermarkets to find the products you need. There are different categories of grocery stores in Germany and this can be confusing for newcomers. There are also a number of items that can be tricky to find, but that’s all part of the adventure. Because of the proliferation of Lidl and Aldi discounters in many countries, most people will already be aware of how differently some items seem to be placed beside each other in German grocery stores.
While Germany isn’t as famed as its Gallic neighbor for culinary prowess, it can hardly be beaten when it comes to beer, bread and baked goods, which are all-important aspects of German culture. So if you’re new to the country, here is your introduction to how to navigate the peculiarities of shopping in Germany!
- The main supermarket chains
- Organic supermarkets
- Shopping at the Drogerie (drugstore)
- Shopping local: bakeries and farmers markets
- Späti shopping
The main supermarket chains
The biggest German supermarkets that you can find right across the country are Rewe, Edeka and Kaufland, which tend to be similar to British or American supermarkets, stocking everything you could need for day-to-day cooking and self-care. They are generally quite large, though you can often find more compact “city” or “express” versions of these stores in inner-city or train station locations.
You will also find numerous discount stores such as Netto, Penny, Lidl, Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd. Yes, there are two different Aldis in Germany, and the one in your region of Germany depends on which side of the Aldi-Äquator (Aldi equator) you live on. The product prices in these supermarkets do not vary to greatly so which of these is the cheapest supermarket in Germany really depends on your shopping habits, and on the current Angebote (deals).
Discount stores don’t tend to have quite as wide a range of products, however you are more likely to find bargains on particular items. Be prepared to pack quickly though because the cashiers will swipe your groceries through at machine gun pace. Better still, if you are doing a large shop, pack your items quickly into your trolley, pay up and only transfer the goods into your shopping bags at the designated area behind the checkouts. You should also try to remember to bring your own reusable shopping bags as you will have to pay a small fee for paper bags in German supermarkets!
Alongside these nationwide chains, you can also find a number of regional supermarkets, for instance Globus in central Germany, HIT in the Rhine Valley and Tegut in the south of Germany.
One major consideration for doing your groceries in Germany is that almost all shops are closed on Sundays, including supermarkets, so be sure to have stocked up by Saturday! The Ladenschlussgesetz, “store-closing law,” which forbids stores from operating on Sundays was put into effect in the 1950s and, despite some repeals in the early 2000s, is still one of the strictest store-opening laws in the world.
You need only walk down any city street to see that Germany is at the vanguard of the organic food revolution. Organic supermarkets (Biomärkte) are not at all hard to find in Germany. Across much of the European Union, but particularly in Germany, there is an ever-growing market for organic products that shoppers seek out for ethical, environmental and food quality reasons. These include the proper treatment and care of animals, concerns about pesticide and artificial fertilizer usage and the disappearance of original and rare grains.
The largest Biomarkt chains are Denn’s Biomarkt and Alnatura, but there are many smaller local organic stores to be found, especially in major cities like Munich and Berlin, where you can even find a “bio-hotel”. If you don’t have the time to go out of your way for a Biomarkt though, regular supermarkets also commonly stock a broad range of organic goods.
Shopping at the Drogerie
Another common stop in your German shopping will be the Drogerie, which may be translated as drugstore or chemist. This must not be confused with the Apotheke (pharmacy or chemist) which is easily identifiable by a large, red A, where you can fill a prescription or get some medicine-cabinet drugs like painkillers and antihistamines. It may come as a surprise to find that even non-prescription drugs like paracetamol are kept behind the counter in the Apotheke. Pharmacists are highly trained in Germany and can be a good first point of call for advice on less serious health issues. They are only allowed to run three Apotheken so you will not find any large chains of chemists (pharmacies) in Germany.
While the Drogerie does not stock any medicinal drugs, the major Drogerie chains like dm, Rossman and Müller stock not only first aid, hygiene products and makeup, but also snacks, a good range of organic, gluten-free and vegan foods, sports nutrition supplements, pet food and household supplies.
Shopping local: bakeries and farmers markets
Germany is well known for its baked goods, from delicious sourdough bread to dozens of types of fresh rolls, to pretzels to cakes and pastries. It is therefore no surprise that there is a bakery to be found on nearly every street corner. It can be well worth making the trip to your local bakery every day to sample the freshly baked Brötchen (bread rolls), Gebäck (pastries) or Kuchen (cakes), and perhaps a well priced cup of coffee too. However, if you are set on getting a really excellent pastry or cake, you should seek out a specialized Konditorei (confectionery shop).
In almost every town in Germany, and in the cities, you can find farmers’ markets open on varying days throughout the week. The most common day to find these Wochenmärkte (weekly markets) open is on Saturday. But be sure to check online or ask your neighbors for the times and locations where these are open. Farmers’ markets are a great place to find fresh produce, cheese, milk, bread and local specialities. While the quality and selection of foods will vary by region and season, the best produce and prices are often found in Germany’s agricultural heartlands. They can also be a great destination to do the otherwise unavailable Sunday morning shopping.
When you’re in a rush, you can often fall back on your local Spätkauf (literally late purchase) or Späti, as they are fondly known. These little corner kiosks are generally open late into the night and sometimes even on Sundays. These small stores are particularly common in Berlin, where they are an important facet of the city’s nightlife. They provide some basic supplies, snacks and a good range of cold beers. Oftentimes they also have benches outside, making them small hubs where the neighborhood community can meet and chat on the street corner.
Hopefully this should give you some grounding for your first shopping trips in Germany, but of course you will have to do some exploring to learn where the products you like best can be found. Whether you are in a Rewe or Edeke, a discount supermarket or a Drogerie, it can help to know some basic words and phrases, if only to know what you are buying and how to give a polite greeting to the clerk at the till.
Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.