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‘Pointless paperwork’ or necessary? Mixed views over Germany’s new ‘receipt obligation’

When you’re buying morning rolls, bratwurst or ice-cream it’s unusual to be offered a receipt. But under a new law, retailers in Germany have to do this. There's been a mixed reaction so far.

'Pointless paperwork' or necessary? Mixed views over Germany's new 'receipt obligation'
A pile of receipts in a bag at a bakery in Hanover, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

Turning into a long paper snake, receipts curl up at the cash desk in a Dresden branch of the Möbius bakery. Hardly any customers who pop in to buy bread rolls, cakes or pastries want to take their receipt with them, so they are left on the counter.

Bakery sales assistant Klaus Barche collects the receipts in a transparent box, feeling irritated by the “pointless paper chaos”. 

Previously, a roll of paper used to last three to five days in the cash register. But now at least one roll is printed per day. 

“It annoys us, it annoys the customers,” says Barche.

But under a new law which came into force on January 1st, German retailers have a “receipt obligation” (Bon-Zwang or Bonpflicht) and must issue a record of the item or service they have sold to customers.

The “Law on the Protection against Manipulation of Digital Records” (Kassengesetz) is intended to make tax evasion more difficult – but as it means more bureaucracy and paper waste, there's a lot of grumbling over it.

“I think it's nonsense,” says a young woman from Dresden in the queue at the bakery, questioning why anyone would need a receipt for a snack “I'm not going to complain about my roll anyway,” she says.

Explained: Why shops in Germany will soon be forced to give you a receipt

'Typical Germany'

The new law means extra waste is inevitably being produced. At the checkout, several debates over the new law are sparked when Barche asks his customers if they want to take their receipts with them. Two construction workers, who get soup for lunch, shake their heads. “Typical Germany” is their comment.

The owner of Schawarma City, a kebab snack bar in downtown Düsseldorf, agrees.

Because of the new law, the snack bar owner had to buy a new electronic cash register. Neighbouring kiosks are also not making positive noises about the obligation to provide a receipt: “Rubbish” and a “waste of paper” – they all agree on that.

But the regulation should actually please the taxpayer: the so-called “Bonpflicht” is one of several measures passed in 2016.

A receipt with your roll? Photo: DPA

The receipt obligation for all traders with electronic cash register systems is intended to help in the fight against tax fraud – because the till and number of receipts printed can be easily compared against each other by auditors. 

Fraud with manipulated cash registers leads to tax losses in the double-digit billions every year, emphasizes Social Democrats' finance politician Lothar Binding. For retailers who do not yet have a suitable cash register, there is a transition phase until September.

And it's not all moans and groans.

Claudia Reichenbächer of the Dresden butcher of the same name, cannot understand why it's a big deal.

“We have an electronic cash register and always print out the receipt anyway,” says Reichenbächer.

But she also notices that barely any customers take the receipt with them when they stock up on sausages or schnitzel. “We throw them all away,” she says.

In a Düsseldorf pharmacy, too, the trash cans are full of white slips of paper, a scene that's probably similar to several other places across the Bundesrepublik, as shown by photos being shared on social networks.

READ ALSO: The complete German supermarket survival guide

'Put an end to this nonsense'

The obligation to give a receipt is undoubtedly controversial. Why? Well, because of the additional cost, bureaucracy and the increased volume of waste.

Economic Minister Peter Altmaier, of the centre-right Christian Democrats, even said there should be some exemptions to the law.

Meanwhile, the Free Democrats (FDP) are demanding that the Bundestag change the law so that they can “put an end to this nonsense as soon as possible”, according to the party's Christian Dürr.

However, the Finance Ministry has not yet been shaken by the pressure.

Photo: DPA

The authority pointed out that the receipts can also be issued by e-mail to a mobile phone. The SPD believes the ball is in the the retail trade's court.

“Businesses are called upon to develop practical solutions to this problem,” said the SPD's Lothar Binding. There are apps, for example, which already exist to digitally transfer receipts.

The dilemma facing retailers is on the mind of  Sonay Sertel, a kiosk employee from Düsseldorf.

“Today there are apps for everything – and then all of a sudden, so much paper.” But when buying beer at a food or drink kiosk, a receipt issued to a mobile phone seems even more absurd than the receipt on paper, Sertel adds.

Fines not planned for retailers

At a medieval Christmas market in Dresden, which is still open in the first days of January, the “Bonpflicht” is not yet in force. 

Managing director Henri Bibow emphasizes that he has nothing against the regulation. But it is particularly difficult to conceal the new cash registers so they don't disturb the market's medieval theme.

A market trader who runs several stands there even considers the obligation to offer receipt to be “impossible”. Up to 18,000 people have visited the market. “It's impossible to hand over a receipt for a glass of mulled wine. We need a special permit (of exemption).”

Whether a special permit is issued or not, the odd trader who doesn't comply with the new law will probably go unnoticed – at least for now.

“There are no plans for tax officials to go out now and check retailers in the field,” the chairman of the German Tax Union, Thomas Eigenthaler, recently told the “Westfalen-Blatt”.

Fines against traders are not planned either. So what can happen if a trader is caught not issuing receipts? Perhaps the tax office will just take a closer look at the tax return and consequences may or may not come later.

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LIVING IN GERMANY

REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Oktoberfest
Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.

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